We’d run out of things to blame. Our country, its leader, the economy, cults and crusaders, past lives corrupting an otherwise squeaky-clean soul, or it could’ve just been the Texas sun melting us into the interior of that tan sedan. We’d passed redneck stand-offs, skeletons in cowboy hats waiting for the sand to cover parts the vultures hadn’t picked clean. Gangs of all creeds sought our youth for whatever wars remained unattended to. We weren’t starving yet, nor compelled to drive up North and sign the dotted line. There were enough stories of vacant citizenship circling the cruiser scene, and we definitely weren’t cruisers.
For as long as I’d known Jeanie, she was always driven by one motivation. We’d laugh about it while passing roach clips and coffee table books, flipping past absurdities we could only dream up in our most diligent cartoon fantasies. “There’s a true beauty in all that’s wrong with this world,” Jeanie would say. “All these fuck-ups and deformities, they’ll eventually become the norm once the dust settles, and we’ll all wonder why we didn’t see things their way from the beginning.”
After six hundred miles coasting border outposts, searching in vain for the right settlement, I was convinced we’d never find Wi-Fi again. Not that there was much to catch up on. The rumors were better; they kept us passive. All the goings-on of men in power were convoluted. We didn’t care that they still wore suits or could afford fresh oxygen. They were still squares, most living off the remaining thrill of authority. We’d eventually join a cause to overthrow them, but it had to be well-organized. All of these hackers and frenemies sifting across the remaining lines in search of hope weren’t viable. I’d forgotten all of my favorite hashtags, but still felt a grappling jump in my pulse when Jeanie hit the right frequency.
“Stop!” she shouted, white chord stretching out the window from her iPhone XIV. Large letters from department stores spelled out spray-paint-graffiti warnings. “Pull in here, a sec. I think I got something.” So I did, fully aware that subconsciously Jeanie was leading me astray. “See, JackofallTrades69, it’s unprotected,” she smirked.
“Great, but we can’t stay here long.”
“See if you can siphon us another couple gallons, while I catch up.”
“I don’t see many cars around.”
“Just do it, all right?”
“Leave the engine running,” I suggested, opening the door.
“Will do.” Jeanie was already scrolling and swiping, eager for another undesignated destination. I grabbed the hose and empty red gallon from the trunk, before strolling to the nearest car in the lot. Black BMW, full tank; probably some kind of trap, but I needed my exercise. Premium always had the best aftertaste, like a Tic Tac found in a pair of acid-wash jeans at the bottom of a sewer. I filled the container, a notch above anxious. We needed something to shake us back into place, make us remember that this world isn’t just dead towns on the outskirts of desolated cities filled to the brim with dreams of recovery.
“We’re full-up now,” I said, returning to the driver’s seat.
“Shouldn’t we fill the tank, then top off whatever containers are left?” Jeanie didn’t look away from the screen. She planned her response, knowing I’d forget to fill up first.
“We’ll be all right. I think I’d rather drive around then stay put.”
“What about food?”
“C’mon man,” Jeanie put a hand on my knee, while I stared at the sweat on her forehead. “There’s a dollar store right there.”
“Feel free to look around. I don’t wanna get out of the car again.”
“You didn’t see anybody,” Jeanie replied sharply. “Who would be here on a day like this?” She then tossed me the phone and strutted off towards the chalky green outline of a store.
I couldn’t pretend like this argument would impact my life in the least. We were in the habit of pushing each other’s buttons, waiting for the opportune moment to be alone. I didn’t know where to start; any news cycle of little consequence. Then there were all those friends and followers; some still selling bargains while others failed to advertise their recent bundles of joy. There was stagnation across platforms, while checking in remained a constant disappointment.
I always searched Jacy first, eager for any update. This time just a new profile picture, bright lights behind her at some skyscraper cocktail party. Her red dress made me itch, the same reluctant glimmer in both eyes as she forces a crooked smile. Jacy probably asked a robot to take it for her, and it obliged, editing and shitting it right back. I wanted her to see me, but knew it wasn’t worth letting them know. She’d be an easy target, Jacy’s affinity for drama likely intact.
No, it was better browsing the ads in an eighty-mile radius. Con men abide by one solitary truth. If you can get them to meet in-person, they’ll likely tell you more than they should about themselves. “So you got anything?” Jeanie set a plastic bag of expired preservatives in the backseat, before closing the door.
“How’s this sound? ‘We’ve located the mothership; she’s a silver beaut, with tongue to spare. Any desperate parasites in search of a boarding pass need only sing my praises when the others land to take us back home.”
“He’s probably got some good shit,” she said.
I nodded and backed out of the lot. It was always easy picking a destination with Jeanie riding shotgun.
Christopher S. Bell has been releasing literary work since 2008. His sound projects include Emmett and Mary, Technological Epidemic, C. Scott and the Beltones, and Fine Wives. Christopher’s work has recently been published in Drunken Monkeys, Hobart, Porridge Magazine, New Pop Lit, and Entropy, among others.