Car Ride

By Hunter Corbett

Music is always loudest when you’re alone. The freeway lights flicker as I speed by them. I’m in the car with my friends and the music leaves a dull ache in my ears but it’s squashed by laughter and sweat and rebellion and fear and somehow I still can’t seem to hear the meaningless words sung by people I should probably know. I like the way streets look at night—all hollow and prickly like an itch you can’t scratch. It’s like the stars cast a shimmering gauze over the cracked paint, the old soda cans and newspapers littering the sides of the highway, the dingy light bulbs. It’s like the night can make anything poetic. Smooth as mercury, moonlight fills in the cracks left behind by the sun. My friends notice too. They are quiet for a moment, the kind of quiet that isn’t really quiet because I can hear the radio spitting out some car commercial and the weight of everyone’s thoughts presses against the side of the car until everything, just for a moment, feels so full, before the moment’s gone and there’s an empty pit of foreboding in my stomach and nobody wants to talk about this brief flash of clarity. We are not ourselves, tonight. We are strangers to each other and to our thoughts. We ask each other, in tepid tremors of voices, with liquid eyes and pomegranate cheeks, why we’re all here. I close my eyes. I don’t like to think about important things. I imagine myself as a collection: eyes, legs, nose, head; no order or reason, so I don’t have the responsibility of humanity to think and understand and dream. I don’t dream in color. I can feel words inside my ribcage, being hammered out by the thumping of my heart. I can feel them pounding at my ears. If I wrote them down, it would be the most profound poetry.

But I don’t. I can’t. Instead, I roll down my window and feel the gasps of air push their way into the car. I stick my head out and watch the clouds of my exhalations travel to a distant land, far off to the past when I was still crazy and passionate and burning and bright. The bumpy air rises to meet me and I find myself wishing I wasn’t so burned up, burned out, burned away.