We had reached the top of the spur – cruised for an instant into a flood of untempered Texas sunlight and a clear view across the vast rolling plains of dry hideous weed and coyote traps – then began twirling down again.
We were cruising at 10mph under the safe advisory speed when I felt the back wheels begin to slide across a spray of fine gravel – and then just like that the car drifted over to the edge of the road, and tipped over onto its roof. All of the change went flying at me like bullets, the glove box cracked open and the tapes flew out, then as we hung upside down strapped into the seats the car continued to slide down between the trees for about 40 metres, until it came to a stop against a bank of velvety pine needles, at which point it occurred to me that arguably all pines trees are inherently lonesome. They do not have leaves but needles and they spread their branches in rather a standoffish horizontal fashion. So there you are.
We were hanging upside belted into our seats peering back up the hill. Now a trail of obsolete plastics and useless coins marked our trail from the road into the piney woods, shining and absurd like leprechaun money amongst the rocks and pine needles. Chip took his belt off and went crashing down to the roof; I put my hands up and manoeuvred my legs out and performed a weird kind of hanging handstand, and then we had to crank the windows open and slither out on our stomachs.
The car had dragged a great mass of damp dirt and pine needles down the hill. For a while we lay rescuing random objects from the roof of the car. In this careful magpie manner we managed to rescue a few cassettes, a pair of trainers and a single glove; then climbing back up to the road Chip began picking change for the Laundromat out of the pine needles because he said we might need the money.
Taking stock, the only water we had was the filthy fag-water in an old Coke bottle we’d been throwing cigarette butts into; and now it was about six o-clock. Night, as they say, was falling fast. How literally night falls in Texas – like theatre curtains – but on the Spur night didn’t fall from the sky as much as climb up from the base.
We waited and waited on the road. I don’t know how long we waited. We had not passed another vehicle on our way up or down, only evidence of them, like an armadillo smeared across the road, or a splatter of feathers, but in an act of faith, in a civilised country, we waited by the roadside never doubting that help would come. It did not suit me that I should die like this, moronically, on a mountain, especially when there was so little sense in me being there in the first place. If Chip had been some kind of star footballer or promising cadet – sure, the movies could make something noble and tragic out of that, I guess, but there was little about him that hinted at anything other than a lonely masturbator, complexion milky with the blue glow of gaming computer screens and Saturday nights spent in Batman pyjama bottoms. He had that undeniable scent that boys have when they don’t wash their clothes, like the stems of broken weeds. I couldn’t believe his own family would to mourn the loss of someone so unattractive. If we perished together here they would be tempted to guess that we were dating, just to redeem the misery with romance; and I hated him for it.
Now Tripp or Chip was talking shit, trying to make plans, to calm himself, to be a man, or what have you, and I resented every fucking word. I smoked all of the cigarettes we had left and made a point not to offer him one. After an incredibly long time he got the idea and went over to wait for a car coming from the South, looking like a dog who at last had given up on the ball, which, if you know dogs, can only mean they are moments away from death.
Finally I heard a car coming from above us. Chip stood waving so his big unclean shirt flapped and he looked like a scarecrow. Then a glossy new midnight blue SUV with a huge glittering front drew to a stop. There was an oily reflection of the yellowish sky and the black tree tops in the windows.
The driver was a huge man in a collared shirt and navy suit jacket; his fat florid wife lay sleeping in the seat beside him. The whole car gleamed with new fine leather, glossy speckled wood finish, an odometer the size of a grandfather clock; a little paper pine tree dangled from the rear vision mirror, flipping in the breeze, and they were playing some pleasant twangy voice who rhymed wrong, song and so long…
We made our pleas. “Our car has gone off the mountain,” we said. “Can you give us a ride back to town?”
Perhaps it was a mistake to pose it as a question. I could see the man considering. In Texas, thoughts cross a person’s face like the shadow of clouds. His eyes flickered across the his obese recumbent wife, as though she was the picture of loveliness, of innocence in sleep, then he looked at us – our wild, disarrayed, dirty clothes, our hands full of cassettes, loose change and a single glove – as though there was no limit to the shit which we in our deranged youth would steal.
It was clear as day he thought we were murderers. He said, “Sorry, no room,” and just like that the window slid up and the break released, we stepped back as he rolled away – he had never taken his hands from the wheel. We watched the big glare of his red tail lights disappear round the bend and once they vanished we were in total dark.