“My coverage is bullshit,” Dwayne says. “Half my texts are coming back to me. There is a fucking tower right there.” He points out the car window to the edge of the overlook where a razor wire fence circles the base of a radio tower.
“That’s sucks,” Haden says. Below them, the dim stellar code of the town blinks in and out. Sunset and mountains beyond, thin veils of rain like damaged film.
“I swear to god. I try to communicate,” Dwayne is sexting his ex-girlfriend Porsche. Once Dwayne’s basic needs are met he will begin to text Porsche until he becomes hungry or sober again. Dwayne pulls a Burger King bag out, sprays the inside of it with silver paint, and inhales it. The bag deflates and his clouded eyes hang on the radio tower with bitter disapproval.
Haden Shift is back home for a week before summer training starts, sleeping on his mom’s couch next to a tube television and a huge amethyst that is supposed to bring good fortune to people over time. As if it generates ambient luck that can build up on a dude while he’s sleeping. Haden’s mom has a big crystal for everything. She buys them from a catalog.
Haden has been spending most days with Dwayne, who is always here because Dwayne didn’t go to college; he works at Advance Auto Parts and inhales spray paint out of the various fast food bags that litter his 4x4. They played football together in high school. Now Haden has his last name over the 19 on a college jersey and Dwayne’s last name is on a tiny locker full of motor tools that anyone can buy and his number is gone.
Dwayne was never going to play for state. He has shortcomings. His handwriting is all upper case and his Rs and Ks are totally irregular. Anytime Dwayne writes something it comes out looking confused and enraged. And that’s just one thing. He speaks too loud. He thinks when people are laughing they’re laughing at him, even on TV. Dwayne has a brain like a smashed bag of Doritos.
Haden Shift usually doesn’t inhale paint fumes. He will take pills and drink, and he can roll perfect joints in his sleep or while fucked up on oxy at the illuminant border of death. Haden Shift is still on a defensive line and next year he’ll be starting. Haden Shift is moving into the outer rings of this town even now and it might be as soon as next summer that he doesn’t come back at all. It could be that Hayden Shift goes pro early. It could be a lot of ways.
Haden’s reception is fine. He sees that Doug Lorry has set up a Facebook event for smoking salvia in a field.
Raindrops accumulate on glass and run. It’s been raining all week.
Dwayne pulls the 4x4 through dark woods on instinct. He parks on the perimeter of the field where they can see the bonfire low in fog. Haden and Dwayne cross a quarter mile of wet grass and rendezvous with Doug, who just got out of prison for holding up a head shop with a baseball bat. Tonight Doug has got salvia and a car battery with a couple wires coming off it. He says that the salvia and the shock from the battery will strip away the time dependent consciousness and provide an accelerated sort of vision quest that will reveal key elements of the future. Haden takes the salvia and Doug holds the two wires from the battery a half-inch from Haden’s fingertips; the electricity arcs across the gap, evaporates the rain.
Haden blacks out but doesn’t see the future. All he sees are topless women floating through space with somber expressions. He can’t feel his fingers at first and then up through his chest blurs out and his mouth goes dry. The women aren’t looking at him, just rotating slowing, drifting away. Haden realizes that he needs to draw breath, and he does, rapid and damp. The light from the bonfire comes back. Haden sits down in a fold out chair and puts tobacco under his lip, tries to come to terms with it all. Haden has never wondered about the future before. The future has always been a stationary point to move towards, a distant glory.
There are three girls there, juniors in high school, with flat long hair and jewelry out of some vending machine, simple gold plastic and rhinestones. They look like the sort of little goddess there are thousands of. One of them says:
“Hey, are you Haden Shift?” And Haden Shift says yeah and they talk to him for a while in call and respond patterns. Some of them go off with other guys until just one is left and she comes over the white fold out chair to his left and says her name is Angelina.
“Like the Bob Dylan song,” he says.
“Never heard it.”
“Isn’t it a little early for goodbye?”
“The song. Is what I mean.”
“I’ve got no use for Bob Dylan,” Angelina says. “Where’s the bass right?” Haden touches her arm to make sure she isn’t some lingering hallucination from the battery. She lights a cigarette. “I need a drum machine, some synth drones, and an eastern European man singing about love in broken English.”
Her mouth tastes like quinine. Her t-shirt is thin from being worn for years, comfort blanket thin with pills on it like tiny grazing animals. And her touch is sort of brutal, fingernails raked across skin. Haden has one hand up in her hair and the other one going down the back of her jeans. Her can get to know her like this. Her surfaces anyway. But the surfaces are most of what they have right now. And they are really important to Haden.
Doug continues to electrocute minors with a car battery. Kids pretend they’ve seen something great; they stagger out into the periphery to brood on visions, or lie on the ground by the fire like bodies. Haden is acting along his normal trajectories, trying to get a girl to put her hand on his cock, but Angelina just adds up to violent kisses. She draws blood from his lip without even touching him through his jeans. Haden wants to fuck right there. He wants the fire to throw the shadow of them fucking to where the night turns true black but it never happens. They remain on the border.
Later, Haden watches his piss run a line in the dirt, tilts his head up to observe the mineral smear of the rest of the galaxy. That’s when Dwayne comes up respirating too quick with blood in one of his eyes. He says that he has to go back into town to fight his brother based on a hallucination he had. So they smoke more salvia and walk to the line of vehicles. Haden wants to say goodbye to Angelina but he doesn’t want to check every human shadow and Dwayne means business.
In the 4x4, pushing 90 on the state highways back towards the dumb tungsten streets of their little town, Dwayne says he saw his brother kissing on his ex-girlfriend, Porsche, in a room full of parachutes. Haden says that’s sort of like Pearl Harbor when Josh Hartnett flies Kate Beckinsale around in his plane as the sun sets then kisses on her in a room full of parachutes then fucks her. Dwayne admits it was exactly like that but nothing about the situation changes so Haden chews more tobacco, spits into an empty Fanta bottle. Porsche has probably has slept with Dwayne’s brother at some point because she sleeps with everyone. She goes on benders with other guys, fucks old dudes, cashiers from Kmart, and then turns back to Jesus and her pastor Dad. She alternates like that through periods of abandon and repentance. It used to go slow, like repentance could last a high school semester. Abandon could last a summer. Now it’s night to night, desperate and extreme, approaching what has to be some terminal point.
“I was just a child when I realized how good my torso looked,” Haden Shift says. “I told my mom. Like really, the lines in my chest and abs are ridiculous. I told her this body is exactly like bodies on television; it’s lining right up with the ideal. And I don’t even have to do anything. I drink Pepsi for breakfast.” Dwayne doesn’t say anything. “Look at this.” He takes off his Central State Blackbirds t-shirt and flexes. Dwayne keeps his eyes on the dotted yellow line.
They wait behind The Black Goat, where Dwayne’s brother works and drink bourbon that Dwayne finds under the driver’s seat. Behind the club is all dark and a skin of wet leaves covers every surface.
“Do you know that girl?” Haden asks.
“Did you see that girl I was kissing up at the field?”
“No.” Dwayne doesn’t notice anything that he isn’t doing. “Did you know that field was an airstrip? For planes? You can take off and fly around the Blue Ridge Mountains from there.”
“I can’t remember her name. It was like a song.” But no song comes to mind. And that moment with her is moving away from Haden at a disproportionate speed, while other recent moments linger and thicken with the effects of the bourbon.
One by one figures rotate out of the club into the rose light to smoke or make calls. Haden and Dwayne watch them through rain studded windshield, men and women taking turns under a neon line. Dwayne huffs some paint out of a bag and unwraps a silver tree-shaped air freshener that smells like new car. He hangs the silver tree on his rear view mirror and the truck floods with a clean chemical odor.
Finally Dwayne’s brother comes around the back of the club. He’s wearing his black polo with the magenta script lettering. When he sees Haden and Dwayne walking up he waves. Haden takes a couple fast steps and hits him in the face before he can get his hands up. Dwayne’s brother’s head cracks against the wall, his cigarette drops, and blood comes out from under his hairline. He’s a big guy, bigger than Haden maybe, and Haden knows he’s got to come at a man like that with deception and force. The brother swings at Haden but Haden checks him back. Dwayne pulls his tiny pocketknife out like he might be getting ready to open a can of beans or earn a merit badge. But instead he stabs his brother once in the stomach while screaming:
“I saw what you did in Pearl Harbor.”
Everyone has slept with Porsche, except maybe this guy, groping like he can’t find support even though the wall is right there. She sucked Haden’s cock in her car once, broad daylight, in front of Ross Dress For Less. It’s just an opportunity that a lot of different people have. Dwayne’s brother falls over onto the black leaves and quakes and yells. The leaves are so wet that his cigarette is already out.
“All my passwords are Porsche,” Dwayne says. “For everything. And when they want numbers I put her birthday,” Dwayne says. Dwayne’s brother tries to get up but Haden stomps him down. “What’s your password?” Dwayne is yelling. “What’s your password dude? Is it Porsche? Is it Porsche 12290?” Haden doesn’t think Dwayne’s brother really knows what is going on. Haden doesn’t think it’s a good idea to talk about passwords in public like this. A song is playing over the speakers.
“What song is this?” Haden asks.
They get back in the 4x4. Haden looks at the crawling shape of Dwayne’s brother and thinks that he probably wouldn’t do that to his own brother. But he doesn’t have one. Dwayne is the closest thing Haden has and Haden would do that to him. Haden would do that same thing to Dwayne over nothing. Dwayne starts the truck and they drive off.
“I’m going to ask Porsche to marry me,” Dwayne says. He’s crying but Haden doubts he knows why.
Haden and Dwayne stand in the headlights of the 4x4. Haden spits brown over the side of the overlook. Rainclouds hang like gauze over the town.
Dwayne is too high, he keeps moving his hands like he’s cracking his knuckles. “Remember the Abbyville game?” Dwayne asks. “You had four QB sacks going into overtime? Remember that?”
Haden doesn’t say anything.
“And their QB was so afraid of you that when he saw the rush call again he just ran backwards. Straight out of field goal range dude. So fucking funny. Wonder if that guy still has nightmares about you.”
Haden doesn’t want to talk about the past. Dwayne seems to sense this and switches to the future, which is much worse.
“Haden Fucking Shift. Man, you’re going to be great. They’ve already got you starting. You’re going all the way,” Dwayne says. Haden just nods, tries to fade this conversation out as Dwayne speaks.
And Haden knows that Dwayne is not an oracle; Dwayne is not a visionary; Dwayne is not a gem that brings you luck while you sleep. Though maybe Dwayne could have oracular faculties in the way that he consistently points out and believes things that will never come to pass. Like if he fills in enough of what will never be, the future could become apparent. Illuminating tomorrow through error . Dwayne repeats, “You’re going to be great, Haden. You’re going to be great.”The rain comes loose again, saturates everything in seconds, and night moves like a swarm across the mountains.