Though he could barely see above the dashboard, the sunlight drowned his already brown, round face. Too short to reach the visor above, he used his hand to shade his eyes from the penetrating rays. The heat, though, was inescapable. “Stop it.” Shane said, as the boy tried to turn the knob that controlled the height of the glass wall, though he was as confused as Joe as to why such an April day had such an August feel to it. Nonetheless, he didn’t want the boy breaking anything in this car. He acted as though it were someone else’s, and he would have to answer for any damage done.
Joe crossed his arms and let his angst be known. The humidity revealed the car’s saturation by a scent that seemed to be of perfume; only it carried with it different qualities than that of his mother’s fragrance. Hers was one of a floral tone, not this bitter one. This confused the boy, so he shifted focus back to his oven-like condition, propping his right elbow on the car door’s arm rest & waving his left hand in a fan-like motion, making his own breeze. He needed the man to know that this was not fun.
From the classroom window, his mates mistook his fanning gesture for a wave and returned salutations never sent. Shane took the observed interaction as his son was enjoying himself, responding the only way he knew how: by turning up the radio, blasting Bone Thugs-N-Harmony’s Crossroads for the whole city block to hear. He’d rigged the speakers to where the whole car vibrated on command. Joe scratched his head dismissively and reached to roll down the window again. Recalling his father’s command he slunk into the cracked leather seats, reaching for the floor with the tips of his toes whilst the seatbelt ensured he failed. He waited for the part of the song he knew:
~ See you at the crossroads
So you won’t be lonely
See you at the crossroads
So you won’t be looonely ~
Such a tsunami of sounds was always accompanied by Shane’s ever-so-indiscernible metronomic nod, prompting Joe to recall times when he was amphibian, laying flat in the bath tub and positioning himself to where a look up meant air, and a look down meant full submersion. He wondered if this was Shane breathing beneath the waves of the sounds the boy didn’t yet understand, drowning in words he wouldn’t learn until the 2nd grade. He tried it, raising his head to where the road beyond the dashboard was in-view, then lowering it, bringing it back in alignment with the glove-box (inside of which, a week later, he & his sister would discover a silver gun which they chose to leave alone), mumbling sounds that could pass for lyrics.
“You like this song?”, he asked the boy. He saw Joe’s eyes roll but chose not to address the disrespect.
The tune moved on as the car moved on and two nodded on, and for a moment there was an air of something positive between them. As the boy squished around in his seat, he felt a layer between his pants back pocket and the chapped leather seats. Reaching into his pockets he discovered an envelope he’d forgotten all about.
“I got some grades today”, he heralded happily.
“What?”, Shane replied. He turned the radio’s knob counter-clockwise and let the red light permit him to look over at the envelope in the boy’s hand.
“I got some grades today.” Joe said again, distinguishing that within was a report card worthy of pride, because he’d been “good” for a whole grading cycle, and needed Shane to know it.
They both thought back to the last interaction the boy & man had — a homework session that outed the man as less than a mathematician. The day that the old Joe thought it was okay to take his pants down in class. His mother was busy at work and missed the phone call. So the teacher sent a letter home with Joe. He “forgot” to deliver it and remembered the teacher wanted read-receipt right when Shane couldn’t answer the question on the 1st grader’s homework sheet. So he handed over the envelope, transitioning the moment from tutoring session to ass-whooping session. Whooping that bruised the boy, because he wouldn’t stand still. Bruises that made Shane have to defend his actions and technique against Joe’s mother, who whooped in a much more compassionate fashion. That fight sent Shane packing.
“You do good?” he queried.
Before the boy could retort, Shane cranked back up the volume.
~ and I’m gonna miss everybody
and I’m gonna miss everybody when I’m gone ~
The two sat in their distant worlds as the tape’s spun on into the silence between songs.
The boy sat up & swallowed the lump welling in his throat. “I did.”
“You did what?”, Shane challenged.
“I did,” mumbled Joe, “I did do good.”
“You’d better have,” he bounced back at boy, who needed reminding that the two were not friends.
There’d be a year or two more before he understood all of the words of the song. Right then, though, “crossroad” was clearly defined for him: a place where people met, connected; a place the two’d never see. Joe counted each bump in the road, picturing each one putting more distance between him and the man to his left.
The two nodded on.