There was more rain than he had seen in one place. It was less like driving through rain and more like driving while a five-gallon bucket emptied over the windshield over and over. The wipers thudded in sloppy rhythm as he reached for the final inch of coffee waiting cold in the styrofoam cup. About an hour back, when rain had started, he’d settled on the source of the most peculiar frequency coming from the mechanism on his windshield. When the rotting rubber blades hit their high mark on the side of his windshield, one piece on the end hung out just a half inch too far and added an irregularity to the squeak. For the better part of an hour, the noise had him driving on high alert, but now the squeak started lulling his dry eyelids to drop low. His truck was finding other ways to blare its siren song to young Derek Jordan, too. The rain pelting the roof of the cab, the wiper rhythm, the pumping cylinders and their voodoo chanting call and response brought his mind out to the bayou in springtime and the way her daddy’s handshake was firm and hot against the chill from the rain that had been falling ever since the second week of March and how his body had shuddered when he hopped up into his truck and he felt the latch catch when the old man shut the door and told him never to come back down around sniffing around for his daughter and how the fringe of the curtain at her window moved when he looked up at the second story of their old house and how it had to have been her and not the tabby up there watching what was happening down on the gravel driveway and she had to have been seeing it was happening like this what with her daddy sending him north back to his own people because he didn’t belong down here and because there’d one day be a gentry man for her, but not him, not Derek—
“—Jordan, wake up!” he said loudly, jumping at the volume of his voice. The tires swerved halfway into the passing lane as he came back from his brief stint of delirium in Louisiana and back to consciousness in his pickup’s cab. He shuttered as he reached below the dashboard for the fresh tin of chew he’d had stored up for when all the coffee was gone. Deftly packing it with one hand, Derek began to consider whether or not he needed to stop for the night. She’d be expecting him there the following afternoon, a Tuesday, which would mean she could slip away clean and not be noticed missing for at least two days, since her daddy would be out on a fishing trip until Friday morning. They’d had it all planned out for the better part of a month now. The summer apart had taken its toll on both of them. Soon after he’d been driven back to his home state, Derek had taken it upon himself to do whatever it would take to get her back and away from the tyrannical father under whose roof she lived. With each letter Derek sent, addressed to one of her girlfriends who lived a half mile up the road so there’d be no patriarchal entanglements, the scheme came together. In his truck, he shook off the idea that he’d be able to make it through the night without sleep. He figured he’d be better off crashing at a cheap motel than into the trunk of an oak tree. He pulled off at the next lodging exit he saw.
“Thirty bucks a night,” the whiskered old man said from behind the counter. “Heat’s out in all the rooms except five and seven. Lucky you,” he said, shuffling some carbon copy receipts into a stack, “you’re in room five.” The man smiled. Derek shelled out the bills from an envelope and grabbed the key, which was attached to a cutout red plastic in the shape of the fifth numeral. He’d gotten away from the droning sounds in the cab, but he still felt as if all that surrounded him was trying to put him in a trance.
More than anything else there was dark in the room. A bed lay near one wall, a heater opposite of it. A single chair sat in the corner. The door opened and a light flashed on. Brightness sprang from a lamp for a split second, blue light spat. Then dark. “Bulb burnt out,” Derek thought, standing in the doorway. It didn’t sadden him. He almost preferred the lighting decision hadn’t been made by him. Had it worked, he would have kept the light on, but darkness was what he needed. Derek took a few steps into the room, found a corner of the bed with his hands and sat on its edge. He would have to will himself into a calm where he might relax. Road was all he knew for the past day and a half. Staying awake in the truck had brought with it a swell of thoughts—his swooping down to Louisiana to rescue her from her loathsome life, what might happen if her daddy follows them, what might happen if she doesn’t really want to go through with it, what if his truck breaks down just as they’re leaving town, thinking about his leaving home—and doubts that had spun him up into the farthest place from relaxation. His sweatshirt was damp from keeping the window cracked as he drove as to not fall asleep. Derek stood and undressed down to his underwear. He shivered with his entire body before remembering the man’s comment about the heat. He rose, made his way to the heater and found the controls. Soon the room was filling with a thick, electric heat that entered his nose by way of his mother’s old toaster oven. It wrapped him up as he slipped under the stiff blanket on the creaking bed. Eyes shut, and grinning, he drifted away from his body.