Washed by a Wave of Wind
M. Shayne Bell, editor
The Shining Dream Road Out
M. Shayne Bell
[p.68]So I buckled myself into the Driving-Simulation Unit and started connecting my head to Happy Pizza’s central computer, which would connect up to Salt Lake County’s virtual-reality road map of the valley, all the while looking around at the dump of a room I was in with its peeling paint on the walls and ceiling and the used pizza boxes thrown on the floor and the heat and the smell of garlic and onion in the air, but that box of a “car” I was getting into, that was beautiful to me, because I knew what it would soon turn into, and I was getting that hit-in-the-gut feeling of excitement I get just before I head out to drive and I wanted to laugh because I wasn’t really going to leave the back room of Happy Pizza at all except through virtual reality in my mind, when the voice of Fat Joe, the owner of this particular franchise, came over the intercom:
“Ten-minute run coming up, Clayton. If you beat your last time of 8:23 you got your raise.”
Yeah, I thought, fifteen cents more an hour. “So start the show,” I said.
And a virtual-reality vision of southbound Interstate 15 settled over my mind: the section just past the 600 South on-ramp and the Salt Lake City skyscrapers east and the derelict houses west and a sunset shining red on rain clouds above and rain already spattering down on the [p.69]windshield and I thought, great, I’m trying to get just fifteen cents more an hour out of a stupid pizza delivery job and they make it rain.
I turned on the wipers and thought how the box I was sitting in looked to me like a car now, a nice little Japanese fast car that motored along just fine, and I punched it up to 80, even with the wet road: my tires had good traction and the road was rough enough in real-land to keep you from hydroplaning, though the city would never factor that into its VR road simulations no matter how many times I talked to them about it when they did their user surveys—it’s like, did they really believe the state would ever get that road fixed? But they must have, because in every simulation I was ever in, 1-15 was smooth, and we’d drive along on top of it like we were driving on a dream road, and you’d start to understand why Fat Joe wouldn’t spring for new shocks in our real cars, not if all he ever drove was this simulation and he thought the roads out there in real-land were this nice.
I punched up the coordinates of my run, and they glowed red digital out of the dash in the dim car, dim thanks to the rain, and I turned on my lights and thought how easy can Fat Joe make this: 1-15 south to the 53rd South exit, then west on 53 to the Reston Hotel, room 115? Easy run was right—it was too easy. I saw what was coming: there’d be cops along the way and stingy Fat Joe had known it, must have punched into the city files to see how many cops were on duty, maybe drove along a little on the road himself just to check it out, just to see if he could save fifteen cents an hour but happy that I’d learn more about the real-land roads and where the cops had their speed traps so I’d know exactly where to speed up and where to slow down when I was delivering pizza, and that hit-in-the-gut feeling of mine got tighter because I couldn’t make 53 South doing 80 with cops on the road, so I braked my car down to 70 just to be safe, so I wouldn’t get caught right away, and waited to pass the first speed trap coming up: 21st South, behind or in front of the railing along the merge lane—and sure enough, there he was, a cop just waiting for me to go by at 80 plus, but I was only doing 70 and nobody’d pull you over for that unless it was the end of the month and some cop hadn’t met his quota yet.
Fat Joe must have been pissed: he’d thought a cop would get me right away, but now he’d have to sit in his VR getup, which he hated unless he was watching porn, and wait to see if one of the cops assigned to the net for a day could catch me on VR 1-15, which I knew better than the back of my hand: once past the 21st South on-off ramps and speed [p.70]trap I merged into the far right lane and shoved my car back up to 80—roadblock ahead, some old grandpa trying to pass the city sight requirements and motoring along just under 50 in a blue “Senior Driver” practice car—merge into the middle lane, still at 80, maybe plus—roadblock ahead, some trucker trying to get back a license after one too many speeding tickets-merge right again, back and forth, weaving in and out, always in the right two lanes, never in the far left, the fast lane, the lane cops looked in for speeders: if you weaved in and out in the slow lanes the cops would know somebody was going fast, but they wouldn’t know who, the dots of the cars on their radar would all blend together if I merged in close, and sure they’d think it was probably the pizza delivery boy who’d been going a little fast when we passed them, not the old geezer trying to keep his car on the road and do minimum speed at the same time, but they wouldn’t know it for sure, which meant they wouldn’t come out—they’d wait for some sure prey—and you can bet I’d be a good little pizza delivery boy around all their traps.
And make my ten-minute delivery in under 8:23.
So I drove along, making good time, thinking there was a lot of traffic on VR I-15—was every trucker and school bus driver and delivery boy out trying to pass some driving test or get a raise? —when this pretty lady in a green station wagon with peeling fake-wood side panels speeds by doing 90 who knows what—and there were these three little blonde-haired kids waving at me out of the back window.
Weird, I thought. And thank goodness it was just VR—it was one thing for me to drive like a maniac in VR or real-land, it was another for a mother with her kids. I hoped she’d use VR to work out whatever was eating at her and keep it down out there on real I-IS. The kids kept waving, so I waved back and changed lanes into theirs and sped up to keep them company from behind—no speed trap till around the 33rd on-ramp anyway, our only danger would be roving cops—and we hit 93 miles an hour.
I started thinking, who is the lady driving the station wagon in light rain at 93 mph and when would the wagon’s engine blow, because it could, even in VR, just to teach you a lesson. Only somebody with nothing to lose or hot food to deliver would pull stunts like this, and when you looked at it that way, her speed kind of made sense: I’d heard of people coming out to check the simulation to see how well it worked, and those types would certainly have nothing to lose. So I thought [p.71]maybe the lady in the station wagon is the mayor checking up on her VR cops and taking her kids for a joy-ride and seeing what her car should be able to do in theory, all at the same time—I imagined that’s what somebody like her with a decent income and a crappy car so you wouldn’t look high and mighty to the voters would do on an afternoon: hold the appointments, I’ve got important work coming through on the net; then connect up, swing by the house in VR to pick up your VR kids who’d plug in when you told them to, and off you’d go—and fuck the city budget crisis.
We started coming up on 33, and she braked, and I braked, and I thought this is a smart lady, she knows where the traps are, which of course a mayor would, and I merged over into the right lane and pulled up alongside her and looked over, but she didn’t look at me: she just watched the road and held the wheel so tight her knuckles were white. She wasn’t the mayor. Whoever she was I thought she must have some kind of bad trouble in her life.
I merged back behind a couple of Idaho Meat-Packers’ trucks because I’d been part of a fast blip with that wagon for too long and I didn’t want to be near her when we passed 33, and sure enough another cop was waiting there looking confused about which of us had done what and I was happy to complicate his life. He pulled out three cars behind me, and I didn’t touch my brakes, just eased up on the gas a little, then a little more, not wanting to look the least bit guilty and thinking did he somehow figure out about me, and wondering how he could have done that, and hardly daring to breathe because we passed 45 and 53 was the next exit and I’d used up nearly 5:30 of my run and if I got a ticket I wouldn’t get my raise for sure.
So I played the good little pizza delivery boy, and I watched 53 come up ahead of us and the green station wagon take the exit and drive down the hill and I followed her off and the cop stayed out on I-15.
But the wagon sped up down below me, and I thought what’s the lady doing? Before the intersection she suddenly slammed brakes, which locked at that speed, and she slid to a stop blocking the exit, in front of a red light. Real good, lady, I thought, like did she forget this wasn’t the highway anymore, then suddenly remember? Well, she’d stopped before the red light, but any cop driving by would think the position of her car a little strange and maybe worth investigating. I hoped one wouldn’t happen by and stop to check her out because I’d lose time trying to get around them.
[p.72]I braked to a stop behind her and waited for the light to change—she could just pull out and go when it changed—but she didn’t pull out, and her head started banging around like she was being hit, though nothing I could see was hitting her in that car, and I honked to maybe bring her out of it, but she didn’t even look at me.
What is she on? I wondered, and I watched her head jerk around for a minute. Then I saw that the kids were popping out of VR—they’d look at their mom, then just be gone, just not there, like they were maybe pulling out the connection and running in real-land to help her or something, and I thought: I have no choice. I have to screw this test and my raise. And I put the car in park, and unbuckled and got out and ran up to the lady’s door and opened it.
That’s when she looked at me for the first time, and her eyes were wide like she was scared, not of me but of something. And I said, Lady, what can I do to help you? Can I call someone? What’s going on? And she said—
My husband’s beating me.
Then she was gone, like the kids, as if somebody’d pulled the connection out of her head. The car disappeared next, and I was left standing in the middle of the off-ramp with four other cars honking behind me.
I stood there for a second or two, thinking how I’d blown the test and there was no point in going on and what Fat Joe would say, then I ran for my car and took it across 53 and up the VR I-15 on-ramp and back out onto the VR interstate looking for the green station wagon. I knew it was stupid to look for that wagon if the lady driving it was getting beaten up somewhere in real-land and I didn’t know where and I couldn’t even remember her license plate to stop and call the stupid police, I’d just been watching the kids in the back of a wagon doing 93 mph, I hadn’t been memorizing license plate numbers, and I didn’t know what to do, and I wanted to do something, something, something. Before long, but before the ten minutes of my test were up, I was past Draper and the prison and going up the Point of the Mountain doing 102 and when I hit the top, the VR blanked out and a screen came up that said “You are not a driver authorized to enter the Utah County Driver Simulation Net,” which meant I didn’t have the right kind of access to make the Salt Lake County net network me over to the Utah County net, and then the screen went all black in my mind: But before the words had come up I’d gotten one quick glimpse of the Utah County net, and [p.73]it was all color, not city: I saw the sun glinting off Utah Lake and the green spring wheatfields and orchards around Alpine and a tall mountain south with snow still on the top and I-15 heading south to that mountain, the road looking like it had been polished and looking like it ached for me to drive on it.
“So you blew that one, Clayton-boy. You blew that one—and you’re supposed to be my best driver?”
I was unhooking my head and one of the wires had stuck in the back, so I kept working at it and looked at Fat Joe who seemed just a little too happy about my fifteen cent an hour loss and said, “Yeah, so I want some practice time in VR.”
And it wasn’t just VR fun I was after, though Fat Joe wouldn’t know that: I wanted to get back out on VR I-15 and look for that stationwagon and write down the license plate number if I saw it again.
“You can practice when you don’t have runs to make in real-land, Clayton-boy. We’ve got one waiting for you now.”
The wire came loose, and I hurried out of the car and into the kitchen: It was two pepperoni and mushroom pizzas on a Midvale run waiting for me, and the kitchen staff had already boxed up the pizzas, so I took them and ran, sat them in the backseat of my little Japanese fast car and buckled them down and slammed doors and buckled myself in and rolled down the windows while I pulled out onto 600 South heading west to the I-15 on-ramp: I never used the air conditioner because the drain on engine power would slow me down, and I was out there in real-land, which is weirder than VR: in VR you have people driving along trying to pass tests, most driving like they always meant to be good little boys and girls of the road and only a few like me driving like maniacs because we had different kinds of tests to pass—and it was only those people out there.
But not in real-land.
In real-land everybody had already passed their tests so they could all go nuts and all two million of them in Salt Lake Valley are out driving around all the time, usually heading for I-15, and you never know what to expect except lots of craziness and unpredictability and I loved it, I loved playing the game that went on in that traffic: drive a fast car fast and you’ll find one or two or three others doing the same thing, and an interstate highway can become your own little VR game in real-land: slow cars doing 60 or 70 to block the road ahead when you can’t change [p.74]lanes left or right and the other fast cars speed past and the drivers laugh at you, but you get your turn to laugh down the road when their lane is blocked and you can speed past, and you drive, weaving in and out, and nothing feels like it, nothing, with the wind whipping your hair and the hot summer air off the desert blowing over your skin and no music off the radio at all because you don’t need it, not then, not during the game.
And I merged out onto I-15 and shoved my Japanese fast car up to 80 plus, close to 90, because I wanted to play then, real bad, and the Happy Pizza clown head stuck on the hood of my car flapped around like you wouldn’t believe, but nobody was out playing the game, just me, I was the only driver weaving in and out, getting blocked and slowing down and speeding up again and weaving in and out, and I couldn’t help it: I kept looking around for the green station wagon with the peeling fake-wood side panels because a car like that existed somewhere in the valley and was probably registered to the lady or her husband and the lady was probably a hacker because how else could she get out onto VR I-15? A woman with a car like that didn’t have the money to buy her way onto the net.
I wished I’d looked even once at the license plate on that car.
It was more of the predictable same-old family routine when I got home that night after work. My mother would ask, “How was your day, Clayton?” just like she did every day, and I’d say, “Fine, just a lot of driving,” and I’d never be able to tell her or Dad just how I drove and the kind of fun it was and what I’d felt, and my father would look up from his paper and not say a word because he was pissed that I’d taken a pizza delivery job, not something at his bank to keep me busy through the summer till I hit the one year of college I’d get before my two-year mission preaching religion. I looked at them and wanted to try to tell them I had taken a VR driving test to maybe get a raise in the slow afternoon hours after the lunch-time rush and that I’d seen this woman getting beaten by her husband and that I didn’t know how to find her to help her. But I didn’t know how to tell such a story to my parents, there’d be too much to explain, so I didn’t say a word about it.
“Supper’s at seven,” Mother said, and I just stood by the fridge getting a drink, and I looked at us and thought we all seemed like little robots going about doing what we were programmed to do, no matter what happened in our lives: Mother programmed to make supper, Dad [p.75]programmed to read the paper and disapprove of me, me programmed to go up to my room and do who-knows-what till supper, my two little sisters programmed to wear expensive clothes and be little brats, and I thought, God, I’m going to break this programming, I hate it, so I said to Mom, “Let me help. I’ll set the table and get the water—did you want us to drink water tonight?”
And she looked at me surprised and said water would be fine, and Dad looked at me and I knew what he was thinking: that’s a woman’s work you’re doing, Clayton, you’re a man doing women’s work, isn’t that a great kind of son to have? He would hardly move his arms and the paper when I tried to spread the tablecloth on the table or put his plate down in front of him, but he didn’t try to stop me either because I was after all just a son who might just as well do work to serve him and we all ate supper and didn’t talk much, Dad had the TV on, and I stayed behind to help Mom clean up and she said, “Well, isn’t this a surprise?” But I just wanted to be close to her, and I kept thinking about the lady I’d seen in the green station wagon and what had probably happened to her.
We finished rinsing the dishes and putting them into the dishwasher and I went up to my room and stood in front of the mirror in my bathroom and played one of the other games I played with myself: Clayton, the little Robot Boy. I twisted an imaginary knob on the upper right-hand corner of the mirror to turn me on and left more fingerprints there and wondered what Mom or one of the housecleaners thought about that little circle of fingerprints that was always on that spot of my mirror waiting to be wiped off, and I said, “Hi. I’m Clayton. I’m programmed to comb my hair just like this, with every hair in place, and I’m programmed to eat at certain times and take showers at certain times and I always did all of my homework well when I was in high school so I could get good grades and get accepted into a Utah college that doesn’t really care about grades, it just wants to know if you’ll go to church every Sunday you’re enrolled with them so you can sit and hear people talk about being a Christian, never asking, ‘What would a Christian’s life actually be like?’ while outside the air-conditioned church building decent women are getting beaten up by their own husbands and you even see it on VR I-15.”
I’d seen it.
I sat down on the edge of the tub and looked at myself in the mirror. I hated Clayton the little robot church boy whose life was all pro-[p.76]grammed for him: college, mission, marriage, kids, college, career as a lawyer or banker, and numbers and money and deadlines all my life and maybe I could even die on schedule: write it in my Dayplanner sixty years down the road—Wednesday, June 16, 3:00 p.m.: Die. Contact funeral home beforehand. Prepare final will that morning.
I stood up and twisted the imaginary knob and changed the program: I became Clayton, the pizza delivery boy, and I remembered me the first day I’d played the game out on the highway on a pizza run, the day I’d caught on to what had always been going on around me but which I’d missed because I’d always driven so slowly and predictably and couldn’t see it through my slow-driving programming, but when I started driving fast I’d found a whole subculture of people who drove just that way, people who made driving to the grocery store an adventure, and driving south to Midvale an event, and if you got a ticket it was just the price of admission to the game which you wouldn’t stop playing because it made you feel so alive.
That first day I’d hooked up with a blond-haired girl in a red Ferrari and a thirty-something guy in a Japanese fast car like mine and the three of us would weave in and out of the traffic and laugh at each other when one of us had to slow down and race to catch up to the others. Down by Draper we all took the same exit and stopped at a Sinclair gas station and all of us laughed about the fun we’d had, and they pumped gas into their tanks, but I didn’t need to, I’d just come in to talk to them, and I said, “I’m Clayton,” after we’d talked for a while, and I held out my hand to the guy, and he and the girl looked at me like I was some kind of alien and wouldn’t tell me their names—and they didn’t care about mine. It didn’t matter to them. All that mattered was that I’d had a fast car and that I was smart enough to learn how to drive it fast and that when I was out on the road I would play the game with them. So those were the rules and I learned them and I never again tried to follow anybody off the road to try to talk. It wasn’t the point.
And I turned the knob and changed the program and I was Clayton, the Peace Corps volunteer of the future, though the future was fast coming up to meet me: I’d sent in my papers and was waiting to hear back and I hadn’t told my parents and I didn’t know how to. They wanted me to do one set of things with my life, and I wanted to join the Peace Corps then maybe do some of the things they wanted. So I just skipped that entire inevitable conversation and imagined I looked like Indiana Jones with a shovel, not a gun, black stubble on my face and me wearing [p.77]a fedora, and I was saying, “Yes, sir. I’d be glad to go to Ethiopia and show them how to dig ditches and teach them to have fewer kids,” and maybe I’d actually help the people there, and I imagined I was setting off with my Bible and Book of Mormon and shovel—but I was mixing up my programs, the mission program and the Peace Corps program, and I sat back down on the edge of the tub and thought how all my programs were mixed up because I didn’t have a central program to guide them: I’d just been programmed to do this or that so much I didn’t know what Clayton really wanted or how to cut through the programs to ask the questions to even find out what Clayton would want to do with his life if he had ever been asked, if he’d ever asked himself. I was so programmed to want what I was supposed to want I couldn’t even ask myself questions I needed answers to because the old programs would all keep running in my head and block the answers, and I wondered if any of us could ever break out of the programs that ran us?
And I looked at myself in the mirror and thought, I’m going to go tell Mom what happened today. It’s not part of any of our programs. Seeing what I saw upset mine and it will upset hers and maybe we’ll be able to talk to each other about more than the stuff we’ve been taught to think about and talk about.
So I went down and found Mom in the kitchen reading the paper, it was her turn to read it now. “Mom,” I said. “We’ve got to talk.”
And I told her what had happened, and she sat still for a minute, not looking at me, then she said, “Don’t call the police if you see that lady out there again. Her husband would be a sweet angel while the police were there, but once they left he’d beat her for sure and maybe the kids. Just get her license-plate number and talk to her and see if we can help. Maybe we can send her somewhere—to her parents? Now tell me what that car looked like again and what the woman looked like.” And I did and she hugged me after a while, and I thought this was a good program we were downloading into our systems. A different kind of program, because I’d made some decisions and taken some chances. When I went to sleep that night I didn’t feel so much like Clayton the Robot Boy in the mirror, and I liked not feeling like Clayton the Robot Boy.
Fat Joe let me do some VR practice the very next afternoon, and he merged me out onto VR I-15 and let me loose, and who should I see driving along in her cute little red Mustang convertible but my mother, [p.78]with the top down but her windows still up so she wouldn’t get blown too much and her black Gucci sunglasses on and a scarf tied down around her hair. She waved and cut in front of me and took the 21st South exit and I followed her into the parking lot of some abandoned warehouse by the off-ramp. She stopped and I swung around and parked next to her with my driver’s side window facing hers so we wouldn’t have to get out of our cars, just roll down the windows. Mom reached over to turn down her music: she was listening to a CD of some old-fashioned group, Def Leppard or Scorpions, and I didn’t even care then because I was so surprised to see Mom.
I’ve been looking for your green station wagon for two hours, she said. No sign of it.
I thought, wow, Mom—we’re calling out the cavalry for this one, you and me, and I said How have you been looking? and she said Driving up and down the interstate—Bountiful to Draper, and back again.
I think she’ll come, I said. I think this is a release for her—maybe a kind of escape. Maybe she’s even planning to escape and she knows she’ll have to do it in her old station wagon, so she’s practicing in VR, learning where the speed traps are, seeing what her theoretical car can do.
Mom agreed. We went back out onto VR I-15. I went ahead fast, looking, while Mom came along behind at a slower pace, just in case the lady merged onto the interstate behind me.
I drove down to the Point of the Mountain just past Draper, right up to the Utah County net, then turned around and drove north to Bountiful, then headed back south again—when there it was, the green station wagon, merging onto VR I-15 from 21st South and going fast. She passed me, and I sped up to keep up with her, and the kids waved at me again, waving hard and laughing like they recognized me, which they probably did thanks to the Happy Pizza clown face stuck on the hood of the car, and I merged into the right lane so I could get up alongside her, but a Brink’s armed car roadblocked me doing 65, and I had to change lanes again, weaving in and out till I could get up alongside her. I honked and waved and motioned for the lady to pull over and she looked at me but then wouldn’t look back, just sped up.
Great, lady, I thought, I’m only trying to help you, and I followed her along till 45, and she took that exit and went down the hill, and I followed, thinking maybe we’d stop at the red light and talk, but suddenly she gunned the car again and sped through the red light, [p.79]across 45, up the on-ramp, and back out onto VR 1-15. I just stopped at the red light. It was obvious she didn’t want to talk to me.
Mom pulled up alongside me and lowered the electric window on her passenger side. She won’t talk to you because you’re a man, she said. Let me go ahead and try. Don’t follow us for a while. Then Mom sped through the red light and out onto VR I-IS, and I just pulled off to the side of the road.
A cop car stopped behind me five minutes later, and the cop got out and asked me what I was doing.
I’m just thinking, I said.
Well, it’s costing your company money for you to think in here, he said, and I told him to write my company a letter about it, which pissed him off, but since thinking wasn’t illegal yet, all he could do was tell me to get my car off the side of the road and into a parking lot somewhere, so I took it out onto VR I-15 instead. I motored along pretty slow—doing the speed limit, actually, because I didn’t want to come up on Mom and the lady too soon, but I never did see them. I was down past Draper and heading up the Point of the Mountain when Fat Joe broke into the VR and told me I had a run to make. Before he could pull me out, I raced my car up into the Utah County net boundary and caught a glimpse again of the country that lay beyond in VR and looking better than I ever remembered it in real-land: all green in the valley and white snow on the blue mountains and I-15 shining below me, and no sign of the big cities down there, Provo and Orem. I wondered why I couldn’t see the cities.
When I got back from Fat Joe’s run, which took me all the way out to Sandy, he had another waiting for me in downtown SLC, some banquet of ten pizzas, but my mother was sitting in the front diner by a window, eating a pizza of her own. “What happened out there?” I asked her, and Fat Joe told me to get out on my run, I could bother the customers on my own time, and Mom said, “Send one of the other boys. This one’s making a run for me in about ten minutes,” and Fat Joe looked at her as if to say “When did you buy this place so you could order my help around?” But he sent somebody else out on the run and didn’t say anything. Mom was after all a paying customer, and you don’t argue with those types when you’re in the pizza business.
I pulled up a chair at Mom’s table, and she said, “This lady is in bad trouble: her husband beats her two or three times a week and has put [p.80]her in the hospital twice. She left him once before but went back to him, so 1 don’t know what to think. You know how people in her situation are: they can’t let go of the person killing them, and they leave them and then go back to them, and who knows what she’ll actually do in the end, but 1 told her, ‘Honey, you’d better get ahold of yourself and break this marriage apart before your husband kills you so you can raise these three babies. If you don’t want to think of yourself, think of them.’ And she thought about it in those terms and told me she’d leave her husband again. She has a sister who just moved to Baker, Nevada, who will take her in, and the husband doesn’t know the sister’s gone to Baker, so the lady should be safe with her. 1 told her we’d drive her out there. The Nevada courts can get her a divorce by the weekend. So this is the plan: she’s going to call in a pizza order anytime now. You’ll take it to her in my car, which is faster than yours. When you get there, she and the kids will come out to pay for it, get in the car instead, and you’ll drive her on to Provo. Your Dad and 1 will meet you at the courthouse, where she’ll arrange for a restraining order on her husband. Then we’ll all go on to Baker.”
“Dad?” was all I could say.
“I told him this morning what we were doing,” she said, “and he’s been checking into the legalities of helping this woman, which is all legal, and taking your sisters to your Aunt Cheryl’s and getting us a reservation at a campground in Great Basin National Park. He’s home packing his van now. He and 1 agree this will be a great chance for the three of us to talk. Here are the keys to my car,” and she handed me her car keys.
I gave Mom my car keys and realized I maybe had some rethinking to do about my dad. Maybe I’d been running the wrong programs about him and let a few I/O errors affect my brain and keep me from seeing things right. 1 guess I’d find out. Fat Joe walked over, and 1 looked up at him. “So what’s going on?” he asked.
“This boy’s your best driver,” Mom said. “I need his services.” And she pulled out a hundred dollar bill from her purse and handed it to Fat Joe. “That should cover any inconvenience you’ll incur from his absence this weekend.”
Well, Fat Joe was all smiles then, and 1 knew my job was secure if I took off the next week, not just the weekend. The funny thing was, Fat Joe probably didn’t even know that this was my own mother doing all this, and 1 sure didn’t tell him. He came out to help me put a Happy [p.81]Pizza clown face on the hood of Mom’s Mustang, and it looked so stupid there, but then, it looked stupid on any car.
When we walked back in, Mom was pacing up and down, looking at her watch, and then the phone rang. We all just looked at it till it rang again, then we all dived for it, but Mom got it and it was the lady. “Yes, I’ve got your address right here in my purse,” and she read it back to her. “Ten minutes,” Mom said, and she hung up and handed me a paper with the address on it. “Go, Clayton,” she said, and I started for the door, but Fat Joe said “Don’t you need a pizza?” and Mom said, “For heaven’s sake, yes, but who cares what it is or if it’s even cooked,” so the kitchen help rushed a frozen Italian sausage and pineapple out in a box, and I ran for the car.
The address read Layton Avenue, which meant out to I-15, down to 21st South, east to West Temple, then north five blocks to Layton. I got there in seven minutes. The three kids were out sitting on the lawn, and the oldest, a girl maybe five years old, took the hands of the others and started walking them toward the car. I left the door open for them and left the car running, hoping the kids had sense enough not to touch anything, and I walked the frozen pizza up the steps to the door and rang the doorbell. The lady answered it, and I couldn’t even talk for a minute when I saw her in real-land. Her eyes were both black, and her wrists were bandaged and there were bruises along her neck above her shirt collar, and her hair was a wreck. She looked at me with tears in her eyes, and I thought, Lady, don’t back out now, your kids just climbed into my car. She handed me a ten, and I gave her the pizza and said I’d have to go get change from the car, could she come out for it? She nodded and set the pizza on the TV. Some man I could barely see on the couch growled “this doesn’t even smell like a pizza. Where did you order it from?” But the lady just walked out of the house and followed me down the steps. She stopped and pulled a suitcase out of the bushes by the front door and hurried to put it on the floor in the backseat. The kids were in the back. We climbed in, and I started backing out and I looked at the lady again and thought how I’d known that people look better in VR because you can touch yourself up after you’re in, so I should have known a woman would take away black eyes and bruises. I should have looked ahead and been prepared for seeing her in real-land, but I hadn’t and it was hard to look at her now. That’s when the husband ran out of the house. He must have looked in the pizza box and seen that the pizza was frozen, then looked out the window to [p.82]see that his family was making an escape. I could easily outdistance him in a Mustang, and he turned and ran back to the house.
“He’ll follow,” the lady said. “Can you drive this thing?”
I didn’t even answer her. I just took us out onto I-15 and started the game. It was all the answer she needed. She turned around and buckled the kids in, then buckled herself in.
We weren’t going to have an easy time of blending into the traffic in Morn’s red Mustang with a Happy Pizza clown face flapping on the hood, and I just hoped her husband was way behind us somewhere, which was too much to hope for. The lady was watching behind. “Here he comes,” she said. “White Bronco, center lane. He’ll want to kill you, because he’ll think I’ve been stepping out with you.”
I thought about that for a minute. “What about you and the kids?” I asked the lady, finally. “What will he do to all of you?”
“He’ll just want to hurt me. The kids don’t matter to him yet.”
So play the game, I thought. Play it better than you ever have. He was right behind us and gaining, doing 90 plus. I sped up to over 90 and thought that this is what I would do: come up fast on the speed trap at 33rd South, get in the inside lane, then slow down fast, send the Bronco speeding past, the sure prey of any cop waiting there. We carne up fast onto 33rd South, I took the inside lane and braked. The Bronco sped past in the middle lane.
But there was no cop.
“Now he’s in front of us,” was all the lady said.
He slowed right down in the middle lane, so I got in the fast lane and punched it. When we were alongside each other, doing 80 plus, he tried to shout something out his window. The lady wouldn’t look at him. The five-year-old girl climbed out of her buckle and over the seat into her mother’s arms. She looked at her dad, but didn’t wave. The other two kids started crying because they wanted to come up into the front seat too, but the lady just ignored them. I punched it again to get past her husband, and he swerved in behind us—I didn’t know if he’d meant to hit the back of the car or what, but he was right on our tail and speeding up behind us to maybe ram us. I shoved the Mustang up to 90 plus, and he was still gaining.
I merged right, and he followed us. We passed a Smith’s grocery store semi in the middle lane and just ahead a white Lincoln was going to roadblock us doing 70. I got an idea and slowed down while the semi closed up the space between us. The lady’s husband slowed down, too, [p.83]though he stayed right on our tail. He didn’t ram us after all. I waited till there was room for just us to merge into the middle lane between the semi and the Lincoln and did it. The semi let out a blat of horn and I sped ahead. The Bronco was sandwiched back behind the Lincoln and the semi.
We’d passed the 45th South exit and were coming up on 53rd South and one mile later the I-215 turnoff. The white Bronco reappeared behind us. He’d slowed down, gotten around the semi, and was speeding up toward us again. “I know where I can get some cops,” I said.
At least I hoped I did. They were always there when you didn’t want them: just off the I-15 merge lanes onto I-215 heading west toward Redwood Road. I’d gotten my first ticket there after starting work for Fat Joe and Happy Pizza. Be there today, Cops, I thought. Just be there. I didn’t care if they pulled us all over and helped us sort out the mess. The husband couldn’t make his wife stay with him, and he couldn’t kill me if there were cops around.
So I got in the inside lane, passed 53rd South, and headed for the I-215 exit. The Bronco followed. I dropped down onto I-215, doing 80 plus, and braked. The Bronco changed lanes and sped past to get ahead of us, and a cop pulled out after him, lights flashing and then the siren started up.
We stayed well behind the chase, and eventually the Bronco pulled over. We drove past them, turned around at Redwood Road, and headed back east for I-15. The police still had the Bronco and the lady’s husband pulled over when we went past.
“He’s probably telling them that you kidnapped us,” the lady said.
“You can straighten things out at the courthouse in Provo,” I said. We got onto I-15 and headed south past 72nd South. I realized I was breathing hard and tried to slow it down. I also slowed down the car. After all, I had a mother and her three kids in the car with me and no reason to race anymore. I dropped us down to 70 and kept it there. The lady turned around and unstrapped her crying kids and took them all into the front seat with her and held them, quieted them down.
“Thank you,” the lady said to me, almost in a whisper, looking straight ahead.
“My name is Clayton,” I said, suddenly thinking it was important for her to know that.
She looked at me, then, but didn’t smile. “I’m Elizabeth. The oldest one here is Jane. This is Amy; and my youngest is Clayton, like you.”
[p.84]There wasn’t much else for us to say. Not then. We drove past Draper and the prison, then started up the Point of the Mountain. When we drove over the top, we could see Utah Valley. There were the green wheatfields and the orchards around Alpine, the snow on the blue mountains. I-15 stretched out below us and ahead, to the south. It all looked nearly as good as it looked in VR, though I could see the cities from the Point if I looked hard, so I stopped looking and we dropped down into the valley and I couldn’t see them anymore. We’d be in Provo in thirty minutes anyway, and then my parents would come.
I thought about that and decided to tell them about the Peace Corps later that night around the campfire when it was just the three of us, after we’d dropped Elizabeth off at her sister’s, the three of us without TV so we could talk, away from the things that reminded us of all the programs in our lives, out under stars in the cold mountain air and the only sounds the sounds of our crackling fire and the wind in the trees and our voices. Our lives would all seem short and valuable out there, and our dreams worth dreaming. I got that hit-in-the-gut feeling of excitement again, and it was strong because it came from being excited about talking to my parents and from being able to drive my mother’s red Mustang down the road I’d wanted to take in the net, where the road out looked so achingly beautiful.