Sometimes all it takes is a little thing. A speck, a dot, a peppercorn. Everyone talks about that straw that broke the camel’s back. But nobody talks about the haystack that was there first and the years that camel trucked around under a heavy load, getting weaker with every step. I don’t have a camel. I don’t even have a car. I’m in my cousin’s pickup truck. And it’s more of put er down than a pickup these days, if you know what I mean.
It’s like Elmer, that’s my cousin, Elmer asking me right now Left or Right? Left or right like one little turn is going to make all the difference in the world. There’s too much difference out there already. And it’s changing all the time. When we set out from Wharton we had big plans, me and Elmer and Donny. The moon was full and tonight there’s nothing. It’s not that it’s a crescent or it’s behind a cloud, there’s just no moon anymore. You see what I mean?
Left or right?
It’s not that I don’t care it’s that it doesn’t matter. I’m not going to explain it to Elmer, that was Donny’s job and Donny is too busy lying down in the back to do much explaining.
Left or right?
Left I tell him just to get him to stop asking me. Pretty soon we lose the last of asphalt and we’re on gravel. Every ping makes me wince. I pray for one small stone, one small hole in the gas tank just to end it.
Little things. A speck, a dot, a peppercorn.
Some little rest stop outside some little town I can’t even name. A little sandwich from a little vending machine. A little mustard, a little mayo. A little bite.
Elmer did some pounding but it didn’t work. I tried that thing, the heimlich, but it was nothing doing. There was no one to help us. We got Donny out into the pickup and there we go. Donny in the back sputtering and gasping like he had the whole ocean inside him instead of one little peppercorn.
Where’s the hospital where’s the hospital? Elmer yelled.
We go left. We go right. We don’t find it. Donny finally stops choking, but we don’t stop turning.
I can see we’re coming up on another turn now, the gravel giving way to dirt instead of good intentions. Donny’s back there, lying down like he’s sleeping and I know any minute Elmer’s going to be asking me again. Left or right, left or right? And maybe I’ll tell him. There’s nothing left. None of this is right. None of us are breathing.
Matthew Heiti was born and is still living in a meteor crater in North Ontario, Canada. He has a published book, The City Still Breathing (Coach House Books) and a play, Black Dog: 4 vs. the wrld (Playwrights Canada Press). He writes at harkback.org. In his spare time, he is usually working. Twitter: @hark_back