by W.A Coleman

‘Stop pickin,’ Jay tells me, his brown eyes peekin over the archaic, spill-dry-wrinkled and smudged Hot Rodder Magazine. On its cover is the t bone shot of the newest, baddest, dark grey, mirror waxed, mortgage on wheels speedster that by now’s a few years passed newest and baddest. Lookin at all them other magazines spread out on the table makes me think, This here’s what it’s like ta be a time traveler.

I continue clawin at the zit on my cheek until a piece a the scab comes off under my nail, and the course texture turns ta a smooth sting that quickly gets slippery. The subscription label of the magazine in the bottom left hand corner reads: Oklahoma Drivers Licensing: 529 W. Adam Street, Jenks, Oklahoma.

‘Quit pickin,’ Jay repeats.

‘I ain’t pickin.’

‘You’re bleedin,’ he says pointin to his own cheek but referin ta mine, my lie, just a small, crimson dot. I wipe the bit a blood with the back a my hand and I know even without a mirror, the dot’ll come back.

Jay brings a small, white complimentary coffee cup up to his mouth and squirts the inside of it with a vile little dark spritz. I can smell the cup a warm chew juice from here. He likes the cherry but it don’t smell like cherry.

The waiting room is nothin more than a row of ten steel frame chairs pushed arm to arm against a concrete brick wall, single coated in this eggnog colored paint. The walls are bare, save a couple a ROUTE 66 novelty signs hung high and the scars of them decades gone by, the patches a dark latex swells that’s risen up like flaky dough and have a dirty, dark mold tint to it.

‘Wesley,’ an old lady’s voice blares making me spring up.

‘Good luck,’ Jay says closin and tossin his magazine on the mountain of others archives on a table. He puts his dirty Red Wing boots atop the magazine stack and a nice sized chunk a dried dirt, molded in the shape of the tread breaks off the bottom of his boot and falls right onto an outdated Good Housekeepin cover.

I walk up to the source of the unfriendly voice, long blonde hair and a tan, leathery chest, them wrinkles on her face like dried river beds. She stands behind a counter that’s elevated. I reach up ta hand her a single printed sheet of my written test score. I got a hundred percent but I don’t think she gives a shit. She makes some signatures and then comes down hard on several of the papers with an ink stamp.

‘Through those doors and to your left,’ the old lady says, not even looking up. She seems bout twenty years passed hatin this place, her disdain for the job now a big part a what defines her.

I stand outside as a vehicle, a sky blue ford Tempo with a decal that reads EXAM VEHICLE #22 in decorative cursive, pulls up. A man opens the door and retrieves a clipboard off the dash. His face is thin and hairless, with bony cheeks that stab. He’s got the hair of a man that gets a haircut whether he needs a haircut or not, his oil black mane quaffed perfectly and parted to the left in true Sunday school fashion. He places the eyeglass necklace on his face and looks through them half lens readers and sniffs a bit and coughs. The man slowly gets out of the vehicle. He’s tall and lean. He wears black slacks and a white, button up, short sleeve shirt with a thin black tie.

‘Wesley?’ he shouts. Hot gusts of wind make his hair rise from that pinnin part.

‘Yes sir,’ I say.

‘You got the helm, son,’ he says invitin me ta take the driver’s seat. ‘Alright, Wesley, I’m Mr. Stockstill. I’ll be administering your test today,’ he tells me.

He positions himself in the passenger side. I put my seat belt on and adjust the stirrin wheel and seat position. I put er in drive and we go on our way.

‘Ok Wesley, You gonna take a left outta here,’ he says and I roll up to the parking exit and turn right.

‘Supposed ta take a left..but that’s ok.’

‘Oh shit, sorry…’ I say. Were off ta a good start.

‘It’s alright. Jus go up the street, take a right at the stop sign.’

‘Ok,’ I tell him graspin the steerin wheel with a solid white knuckle grip and reviewin over and over in my head the difference between a rollin stop and a real stop.

We’ve only been drivin for a few minutes and this guy’s already drawn a couple of long, cursive paragraphs in rich, navy blue ink. The man catches me lookin.

‘Eyes on the road, son.’

I quickly look back at the road obsessing in my peripheral this guy writing a whole fuckin novel about the minute n a half a drivin I’ve done so far.

‘Didn’t do driver ed with us?’ he says flipping through his papers.

I shake my head. ‘Did it at my school.’

‘Oh yeah….what school?’ he says, his magnifying eyes moving back and forth, readin lines of data.

‘Metro.’

‘Metro Christian?’

Stockstill looks at me hard with his blue eyes and tosses his clipboard on the dash.

‘You’re gonna get up here, take the highway,’ he says his knees positioned high.

‘You like it?’

I look at him at a loss. I’m in full concentration mode here.

‘You like the school?’ he says reiterating.

‘Oh…yeah,’ I say nodding. ‘It’s alright,’

‘You a Christian, son?’

‘Hmm?’

‘You a Christian?’

I shrug.

‘Yeah,’ I say.

He jus looks at me.

‘Mhmm…’ I confirm again.

‘You?’ I ask em.

He jus nods his head, all serious like. Actually a little creepy-like come ta think bout it. He has this judgmental gaze as if he’s sniffed out my true devotion. I never was real religious. I guess I’m the type a guy that’s gotta see it ta believe, but I’d hesitate ta call myself a non-believer round these parts. Bein a non-believer is as bad as bein a terrorist….or bein black.

‘You know, jus goin Christian school don’t guarantee ya inta the Kingdom,’ Stockstill tells me.

I look at him and kinda smile awkwardly. I want em ta think I agree with him, but seriously how am I supposed ta respond ta that?

‘I’m jus sayin…‘ he says.

Suddenly something jumps out…something that looks white and when I hit it, whatever it is flies up over us and across the windshield. I swerve ta miss it, after the fact. I veer hard to the left and try ta straighten out the wheel, but then pull too hard and veer heavy to the right.

‘Whoa….whoa,’ Stockstill says leaning over and helping me get control of the steerin wheel.

‘What the fu….? I say looking back behind towards the rear glass.

He turns around and looks too but tells me ta keep my eyes on the road.

‘What the hell was that!?’

‘Looks like it was a dog or somein, maybe a Lab,’ he says layin down a few sentences. I guess he had ta write that down.

‘A Lab?’

‘No, I said it looked like a Lab.’

‘Did I kill it?’

He shrugs.

‘Well if ya didn’t he gonna be late for dinner that’s for sure,’ he says continuing to write. ‘You gonna take the next exit.

‘Should we go back?’

He gives me a ridiculous look.

‘No, but you gonna take the next exit.’

I must have looked distraught because he says, ‘Y’alright?’

I nod. I’m not fuckin alright.

‘Look little green round them gills…you gonna puke?’

I shake my head but keep my lips pursed together, just in case.

‘I’m tellin ya you gotta watch these country roads. Dogs, cats, deer come barrellin out. My advice ta ya, best just run straight through em. Don’t wanna get yourself wrapped around a tree for some dirty coyote do ya?

I shake my head subtly.

Mr. Stockstill sips on his large cup a 7-11 soda. He chews on the ice. The crunching sound bothers me.

‘When I’s about your age I hit me a Mormon,’ he says without even lookin up and jus continues ta crunch on ice.

‘A what?’ I say lookin over at him.

‘A Mormon. You know…Jehovah’s witness.’

‘You hit a dude?’

‘Damn kid pulled out in front a me on his bicycle,’ he says punchin his palm with his other hand.

‘Wasn’t all his fault though…I’d been drinkin a little.’

My eyebrows raise.

‘Lucky I’s a minor when it happened.’

‘He died?’

‘Well, not right there. Died few days later though.’

‘So you…you killed him?’

He looks at me.

‘You actin like it happened last weekend, was long time ago,’ he says scootin his seat back ta get more leg room. ‘Besides, that there’s all water under the bridge now, cause my sins been bathed in the blood of the lamb. Your sins been bathed?’

‘Bathed?’

‘Have they?’

I look at em and nod my head again nervously. He can tell I don’t know what the fuck he’s talkin bout.

‘Listen sir, I jus…if it’s alright with you, I’d like ta jus take my test.’

He looks me, his jaw clenches. His nostrils flare.

Shit.

* * *

‘Do you, Wesley, believe that Jesus is God and that he died for our sins so that we wouldn’t have ta pay the penalty that we so deserve?’ Stockstill asks, his head bowed and his face scrunched tight in prayer. He’s sweatin like a rented mule with beads rollin down the bridge of his nose and drippin off like a leaky faucet.

‘Yes sir,’ I tell him.

My eyes are supposed ta be closed but I’m too busy wrestlin and swattin off these navigationally challenged flies that fly right inta my nostrils or ears and then, for some reason can’t seem ta find their way out and then flip the fuck out in this claustrophobic panic, ticklin me like mad before finally headin towards the light.

We’re pulled over on the side of some long, country road. Three cows are starrin at me from behind the barbed wire fence, watchin my soul get saved, their mouths jus movin in chew.

‘And you confess that your past life before this day was a life a sin?’ he says.

I peek from my bowing prayer and see a truck racin down the country road leavin a dust storm behind him. Headin right towards us.

‘Hello?’ the Stockstill says, his head still bowed, one eye open.

‘What?… yes sir.’

With that one eye he looks at me hard.

‘What?’ I say before bowin my head again even though I can hear the thunderous sound of a Cummin’s Turbo Diesel gainin on us.

‘And are you, Wesley, ready to trust Jesus Christ as your Lord n Savior!?’ Stockstill yells over the loud engine comin up. It passes us by like a jet, coatin us in a cloud of country dust. Stockstill remains fixed in prayer but his speech is muted by the truck engine.

The truck then slams on its breaks and slides atop the dirt road, I swear a good twenty feet before stopping. I hear the truck being shifted into different gear and reversin over to us.

‘Wesley I ask you to now accept Jesus inta your heart, ta take up the residence there,’ Stockstill continues.

I can hear the squeaking of the big truck pull up right behind me.

‘Do you, Wesley accept Jesus?’

‘Hey…what you boys doin, you lost?’ says this massive hillbilly in a filthy white shirt. He’s got a big beard and a camouflage John deer hat, his left cheek swollen with the chew.

‘No, we’re alright son, but thank ya,’ Stockstill says.

‘Ya not lost?’

‘No we’re fine, but we’re kinda in the middle a somethin.’

‘Well sir, this here’s a private road, so why don’t ya go ahead… take your somein with ya.’

‘Son, we ain’t goin nowhere right now.’

‘Oh that right?’ the big redneck says hopping out, his truck door squeaking like it’s about to fall off.

As tall as Mr. Stockstill was, he seemed dwarfed by the well over 6 foot three, three hundred pound country boy. A stocky, old and weathered Blue Heeler rushes out of the truck with the same aggressive manner as his master. He runs right up and sniffs my pant leg.

‘Your a ballsy broomstick, ain’t ya?’ the country boy yells while tippin his ball cap up so he can get right inta Stockstill’s face. He looks down on him as if he was a child.

‘Yeah and I’ll tell ya why,’ Mr. Stockstill says steppin right up to the big man and coming no higher than the man’s chest.

‘I got myself a soul needs savin and I ain’t gonna risk puttin off tomorrow what needs ta be done right now.’

I look down at the dog and lock eyes with it. The dog’s grey n blue and filthy. He has one ear missin. He curls his lip at me, displayin his teeth but not growling.

‘Well I’s jus..’

‘You were flexin you ego boy, that’s what ya’s doin. You a Christian?’ Stockstill says.

‘Yes sir, I’m a Christian. Probably more of a Christian than you are cause I don’t go trespassin on other people’s property,’ the redneck says twistin his ball cap backward to shade the back a his leather neck.

‘You talkin worldly things, son. God don’t care about goofy little temporary borders and…and stupid lines of who owns what. I’m talkin spirtual.’

I watch as the cattle dog turns and sees a couple of them cows chewin on the summer baked grass. The dog sprints towards them flattening himself out and shimmying under the barbed wire fence. The cattle scurry a bit as he chases them. Stockstill and the redneck continue arguin as I watch the dog wreak havoc on them poor grazers.

‘Hey, maybe you can both pray for me,’ I tell em thinkin maybe it’ll speed things up. They look at each other like it’s the most revolutionary idea since the damn combustible engine.

Round two. Were back to our prayin but this time the redneck joins us. He’s got his head bowed down too, his big heavy hand on my shoulder.

‘Lord I pray that ya take this young man under your wing!’ Stockstill says his eyes closed and face braced inta this flexing wrinkle. It’s the same look I get on my face when I slam my knee cap on somein.

‘Praise him!’ the redneck shouts, shakin my shoulder, addin a bit of his own flavor ta the Jesus passion.

‘I anoint him with the blood of Christ!’ Stockstill shouts louder.

‘AMEN!’ yells the redneck.

‘AND IN THE NAME OF JESUS CHRIST!!!!’

‘OUR LORD….OUR SAVIOR….’ from the redneck. This is now clearly becomin some type a strange competition and quite frankly the whole things givin me the shits. I think ta myself: What if I jus shit my pants right now. Jus filled er up. Both these boys, they’d leave me on the side of the road with shitty britches for sure.

‘I jus said that, you know,’ Mr. Stockstill says, steppin outta his prayer mode and lookin at the redneck with disdain. But the redneck can’t hear. He’s too caught up in the moment. Stockstill smacks him on his boulder shoulder, waking the big guy out of his prayer.

‘Hey, don’t hit me!!!’

‘You jus gonna keep on, repeatin everything I say?’ Stockstill says.

‘I ain’t repeatin. I’m just addin what you left out.’

‘What I left out!!!?’

‘Yeah! What you left out.’

‘Son, I assure you, I didn’t leave nothin out!!!’

‘I disagree.’

‘Young man, I got me a degree in divinity from Rhema Bible College.’

‘You keep your receipt?’ the redneck snaps back.

As they battle it out for top holy, I watch as the old cattle dog slowly sneaks up on one of them big breedin bulls chewin away at the high grass. He watches the bull’s tail flip and flop around. I swear I’d never seen anything like it, but that damn doggy jumps in the air, bites a hold of the bull’s tail. The bull lets out a holler, then starts runnin and kicking and then finally starts spinnin around in a circle tryin ta shake the dog off. The dog just holds on and whirls around, enjoying the ride before finally losin its hold and flying off into a ball of fur. It gets right back up, shakes it off and goes at it again.

I smile.

W.A. Coleman’s work has appeared in Echo Ink Review, Houston Literary, 3 AM, Foundling Review, Evergreen Review, Crack the Spine, Thrice Fiction, ‎and many more.