The Highway.

26 Dec

They marched slowly, one with the cart tightly clutched in wrapped hands, the other with nothing clutched at all. The air was acrid and bitterly cold. The cold was, for that moment, the only thing either of them could be completely sure of. Survival? No. The very world before their wandering feet? Not even that, for with the falling snow all the world was a sea of whiteness. A fog of moving parts. Impossible.

Lanny and Kyle were careful.

“Dude, what are you doing?” Lanny asked.

“I’m writing my best friend’s name in the snow.”

Kyle was urinating.

“Jesus, is this the ‘great important, life-saving thing’ we had to stop for?'”

“Yes,” Kyle said, zipping his pants and returning to the highway. “I only got the ‘L’. Sorry.”

Lanny sighed and pulled the drawstrings of his hood. “It’s all right.”

They continued to move with an almost instinctual mindlessness, like infant turtles, just born, clawing, for whatever reason, toward the moving water.

“What do you have in your pack?” Lanny asked. They were hungry.

“I have, a can of…” Kyle looked through his bag. “I have three Hustlers and a book about cats.”

Lanny shook his head, as if to shake the words, and perhaps the truth of the words, from his head.

“You have what? Where is all the food? Where is all the food I gave you?

“I threw it at those dogs. Remember the str–”

“Yes, I remember the stray dogs. I remember you yelling things to them. You yelled–”

“–Neener neener, who’s got the biggest wiener, stupid snow-covered dogs?!” Kyle laughed to himself, holding his gut. To Lanny, the solitary sound of Kyle’s high-pitched, puerile laughter sounded almost sinister. Lanny shuddered against it.

“Listen. We’re not going to survive all the way to Denton if you don’t start taking better care of your supplies. Do you understand?”

“Yes, papa.”

“What?”

“What what?”

“What did you call me?”

“Papa.”

“I’m not your dad.”

“I’m not your dad.”

“All right?” Lanny said, confused, waiting for Kyle’s next words to somehow make sense of all this.

“Crap, look at the time! I gotta get going!” Kyle looked blankly at Lanny for a moment, then rolled over and began reading his Hustler. Somewhere in the dark, an animal yelped and then was stifled. Its last, struggling breath heard by two ardent travelers, almost invisible in the coming night.

The next day, Lanny woke at dawn. He set up the small stove, placed the metal cooking plate above the flame and began to make breakfast. Keeping the fire alive was difficult. The wind whipped aggressively over Lanny’s huddled frame and the fire likewise. However difficult, Lanny kept the fire alive.

“Is it time to eat middly-mo-bye-eat?” Kyle asked, his eyes the only thing visible through his hood.

“Why do you keep doing that? Why do you keep talking like that?”

“Because I’m slowly losing my mind.”

Lanny sat silent.

“Because I’m slowly losing my mind looking at your stupid, shitty beard.”

Lanny sighed and made Kyle a plate of beans.

“I love beans,” Kyle said.

“So do I,” Lanny said.

Squatting together around the still-lit stove, there, for a moment, was a tranquil silence.

“Lanny?” Kyle said, breaching the quiet that was.

“Yes?”

“Do you ever miss things?”

“Miss things?”

“Yea, miss things. From the past. From before–” Kyle looked around, as if to motion at the very world around them, “–before all of this.”

Lanny smiled to himself and did not meet Kyle’s eyes. Although his body rested firmly in the bit of snow Kyle saw him in, his mind and his heart had traveled far from this place. “Yes, I do. I miss lightly moving the hair from my wife’s face as she sleeps. I miss the look of the world when I wake up–bright and shimmering–full of life–as if somehow, overnight, god reached down and started it all over again. That’s what I miss. What do you miss?”

“I miss boobs.”

Lanny looked at Kyle, waiting for more.

“Boobs and Jersey Shore.”

Lanny put his hand on his shoulder. Kyle was crying.

From his whimpering voice, Lanny could hear Kyle saying “I just don’t understand why Pauly D would…” He struggled, his voice trembled with weeping. “Why he would let Mike, ‘The Situation,’ down like that. Why he wouldn’t take the…why he wouldn’t take the ugly girl away so Situation could get his…”

“His what?” Lanny asked.

“His sex on. So Situation could get his sex all over that woman.”

For the second time in as many days, Lanny shook his head and wished to be ridden of the words Kyle had spent on him.

The road to Denton was long and cold. The surface of the road itself had long been buried in a layer of white–a layer now so thick that the footsteps of the two weary journeymen could no longer penetrate deep enough to reveal its blackness.

They continued.

It was important in those times to remain warm, but more important to remain dry. Wetness could cause frost-bite faster than anything else. It could cause hypothermia and pneumonia. They stayed dry mostly through Lanny’s efforts. Kyle cared little for staying dry. He loved splash fights.

“Let’s go splash each other!” Kyle yelled, running toward the Trinity River.

“Jesus, no!” Lanny yelled, stumbling after him. The snow was high now, and its slick bottom caused Lanny to lose his footing. Kyle moved through the snow adeptly, as if he had been born in a world that knew no other kind of ground than this.

Kyle got close to the Trinity River and stopped. “Smells like doo doo,” Kyle said, his face contorted in a frown.

Lanny, breathless, got to his feet. “I know it does,” Lanny said. “I know it does.”

At nightfall, with no moon and no stars, as there had been no sun in the day, they slept. Sometimes a fire would be made. Lanny feared being spotted by the bands of marauders and road agents that marched the road at night–hunting.

This night Lanny laid as he always did–silently, wrapped in a tarp. Kyle lay next to him in similar fashion.

“Lanny?” Kyle beckoned, barely above a whisper.

“Yes?” Lanny answered.

“Love you.”

“I love you, too.”

“Are you cold?”

“Yes.”

“Will we always be cold?”

“No.”

“I made a snow man.”

“That’s good.”

“He has a wiener,” Kyle said.

“That’s good. All men should have wieners.”

“He needed clothes, though, because it’s cold out, and I didn’t have any spares, so I put the rest of your clothes on the snow man.”

“What?! Why?”

“It’s cold.”

Lanny left Kyle under the overpass that night.

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