North Pointe Drive and Ellerbe Creek
It’s raining and I’ve been here all night with no luck. I’m just about to give up when a truck pulls in, sidles up beside me.
I go the driver side door and he reaches down with his left hand, the steering wheel hand, not the smoking one, and pulls me in. Instead of looking at his face, I study his forearm, which is dark and narrow, the veins taut beneath the skin. I think for a second that he’s going to put me on his lap. “Okay,” I think, “let’s get right to it.” I’d already removed my underpants. I always do that before I leave the apartment. But instead, he slides into the passenger seat and rolls down the passenger side window. He puts his smoking arm out into the rain and looks ahead, out the windshield, like we’re driving somewhere.
“So,” he says.
“Fifty for the whole deal,” I say. “Twenty-five otherwise.”
He points to the keys left in the ignition and I’m starting to get nervous now because I don’t do any of the kinky stuff and usually truck drivers don’t ask for it, but all he wants to know is do I know how to start one of these things.
It’s hard to tell what he means but his face has something in it that tells me he’s not joking. So I say, “No, never driven one.”
He’s quiet for a minute then and I wonder should I just lean over now and get started, maybe he’s the shy type, but then he says, “Put your left foot on the clutch, other foot on the brake.” He touches my right thigh with the tip of his finger, to show me. “Feel for the clutch with your foot,” he says when I look at him blank. I locate it with my left foot, have to bend my knee way up to do it and then I look over at him. “Push it down,” he says. I push it hard and hold it down.
“You don’t have to give it any fuel to get it going,” he says. “Now turn the keys. Don’t let go the clutch.”
I don’t know what kind of crazy foreplay this is and I look past him, up the hill where I share an apartment with four other girls. But it’s raining so hard I can’t see the building at all which I should be happy about because I hate the place but it kind of makes me feel scared instead, like maybe its not there at all, maybe it never was.
“Start the truck,” he says, and I look ahead again, at the rain washing down the windshield, and I turn the keys.
The truck rumbles alive beneath me, an earthy, alive sound, a roaring like something that lives in a cave come to life. He reaches over and pulls on a yellow tab and there’s a hiss of air, the brake pedal jumps under my foot, then he’s got his hand on the gearshift. “Let go the clutch,” he says, “real slow.” And I release the pressure on my left foot. As I do so, he takes my right hand and places it on the gearshift, which he then guides into neutral.
“Put your hands on the wheel,” he says.
“Put your hands on the wheel.”
I put my hands on the wheel.
“Look out there,” he says. “Look at that.” It’s just darkness, but the rain turns everything into little fractals that bounce against each other and create their own light. It’s like we’re about to drive into a river, beneath its currents. All that nothingness, all that road.
“Now the clutch again,” he says, and I push down. “Now second gear. Now let up the clutch slow and press on the gas,” he says. “This foot.” He touches my right thigh again with just the tip of his finger.
The truck starts to roll. I look over at him, and he’s nodding, at the pavement in front of us, not at me, and I start to upshift. The gear slides right in, I feel the engine responding to me and something in my gut responds back, a little surge of energy, but the second time I try the gear is stickier and the truck shudders and bucks forward.
“Clutch,” the driver says, and places his hand over mine, pulling the gear back to neutral.
He shows me how to guide the truck back over to the side of the parking lot – maybe a hundred feet all together is what we’ve driven, but it feels eons longer. I can feel my ponytail wet on my back, loose strands starting to dry around my face. I pull my feet out from under the steering wheel, the left one sore already from pushing so hard on the clutch, and tuck them under me before I turn towards the driver and pull up the hem of my shirt. The fabric is covering my face when I feel him slap my arms back down. It’s the only time he touches me with anything that feels like what I’m used to.
“Damn it, I don’t want nothing else from you,” he says. “Now get the hell out of my truck.”