Throttling – Tommy Dean

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They’re driving up and down the highway, Grant throttling the truck from stoplight to stoplight, while Hannah tried to hold the deer spotlight level with the sodden grass. They were looking for a lost shoe, a borrowed stiletto, navy blue, that Hannah had thrown at Grant not ten minutes ago. She was sitting too close to him to get the proper wind-up, her arm circling behind her, shoulder cocked, wrist driving down toward her feet–the way her father had shown her in the backyard, making her toss ball after ball at his creaky old catcher’s mitt until her shoulder went numb from trying to make him proud. All this to say that she missed Grant’s head when he ducked toward the steering wheel and the shoe sailed out of the window.
“Suppose I deserve that,” Grant had said with his fake drawl, chewing on a piece of straw. She had balked at the cowboy hat and the boots. This transformation, before tonight, hadn’t made any sense. But now the pig was out of the pen. At least he had waited until prom was over to tell her about him hooking up with Shayna. God, she wished Shayna was a pig, but that girl was beautiful. Even at the 4-H fair, surrounded by pigs and the stench of their shit, wearing a plaid button-down shirt, and a cowboy hat, her eyes had sparkled.
They were late for after-prom, a party at Grant’s lake house, chaperoned by his parents, a promise of confiscated keys for the rare chance to drink freely from the keg.
“This is so hopeless,” Hannah said, her wrist starting to ache. Holding heavy things had never been a strength of hers, and now this relationship was starting to sap her energy.
“You know I can’t miss my own party, Han. People are waiting for us.”
She considered shining the spotlight into his cheating face, but the thought of wrecking, dying, their picture on the front page of the paper made her want to puke. Puking all over his truck interior seemed fair, but she hadn’t eaten anything in hours. She had been too excited about the dance, the chance of getting a bit wild back at Grant’s place. Hannah was just starting to learn that boys had a way of ruining everything.
“I don’t know why you had to say anything in the first place. Couldn’t pretend for one more night?”
The truck wheels caught on the wet pavement, wheels spinning to a stop on the shoulder. Grant pointed toward a spot down the slope of the overgrown grass, weak light coming from a security light on the side of a church.
“Is that it? Over there by that shopping bag?”
“It’s all starting to look the same out here.”
A semi streamed by on the left rocking the truck. Hannah dropped the spotlight into her lap and rubbed at her eyes.
“Give me that light and I’ll hold it steady while you go check,” Grant said, his voice back to normal, solid, hers.
“With no shoes?” she asked. She leaned back into the seat, the dress tightening around her shoulders. The fabric had felt so free, the way it swayed and flowed around her as she coerced Grant into dancing. Two hours ago, they’d had a future, and still, she hadn’t cried. Her father had taught her to brush off the pain, to bite the inside of her cheek, to scowl, to scream internally. “You’re as tough as the Great Wall of China,” he’d whisper in her ear as she picked herself off the ground. “This world will knock you down, Hannah. Are you strong enough to get back up?
“We could do it together, Grant. Fix this whole mess?”
“I’m not the one who lost it. I don’t even know what the freaking thing looks like.”
She opened the door, her hand hesitating on the handle. The dome light came on, highlighting Grant’s round face, his weak chin, and those eyes that always looked sleepy like a toddler woken too early from a nap. He didn’t mean to be cruel, that she would have understood. Grant was a butterfly, harmless, but flitting from one opportunity to the next.
“This will help, she said, punching the other shoe into his thigh. “Find the other one, and I won’t ruin your party. I won’t tell your parents or mine just how stupid you are. How selfish.”
“I didn’t mean to hurt anyone,” he said. He took the shoe and got out of the truck. His shadow stretched across the road as he rounded the front of the truck and started walking down the slope toward the church. She trained the spotlight onto the spot by the twisted, rain-sodden shopping bag, waiting. Someone weaker might have thought this moment important, a flash of their future, but Hannah didn’t believe in such things. There was always another pitch, another mile to run, another volleyball to smack, another collision to avoid.
Grant held up a shoe in the air, and it reminded Hannah of the official holding up the starter’s pistol at a track meet.
She slid over to the driver’s side, honked the horn, and put the truck into gear. She decided that she’d never be weak enough for him, for anyone.
Three, two, one. The race had begun.

 

 

 

 

Tommy Dean is the author of a flash fiction chapbook entitled Special Like the People on TV from Redbird Chapbooks. A graduate of the Queens University of Charlotte MFA program, he has been previously published in the BULL MagazineThe MacGuffin, Split Lip Magazine, formercactus, Hawaii Pacific Review, and New Flash Fiction Review. Find him @TommyDeanWriter on Twitter.

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