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