1978. BATH, OHIO by Sean Williamson

1978. BATH, OHIO by Sean Williamson

He was driving drunk, a cigarette ripping hot, filter crushed between his fingers. Around a faraway corner headlights, beams reflected faint through the windshield, through his Kmart but that’s ok glasses. Tiny embers spit, excited by wind from the open window.

He put out the cigarette, stuffed it into the ashtray blossom, grabbed a pack of Camel Menthols off the passenger seat, popped the top, flicked and flicked until a filtered end rose, then pulled it out slow between tight teeth. He pushed in the lighter.

Headlights down the way grew at him, flare swelling in his smudged up glasses, exposing fingerprints and crud. He had been drinking all day, spent most days drinking alone, all day, since graduation. His mother had moved with his brother to Wisconsin. His father was staying at a Red Roof Inn but that’s ok. His father had said, “Jeff, the house is yours, for now.”

Black trash bags rippled on the seat behind him. He looked. They moved, wet with moonlight. The lighter popped out, and in that moment of distraction, the warbling of the loop, the car swerved over the centerline, just over.

Eyes back on the road, car back in it’s lane. Pressed the Camel into the red coil, smoke blossomed from his hand like a magic trick. Headlights slowed and passed, slugging over like an old boat, night filled the space. A hallway of trees lead an easy, relaxing ride to the dump.

Straight shot. The bags rippled in the back seat, crinkling in his ear.

Suddenly whirring. Red and blue spinning lights. Oncoming headlights turned cop lights. The cop would pass him, hustling to stop some crime, but no. But that’s ok, that’s ok, that’s ok. Smoke moved down his throat, hot and dirty in his nose. Hands to the wheel, to the shoulder of the road, both cars stopped.

At the flip of the key his engine whirred to a stop. He rested his cigarette hand, fat ember billowing, on the open window ledge. Cop lights: long ray of fanning red, long ray of fanning blue, one after the other after the other, moved across the cracks in the road. The cop door opened and closed. Shadows of feet moved within the rays. Cop stopped and flashed his light. 

You crossed the centerline back there. 

I know. Sorry. I dropped something.

Cop again shined his fucking light. What’s in the bags?

He paused, only for a second. 

I forgot to drop of my family’s garbage this morning. So I thought I’d do it now.

At night?

Nothing else to do.

Cop shrugged. Please step out of the car.

He touched his finger to his nose, walked heel to toe in a straight line, said the alphabet backwards but that’s ok. Started drinking at 14. He passed the tests, of course. Cop, young then, would be much older the next time they met, wrote a ticket, back in his fuckingcopcar and whooshed away. The road was lonely, they came and went. 

Weeks back, Steve held his thumb out. Hop on in, drink some beers at my place, listen to some records, then I’ll drive you to the concert. But after a few hours, practically no time, Steve needed to go, as others, further in the unseen loop, needed to go. So the dumbbell, record still spinning, empty beer cans on the floors, and loneliness again. 

Fuckingcopcar all the way out of sight, heat of the night. He decided not to go to the dump after all. He did not know then, where the loop started or ended. Instead he went straight home. In the driveway, he smashed the plastic bags with a sledge hammer, took the bags to the woods behind the house and scattered their insides.

Sean Williamson is a multidisciplinary storyteller. His debut feature film, Heavy Hands was an official selection to the 2013 Raindance Film Festival (London). In 2018, Sean released the audio series, Blight: Stories in the Key of Decay and Repair. His work has appeared in, or is forthcoming at, Post RoadThe Drum, Juked and The Millions.

Art by Bob Schofield @anothertower