I feared this drive. Shivering, the cold Sunday morning after Christmas made my teeth chatter. The minivan’s wheels crunched over salted streets. I passed houses weighed down in slushy white.
My wife and kids were still asleep, warm in their beds. I breathed and raked a hand through my thinning, graying hair. Marriage.Kids.Mortgage.Bills. How’d I get this old?
I turned onto the onramp. The highway lines blurred and my mind cleared, leaving nothing else to think about but him.
The stench of his stale cigars and smiling yellowed teeth were carved into my memory. It had been seven years. No, nine. After my third kid was born, making the trip was impossible. That’s what I told myself. Our weekly calls turned into monthly calls, then every once in a while calls, and then never. The less we talked, the less we had to talk about. I actually blamed him for wasting my precious time. When we did talk, I knew he heard irritation in my voice. Even as a child, he had a knack of sensing my silent barometer, slipping me candies when Mom forced veggies on me and a wordless hand on the shoulder when tears welled up.
But now… he was gone.
Dad’s phone call while I was in the middle of cycling the kids through their nightly routine left me breathless. I hung up and stared at my wife like someone had just murdered my childhood. I’ve been in a daze ever since, packing, rescheduling, staring.
An hour passed and the dark morning lightened, but the freezing remained and made me want to pee. I pulled the car to the side of the road, jumped out, and ran to nearby bushes. Finished, I moseyed out and was half way back when I realized the minivan was gone. In its place was a blue and white car.
I stared. The highway was desolate in both directions. I spun from the bushes to the car.
A cold wind blew and I stuck my hands into my jacket pockets.
My keys, but they felt different. I pulled them out. They looked strange yet familiar. I ran my finger over a Dodge insignia. I looked at the blue and white car and gasped.
I stepped up to the car. It stood empty and quiet as if waiting for someone. I swept a hand over its slick roof. A pair of white racing stripes ran along the top. The sexy curved profile looked great even now. I hadn’t thought about my Dodge Viper for years.
I opened the door, slipped inside, and breathed in the aroma of leather. From the rearview mirror hung a college graduation tassel, class of ‘92. I touched the dangling strands.
I gripped the key, stuck it in the ignition, and turned. The engine roared.
Overwhelmed, I laughed.
I ran a hand through my hair. “What the…?” I looked in the mirror. My head was covered with dark, wavy hair. My eyes looked bright and alert. I pulled at my face.
Car still rumbling, I looked down the highway. I had no idea what had happened, or what was happening. Still, I needed to get to Granddad’s funeral.
I closed the door and shifted into gear. The engine’s throttle was just like I remembered. The vibrations, the press against the seat, the immeasurable chills.
My parents thought I was crazy buying a brand new Viper right out of college. I had no job, student loans over my head, and no way of paying for anything. But Granddad believed. He gave me a pirate smile and punch to the shoulder from the passenger seat. The glint in his eyes negated the entire sensibility speech Dad had hammered me with. I didn’t even mind Granddad lighting up a cigar in my new car. He believed in me. That was all I wanted.
So lost in my euphoric memories, I almost ran over a transient sleeping in my lane. I jerked the wheel. The car spun. I struggled.
The car jolted to a stop.
I breathed. A giant semi blared its horn at me. I was cockeyed in his lane. I hit the gas and wrenched the wheel until I was fully in the median.
The truck flew past. A gust of wind rocked the car.
I unbuckled and stepped outside. The bum still lay sleeping in the lane. I crossed the icy road and ran to him.
I knelt. “Hey, buddy.” I touched. The pile of clothes shifted revealing a trash bag, no man.
Disgruntled, I jogged back up the road.
I stopped. Dodge Viper was gone. Instead, there stood a cream-orange AMC Gremlin hatchback, my first car. I crossed the highway and circled it. Empty and idling, its keys hung in the ignition. I opened the creaking door and sat. Even in the cold, I smelled the B.O. The engine clunked, struggling to maintain idle. I grabbed the wheel remembering how much I loved this piece of junk.
I shifted into gear and drove off. A car honked and swerved around me. The wheel shook nervously.
I moved my leg and knocked the rabbit foot keychain dangling from the ignition. I grabbed it.
Granddad handed me the keys on my fifteenth birthday, rabbit foot and all.
Dad snatched them away from me.
“Oh, come on.” Granddad’s stubbled face bent into a smile. “Who’s going to be my designated driver?”
Dad’s eyes burned at him. “Wouldn’t be a problem if you’d lay off the booze.”
That night, Granddad snuck to my room, threw a jacket over me, and whispered, “C’mon, boy.”
We snuck out and I drove this crappy Gremlin through darkened city streets, Granddad laughing next to me, beer in one hand, cigar in the other.
Now, heading down the highway, I felt the weight of no longer having such a powerful man in my life. He was a horrible influence and I loved him for it. Unlike my peers, he’d get away with everything, filling me with a whirlwind of childlike adventure.
I looked at my body. It was thin, scrawny. I was a teenager.
I turned off an exit, maneuvering through familiar streets I hadn’t seen in years. Same trees, same houses, same unpaved roads.
My heart leapt. The sadness of losing Granddad had somehow evaporated. I felt excited, happy.
I whipped around a tight curve, closed my eyes, and shouted, “Yahoo!”
I felt cold wind over my face.
Opening my eyes, I was no longer driving. I rode my blue bicycle. Granddad had painted my name on its side. Legs pumped the pedals. I was a kid.
I laughed, sped down Granddad’s steep driveway, and slammed on the brakes.
His small, red house stood in front of me, the wooden porch he built himself looked fresh.
The front door opened.
I ran and jumped up the steps.
Granddad stepped out. “Hello, boy.”
I hugged him, then looked up. “Tell me a story.”
He gave me his pirate smile, cigar dangling, teeth yellow. “Ever tell you about the boy who time traveled?”
We walked in. I shivered inside, hungry for his story.
I knew it was going to be good.
About the Author
John Hope is an award-winning short story, children’s book, and middle grade fiction writer. His work appears in multiple anthologies and collections of the best of the Florida Writers Association. Mr. Hope, a native Floridian, loves to travel with his devoted wife, Jaime, and two rambunctious kids and enjoys running. Read more at www.johnhopewriting.com.