The Next Side Road
by Barry Basden
We don’t think about Mexico until the bars close in Amarillo. We’ve been drinking with Robert’s two married friends whose wives are out of town. The gravel parking lot of the Clover Club is emptying fast, and someone says, “Let’s go to Juarez.”
We take off and the married guys are all hyped up, yelling, singing along with the radio, happy to be free for the weekend. Country and Western blasts through the car, competing with our drunken voices and the wind noise from open windows. The married guy with curly blond hair is driving—it’s his Pontiac.
I’m in the backseat, thinking about how little fun these guys are, wishing it was just me and Robert so we could talk our usual existential angst about the aimless drift of our lives.
In the middle of nowhere, outside Tucumcari, we see an apparition. A woman on the side of the road. We stop and back up to where she stands beside a small suitcase, watching us. Yes, she wants a ride, and we sit her in the middle of the bench seat up front.
She’s French Canadian, on her way to visit her sister who, she says, dances in Vegas. Her perfume is overpowering and fills the car, as if ladled onto her dark skirt and striped blouse to cover up whatever she’s gone through in the week it took her to get to here. She’s about 25, a little older than we are, short black hair, pretty.
After a while, everybody gets comfortable. Husband number two puts his arm around her. Somebody farts. Nobody apologizes. My head starts to ache and my mouth is dry from all the booze. We stop at a gas station for cokes. When she goes around the side to the Ladies’, the two married guys start talking about a gang bang. I look at Robert and he shrugs. We stand in the neon glare and argue a little. I’m thinking, why can’t these guys wait until we get to the putas? Then the two husbands start to get angry about it and I wonder who they’re really mad at.
Back in the car, we switch places. Robert’s driving and I’m in the passenger seat, watching our headlights stab the darkness. The girl’s in the middle in back, dealing with casually groping hands.
Blond guy leans over the front seat and in a low voice tells Robert to turn off on the next side road.
“What then?” I ask.
He looks at me hard. Dash lights glint in his eyes. “Then we fuck her and leave her there. What’s she gonna do?” He sits back.
Robert is a good driver. His hands grip the steering wheel at ten and two, solid. He keeps our speed steady and we cruise along in the empty night. “Angel of the Morning” comes on the radio, bouncing in from somewhere far away.
I hear bodies shift in the backseat and a small voice says, “Please.”
Robert glances in the rear view, then at me. I feel something tighten in my chest. It is my last chance to be a hero.