Guts

By Scott Gressitt

 

NightHighwayI had spent the evening in Hoboken, playing rock-and-roll music with my sister’s band. It was the middle of September in New Jersey, one of the few weeks when it was nice to be there. The other week is the last few days of May and the first few days of June. Any other time of year, Jersey is a meteorological nightmare.

I thumped away on my bass and noticed a beautiful woman on the dance floor making eyes at me. From across the room, she appeared tall and slender, an impressive mane of blonde hair, curly and free.

She danced like the girls I grew up with. They would take acid and writhe like Turkish courtesans, somewhere between belly dancing and interpretive jazz movement. Call it what you will, it made my pants tight.

When the band took a break and I walked to the bar to get a drink, Blondie sidled up to me, put her arm around my waist, and stuffed her hand in my back pocket.

“Hey there, you gorgeous man. My name is Kelly. What's yours?”

I told her my name and smiled, wading in her blue eyes, the bottomless lakes of New Mexico. But I wasn’t reaching for a life preserver just yet.

She tightened her arm around my waist and jammed her hand deeper into my back pocket as she wrapped around me and slid her other hand up between my shoulder blades, pressing two fingers into my spine and pulling her crotch snugly up against mine.

I just swallowed my gin and tonic, smiled at her, and said nothing.

At close range, she looked about thirty. Her waist was tiny and her breasts, disproportionately large, were independent of any external means of support, other than my ribs, as she pressed them tightly against me.

“I have a thing for bass players,” she said. “I like watching you play, your melodic bass lines.”

“What do you know about bass lines?” I asked.

“Would you like to come by my place and see my quiver? I have quite a collection of fine bases.” She shook her voluminous mountain of curls off her shoulders and pointed her mouth at mine.

I let her lips land at will, and they were as delicious as I’d expected.

“Perhaps some day I’ll have a look.”

The bandleader came by. “Oh, Scott, I see you've met Kelly.” Standing with his face behind her shoulder, he rolled his eyes at me, smiling his ever-sarcastic smile. “Would you like to play another set with us?”

I peeled Kelly off me and headed onstage. I had a great time playing Clapton tunes, Blind Faith, Little Feat, Traffic, The Kinks, paying homage to the masters of the sounds of my youth. We finished up the night, and I got off stage to pack up my instrument.

Kelly wasted no time striding to me and grabbing my hand. ”Would you like to have breakfast with me, Scotty?”

“Kelly, I am hungry and infatuated with you, but I'm not going home with you. I'm married, and I have a very sick wife. Somewhere. Nonetheless, I am emotionally and legally unavailable. I’m going to say no.”

But something more was distracting me, some faint noise in the back of my psyche, like a zephyr, blowing through a moonlit canyon. It called to me, “Home … go home.”

I climbed into my German executive shuttlecraft and headed back up the slopes to the hills of northwestern New Jersey. I was tired, and I needed to get up in two hours to turn around and head back into Manhattan, to go to work in the windy canyons of the city.

I peered into the oncoming woods along either side of the highway, watching for deer and State Police, both lying in wait. I shivered, recalling the message the zephyr had whispered in my head, but no matter. I was, in fact, heading home.

Right around Bernardsville, a motorcycle headlight appeared in my rearview mirror. Glancing back, I realized he was going an obscene speed as he rapidly gained on me, and I was doing a hundred.

He flew by in the dark of the night, the elastic sound of the valves and pistons screaming at a high RPM. I saw his taillights when I crested the next two hills, he, disappearing furiously into the future.

I had made the same trip many times, speeding my motorcycle, a cafe racer, home from the city at night, driving far too fast, far too dangerously, a defenseless bag of meat on two wheels, fearless, and afraid.

By the third hilltop, he was well out of sight.

A highway sign overhead indicated I had a mile to go to my turnoff. As I topped the last rise, I was surprised by a deer with broken forelegs, flailing hysterically along the side of the highway, blood and guts dangling from its belly, torn asunder.

Two hundred yards beyond the deer I saw the sidelights of a motorcycle outlining its semi-dismantled configuration in the third lane of the highway.

Between that mess and the deer, my headlights found a mound of leather-clad, incongruent geometry. I knew what I was looking at.

I had the first cell phone is those parts. It weighed forty pounds and filled an aluminum Halliburton attaché. I had hired an engineer to build it for me, as my work required me to be in touch with customers, my office, and, when she wasn’t doing a disappearing act, my wife. After years of running to payphones every time my office paged me, I did the math and decided to invest the thirty eight hundred dollars to have a phone with me everywhere I went.

My friends all thought I was nuts. Look at them now.

I got out the car with my briefcase and set it on the roof, the highest point available. I powered up the phone set and dialed 911, explained the situation, not yet knowing if the rider was even still alive. They got my number and location and dispatched help.

I walked over to the mound of leather, my headlights illuminating the gravity and gruesomeness of the scene.

The rider lay on his back, one foot pointing up, the other pointing down. His left arm was bent impossibly back at the shoulder and he lay atop it. Blood wept from his mouth, his jacket, his pants.

I knelt over him. “Good evening.”

He gurgled in response, “I’m cold,” and coughed blood in my face.

A vaporous ghost of alcohol filled my nostrils. I thought about my evening and tried to count how many gin and tonics I had quaffed. I peeled off my blazer and laid it over him, assessing his condition. I knew from experience not to move a thing.

Slurring, he begged me to remove his helmet.

“I’m going to leave your helmet on ’til some pros get here, OK?”

“I can’t feel my face!”

“I know what you mean.”

“I’m fucking freezing!” he whimpered.

Head down, I stepped around my car to the trunk, and pulled out my sea bag.

The flashing red of my hazard lights made an impression on the nearby woods and on my psyche. I shivered. For a moment, I wished I’d stayed in Hoboken with Blondie. We’d no doubt be up to our ankles in it by now.

I went back and kneeled beside my new friend. I pulled my foulies out of the sea bag and gently covered his body with them and a space blanket from my emergency kit.

With his one good hand, he reached over and grabbed mine, squeezing as best he could.

“I’m so cold!” he slurred again and hacked up more blood and goo.

“I can hear the siren of the ambulance. Help is on the way,” I lied.

“Don’t leave me!”

“My friend, I’m here ’til we get you taken care of. I will not leave you.”

He gripped my hand even tighter and sobbed, gurgling and gasping.

Once again, I shivered, musing over the calling I’d felt, urging me to head home

Then his hand relaxed completely. The gurgling stopped. His eyes, wide-open, stared into the stars.

I heard the sound of a siren, distant and useless, echoing over the hills.

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About Scott Gressitt

An amateur writer and rapscallion, I write of my past, a life laden with extraordinary events. I have walked in places most of the population avoids. Besides scars and bruises, I’ve collected experiences that frighten, delight and entertain. I write with the intent to take you on a wild ride where all your senses are fully engaged. Enjoy.

Photo credit: Katie & Ian via a Creative Commons license.