By Katie Lynn Johnston
So, we were driving. This stretch of highway I’ve been on so many times before. The city was already far behind us, and the sky was starting to fade into inky pinks and soft oranges, rose colored clouds swirling into mountains on a silk-screen sky.
The sun was bright coming in through the windows—bright, but so small, and these tiny black piles of melting snow were still there (despite that deadly January warmth), hiding in the growing shadow of the Jersey barriers from its hot, cherry light.
Monster-tall transformers stood high above us on either side of the salt-gray road, glaring down as they reached toward the curling Japanese mountains in the sky with their wiry arms. They cast long, black shadows across the dirt and the grass and the road, caging everything down below them to the dry ground. The grass was dull under their feet: brown and crunchy—I could almost feel it sticking in between my toes—with not a patch of soft green in sight. The houses outside my window seemed to mimic each blade’s mediocrity as they flew passed, reflecting each sharp grass blades’ dull color and worn, tired air. The few cars that drove along with us went like lazy streaks of lighting down the highway, never passing us but hovering there beside us in their dirty bright colors and boxy shapes until we sped up passed them. Peaks inside someone else’s windows led to nothing more than an awkward split moment of eye contact—no one danced like they did in the summer—contact I wasn’t going to break, “Watch the damn road.”
It wasn’t outside my window where I saw him.
There, only cinnamon blades of grass swayed, stretching up to the sky, limp and so exhausted in their pursuit to reach the silk mountains above them like the transformers.
No, it was yours.
Far ahead I could see this dancing, vivid patch of green amidst so much dead—the only color there but for the sky and those slow, primary cars beside us. The toll was beyond him. I watched him move, quick and exasperated as he flicked and spun and screamed, livid. We came up and I watched him as he kicked and he yelled, pointing in every direction like he was surrounded by the cruelest enemies we could not see. His hair came up like fire, muted crimson like his screams from under the wind and the radio. A green sweater—grass blades in the summer—and a white dress shirt—as the sky had been—floated around his thin figure like the clouds over head. His pants didn’t fit him, they were far too short and far too big. I can’t remember if he was wearing any shoes. But his cheeks stuck to his skull, and his eyes—eyes with those colors I can never bring myself to see—stared wildly, saw all and watched me just as intently as we passed him. Your window was down just a crack. You kind of slowed down and I waited to hear his screams. But I didn’t. The radio was too loud (a terrible song). He pointed at me. He was inches from your window. And we kept driving.
I said, “That’s something we should call the cops about, isn’t it?”
You had your hand over your mouth, and I craned my neck around to look at him while you stared into the rearview mirror, watching him. He crossed the highway, manic yet so slow, and I was afraid I was going to see his blood splatter against the white semi-truck coming up behind him.
Suddenly, you kind of shrieked.
I could see the red against the cloud-white metal—I could see the ground under his legs torn away from him, splayed out, tumbling over the hood, he smashed the windshield on his way over the container and fell to the salty asphalt of the highway, dead there like a rag doll.
And the truck kept going.
I saw it—I saw it in my head and then I saw him cross the street with his long, lanky legs stretching across the road like a spider. He just made it passed the truck in time, his clothes billowing around him as the truck rushed by.
“Is he okay?”
I told you he made it to the other side of the highway—to the transformers and cinnamon grass and houses—and was now trekking across the crunchy blades.
I switched the station and turned up the radio.
“I thought he wanted to get hit,” you said.
“Me too. He stared right at me.”
You laughed. “I’m sure he saw right into your soul.”
Katie Lynn Johnston is a queer creative writing undergraduate at Columbia College Chicago, born and raised in Michigan City, Indiana. She has been an editor for the Columbia Poetry Review, Mulberry Literary, and a production editor for Hair Trigger Magazine. Her work has appeared in Hair Trigger, Hoxie Gorge Review, Lavender Review, and others. When she is not reading or watching classic movies, she enjoys baking mediocre banana bread for her family.