The man was sound asleep. The man was driving. He was doing both things at once, rolling down the highway at seventy miles per hour. No one seemed to notice. Cars passed without giving the bald man—whose jaw was resting against his shirt collar—a second thought. The sleeping man’s car was beat up, a bit like him.
A weather worn, rusted out, ’78 Mercury Marquis. The same make and model I learned to drive in. The same style of land bound boat we lost our virginity in. The car I got my first ticket in, a not so minor citation just outside Lafayette that cost me my license for six months. The vehicle that later died on me in the middle of a funeral procession.
Wedged behind the wheel of the not-quite-mine automobile, a husk of a once proud sedan, the sleeping man wore a blue shirt, faded oil stains pock marking the sleeves, a name patch I couldn’t quite read stitched over his heart. But more than the uniform or the car he was driving, the thing I noticed most about the sleeping man, I’ll call him Magee (that’s what the vanity plates on the Mercury read), was his high speed flirtation with disaster.
For a mile or so we rode side-by-side, me watching Magee’s head leak forward over two chins into his barrel chest. The painful, slow pace of that liver-spotted scalp’s descent, coupled with the almost too fast to see equal-and-opposite-reaction of Magee slinging the weight of his torso upright. Over and over, I watched, as we drove, as he slipped in and out.
One eye on him, the other on the road, I began to wonder. Did he have a family? A wife? Did she leave him? And take the kids? Is he working two jobs just to pay alimony while she’s shacked up with a woman from California she met online? How bad was he struggling, just to get through one more day?
Wonder mixed with worry as I merged right and Magee passed. What if Magee’s head didn’t bob back up? What if someone got hurt? What if he didn’t make it to his next shift—or any after that? Knowing full well that women don’t leave men like him, who’d take care of Carla (a name that felt fitting for someone married to a guy like Magee)?
As the salt-chewed trunk of the Mercury faded away, I continued my commute, toward my cluttered office (just a tiny part of my all too cluttered life), left to wonder and worry about things that had nothing to do with an old man named Magee. I drive, drifting into my own waking sleep, dreaming fitful things. I dream about you. And her. And things I can never take back or instead wished I’d said or done. But the only words that cut across my lips as the quake of rumble strips jolt me to attention are short and curt, “Fuck you.”