Tape Deck

by | Fiction, Issue #6, Issues

It was hot and that was about all it was. Peros drove. When he was tired of that, he drove some more. Then he pulled the truck to the side of the road and, taking the map from the console, looked out upon the brushy land stretched endlessly into the open yawn before him. His gaze found no surface there which could reflect it to any degree considerable, but by then he’d gotten plenty used to that.
“Get there by sundown,” he surmised aloud. He glanced at the map as if checking for a centralized pulse, but did not look to the particulate roadways, the interstates, the rivers which stretched like veins across the pulpy thing in his hands. There was something else, prior to any localized manner of knowing, which he felt plainly embedded there in its substance.
“Less I don’t,” he surmised again.
Peros slept in the silent cab of his truck beneath the hapless patchwork of abandoned stars, where he dreamt of a memory which had long grown into something extinguished. And when that was over with, he rose obediently with the blistering sun, figuring as an inextractable part into the day newly set upon this earth.
“This shit,” was what Peros said about it.
The orange morning rolled into the cab from across the plain which had not yet had the day to grow brutal, and on the tape deck Peros pressed play. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t. Right now it didn’t. He drove until he came to a road that didn’t have a speed limit but which hugged the side of a spindly mountain so tight that, if you were to tell that to anyone, they would think you were lying. Down past the cliffs and beyond the traumatized guardrails lay great brown plumes of sun-scorched grass curling at the edges, and in those Peros found for himself a familiar comfort. Grass grew that way there, Peros knew. All it meant was he was still in Texas.
You could drive 12 hours and still be in Texas.
You could drive 13 hours and be in New Mexico. If you wanted to be. On that particular day Peros wanted to be. Out past the dashboard, which had become for him merely another horizon, Peros saw mountains unfold and great fissures grow between them, the brown West Texas dust he was leaving behind homogenizing into the miles upon miles of white sandy beds of New Mexico. He passed a sign that told him to watch for cows, and he did that until he saw a sign that said there would be gas soon. He went toward that one.
By Ojo Caliente, Peros was tired again. It came on all at once, like a surprise. His ears were ringing and his eyes were bloodshot and he faintly despaired that it would be getting dark soon. More than anything Peros wanted a cigarette, but when he thought of a couple things he wanted more, he let himself have it. He lit up in the sealed cab as beneath him the truck moved steadily west at 80 miles an hour, and then he took a hard drag and let down the window about a half an inch. It tasted to him no better than the last, though he’d thought the very same thing about that one. Perhaps he no longer knew the answer why.
When the dawn hit it was brand new and the sky exploded into billowing colors he had not seen before, or if he had, there was no way he could ever understand it. Instead he just raised the seat from its reclined position and looked into the hazy rear-view mirror, where he saw himself. His dirty blonde beard hung heavy on his face, and on his neck below it was several days of raised stubble. If he didn’t shave now he wouldn’t be using a razor. As if without thinking, he took a plastic Bic from the pocket of the driver door and dragged it across his neck in painful, arid strips, the sound of which alone was near enough to the barren soul of the desert itself as to make his heart ache, badly.
Peros tried to start the engine and it worked. He tried to start the tape deck and it didn’t. He tried it again. He sat still for a moment and then he tried one more time. He knew it didn’t do him any good to go on with it like that, but he did it again anyway, and even then nothing happened.
Peros stopped for a can of beans.
He was an hour outside of Sanders when it finally came on. The tape inside was still wound to “Devil in a Sleepin’ Bag.” When he hit a bump the stereo hiccuped, and when he hit another one, it cut out altogether. He didn’t know what use it was to have a nice thing for a while when all it meant was going on the rest of your life missing it.
It was anybody’s guess where he was when it came on again, but wherever he was, it didn’t matter much to anybody. When it came on Peros turned it off. He pulled over and he looked at the map, briefly, before surveying the road for a much longer, solemn, almost reverent length of time. Unlike before, he did not wonder after any sign. Unlike before, he knew exactly where he was.
On the side of the road was a cracked wooden post painted top to bottom in brown, and with white letters it said to him, “St. Mary’s Prayer Booth US HWY 160.” Peros followed that until he got up to it and then he kept going. It didn’t do a single bit of good for him anymore. A mile ahead he saw the very booth breaking slowly from the horizon, and as he neared it, he watched it blossom into clearer view, its crown molding and dirt-caked shutters taking on inward depth as they revealed to him their complexity of detail. To Peros it felt like he was changing their mind. He started to clutch again at the pack of cigarettes in his breast pocket, but second guessing himself withdrew his hand quickly. He knew he didn’t want one yet.
One last time Peros pulled his truck off the road to look at the map, and that was where he parked it. He flicked the wiper column with his left hand to get rid of the dust which had dispersed itself across the windshield, but it only stuck in clumsy heaps to form lines where the wiper arc terminated. He flicked the trigger to release the wiper fluid, but the nozzles croaked out a death-depleted sigh.
“Well,” was what he said about it. He cut the engine off.
Red dirt crunched beneath his boot. The hood of the prayer booth had been the color of rosebuds once, and as he walked toward it Peros considered the gradations of that color which must have come to pass in the distance there was between that time and this one. It was still as illustrious as anything ever was, but he wouldn’t have put it exactly like that.
“Son of a bitch,” he said instead, “the places I wind up.”
Inside the booth it was dim, and where the light leaked in through the shoddy woodwork, motes of dust floated down through the air in thick shafts. Peros got in there and he sat down on the seat. On the mantel in front of the mirror was a gilded rotary phone with cracked ivory plating, and without so much as looking at it he picked up the receiver. He turned the rotary once, though he knew it didn’t do anything, and he grunted to himself, a gravelly burden which at one time had begun to replace the sound of laughter in his life.
He held the receiver to his ear.
“Brian,” he said into it. The word he said was brine. “You there,” he spoke again.
“My God,” a voice answered back, though through the phone line it popped and it crackled. “That Peros?” Brian asked.
“Sure as shit,” Peros told him. “You already know what I come for.”
“So why don’t we talk about it.”
“Nobody making you do this,” Brian said.
“Making me do this or making me do the other thing.”
“Either one,” Brian said. “I reckon.”
“Do you want me to tell you about it or don’t you,” Peros asked.
“Nobody making you do this,” Brian told him again.
“Well I got to.”
Brin fell silent. “Well, alright,” was what he said. “I guess you’d better tell me, then.” In the prayer booth, Peros grunted. He considered the prospect.
“Well,” he said. He said it again. “Well,” he said, “how do I start.”
“How does anything start.”
“Smart ass,” Peros told him. He started to say something but he said something else. “She looked real good,” he said. “She had on that dress. The one I like so much.” He waited but he did not hear Brian speak.
“You know the one I’m talking about?” he said.
Brian was silent.
“You know she still wears her wedding ring? What do you figure of that. Didn’t even take it off.”
“Peros,” Brian said.
“Not once.”
“I don’t—”
“Nerve you got,” Peros said.
“Listen,” Brian told him. “You come out here for something. You don’t go out in the rain for an umbrella.” He called it an umbrella. “Say what the hell you got to say.” Now it was Peros who was silent.
“Are you going to tell me or aren’t you.”
“I suppose it could be done,” Peros said. Then he didn’t say anything. “Sometimes I figure,” he finally went on, “it could be just like it used to be. Then I get in here talking to you. And I remember what a lousy son of a bitch you are.” Between the two of them there fell a silence so deep that all it possessed inside it were the things the two men were thinking about, and the things the two men were thinking about each other, and the things they both remembered and dragged up instead of just letting them stay dead. Peros broke all that up by taking the heel of his boot loudly across the mud-crusted plywood floor, and then he tried to spit in the space between two of the planks that made up what was down there. He got pretty close.
“You talk to her at all,” he finally asked. He said it like a fact. Brian was slow to answer him and on the other side of the line Peros heard the furniture creak.
“No,” Brian told him flatly.
“Probably for the best.”
“No use in,” Brian said. He said, “You know.”
“I do know.”
The two go quiet again.
“What all happened?” Brian asked him.
“I can tell you all about it,” Peros told him. “If you really want to know.”
“It don’t matter.”
“I’m liable to think it matters a whole lot,” Peros said, “to somebody. Considering the way you was asking and everything.”
On the other end of the line Brian heaved a sigh. On this end of it, Peros looked inside the mirror. In the booth a beam of light had fallen squarely into his field of vision, a change that had surely been incremental but which, now that he was faced with it, seemed to have occurred in only a moment’s passing.
“What do you want me to do?” Brian asked him.
Peros sucked on his teeth. And then he spoke. “Ain’t a thing in this world you can do,” was what he said. “You done what you done. And now I’m going to keep on doing what I’m doing. And I’m going to keep on coming here, and keep on telling you all about it. Long as I’m able. Till the day the Lord takes this life away from me.” Peros listened to the sound of his own words as, slowly, they shifted into something else outside his body, and then he listened to the wind dawdle on outside the prayer booth, picking up until at last it had worn itself out through all the nothing that was waiting for him out there.
“You finished?” Brian said.
“You tell me,” was what Peros told him.
Brian exhaled softly. Then he said, “Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good.” “Till the day he takes this life away,” Peros told him again.
“Your sins are forgiven. You may go in peace.”
Without speaking Peros stepped out of the prayer booth and into the stupid burning day. He felt the urge to sneeze, but he suppressed it. As he walked back to the truck his boot stamped over the shattered glass of ancient prayer candles, and he passed three wooden crosses stuck there in the surly red soot, white paint slowly vanishing from the terrible star above them in the sky. No one would come back for those.
Peros opened the door of the truck and ambled inside, and after he did he twisted the keys in the ignition. The engine in the truck roared to life and Peros did a U-turn on the dirty desert road. It threw up a cloud. He pressed play on the tape deck just to see if it would work, and when “Devil in a Sleepin’ Bag” came on he did not question the sequence of events. He did not wonder where it was that the chorus was headed. All that he did do was let what was happening to him keep on happening to him until he hit an armadillo in the road, and when that happened, he just went on driving that way, only this time it was in silence.



Lake Markham is a writer and photographer who lives in Chicago, IL. With a background rooted in the intersection of art and philosophy, his work focuses on postmodern alienation, the relationship between creator and created, and the hermeneutic continuity of existence. Lake often writes about chili. He is currently working on his first novel, Lo Siento, as well as a collection of short stories.