JT LeDon, “Burning Jungle Road”

“The man came along limping in the middle of the road,” the woman said. She was trembling and I helped to light the cigarette that she had held in her hand for a long many minutes after she arrived, gesturing back towards the dark jungle. The woman was from the next village over and she had dated a friend of mine, but that was a few years ago and I could see how she had aged, and I wondered if I had aged as much or if the rumors were true and this woman was a prostitute. Once I thought this I looked at the woman differently, I believe I felt both more protective of her but also less respectful. The front of the woman’s car was dented in in two places along the passenger side, the hood and the right front panel. The way the dents were made I could almost see how the body had made contact with the car, upon the hood first, and then caromed off to the side. The woman had to have been going far beyond the speed limit and I was scared of what I’d find up the road. In hindsight I should have called the police, but the fact that this woman, this prostitute, was here in my shop all alone clouded my mind. I told her, “Shut your car off,” and as she walked towards it, I corrected that, “No, on second thought, bring it inside.” The woman looked back at me and I could tell from the way she looked that she was two steps ahead of my dark thoughts and I was sad that I didn’t see even the slightest trace of a smile, of a wink, of the allusion to complicity, so that, having understood what I understood and being right there with me, we were instead like two children hidden in a dark closet with no one on the other side peeking and snickering, alone and un-minded; because we were not that at all, and the woman knew as much even if I didn’t, and every part of her slow look back as she drew long upon the end of that cigarette told me just how common we were, how grown-up, how dead-end, how expected. The woman asked me, “Where can we go?” “The bathroom,” I told her, “There’s a lock.” Her left palm dug into the grease-rimmed soap-dish as she bent over, lowering her head, and I caught my face in the mirror as I finished. I was done before that new JT LeDon song finished on the radio because I could still hear the horn section in the great silence that ensued. I put my clothes on and left her there. Women take a bit more time to freshen up. She lit another cigarette in the low green light of the doorway as I adjusted my underwear and out in the lot by the pumps the taxi driven by my brother’s friend Andre arrived. He would drive her home, and I would weigh out with the truck and snatch up and dispose of whatever was left after this long in the dark night of the jungle. I would mend her car, and I would drive it back to her village when it was done. For this I could have it whenever I wanted, she said, and I wanted it a lot. I saw the way Andre looked at her as she walked toward his car idling in the parking lot, nothing but black, nothing but jungle around, just the three of us in this halo of light that buzzes like a giant insect. She dragged the cigarette through the air in a slow arc as she and he exchanged looks that I could only see the one side of but which I knew the gist of all the same because I knew Andre, because I knew men, because I knew myself. When they drove away I pictured them together and it made me equal parts jealous and aroused. I resolved to take pictures of her car and of the remains and to put them in an envelope and put that in the small space underneath my wrenches in my tool chest in case she decided at one point down the road that she didn’t want to stick to our bargain. I started up the tow truck, and that same JT LeDon song began to play. I drove into the jungle, my headlights cutting into the dark, but I recognized in my gut that they only cut so far, and I could feel in my bones the dark just beyond their reach, its deep impenetrability, its inevitability, its right to consume us all.