Tom Williams

Thirteen Different Versions

After Amy, my wife of nine years said it was over, that she was head­ed to her mother’s with our son Ryan, that I’d be hear­ing soon from her attor­ney, a dea­con at Central Methodist Church, a build­ing I hadn’t entered since our wed­ding, I got in the Traverse, where it hadn’t occurred to me that for at least the last five years I’d been slam­ming doors in the mid­dle of argu­ments and talk­ing about our prob­lems to the wind­shield while the satel­lite radio played. I focused on my side of things and how hard it was to work a job I didn’t love and do all the dish­es and mow the lawn like Amy kept on asking.

I steered to the inter­state, set the cruise con­trol. The Leaves came on the radio. It must have been an hour lat­er that I heard The Byrds, whose ver­sion I nev­er liked. Then Love, and I thought about Arthur Lee. He’d died recent­ly. He hadn’t been well in a long time.

I told the wind­shield good rid­dance. I told the wind­shield that I’d be a son of a bitch in the court­room. I’d make that tea-total­ing attor­ney of hers work hard for his mon­ey. She was prob­a­bly already sleep­ing with the fuck­er. Then I heard The Standells and The Music Machine. The Shadows of Knight next. All three sound­ed so alike. Somewhere out­side Louisville it start­ed to rain so I turned on the wipers. Wilson Pickett, the king of cov­ers, next. Followed by Cher. “Hey Joe” wasn’t the only song play­ing. It was the one catch­ing my attention.

When I stopped for gas out­side Indianapolis, I real­ized I didn’t have a coat. But that didn’t pre­vent me from telling the wind­shield that it wasn’t too late, that two peo­ple made the deci­sion to get mar­ried. It should be two peo­ple to decide it was over. Back in the car, I heard Patti Smith. Then Spirit and The Cryan Shames. My favorite ver­sion of “Hey Joe” is Jimi’s—as is prob­a­bly everyone’s—but for a long time that wasn’t play­ing on any of the satel­lite radio stations.

But I did hear the Surfaris, then Johnny Hallyday. I didn’t know he’d cov­ered “Hey Joe,” though his silky voice cruised right through, and I don’t speak but two words of French.   And there were a cou­ple ver­sions by bands I checked too late to dis­cov­er their names. When it occurred to me I hadn’t caught Amy mess­ing around with anoth­er man, that I didn’t have a gun in my hand, that I wasn’t head­ed to Mexico—I was head­ed north­west, accord­ing to the Traverse’s GPS—the Hendrix ver­sion came on. So I told the wind­shield I was going home. I said I knew what I need­ed to do. That I could be in the fam­i­ly in ways Amy and Ryan need. I wait­ed for the Hendrix ver­sion to end. By then it was dark, and I must have got­ten turned around, because no glance in any direc­tion showed a way back home.


Tom Williams is author of Among the Wild Mulattos and Other Tales, out this sum­mer from Texas Review Press, as well as Don’t Start Me Talkin’, a nov­el pub­lished in 2014 by Curbside Splendor, and the novel­la, The Mimic’s Own Voice (Main Street Rag Publishing Company, 2011). His sto­ries, essays and reviews have appeared in such pub­li­ca­tions as Barrelhouse, Boulevard, The Collagist, Florida Review, and South Carolina Review. He is asso­ciate edi­tor of American Book Review and Chair of English at Morehead State University