about the author

Adam Moorad’s writing has widely appeared in print and online. He is the author of Prayerbook (wft pwm, 2010), I Went to the Desert (Thunderclap Press, 2010), Oikos (nonpress, 2010), and Book of Revelations (Artistically Declined Press, 2011). He lives in Brooklyn. Visit him here: adamadamadamadamadam.blogspot.com.

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Red Lights

Adam Moorad

It’s summer and the road reeks of diesel and spent rubber. A breeze moves through the crack in the window, and I watch the evergreen tree air freshener dangle from my truck’s rearview. The light ahead is red, and I double-pump the brakes and my shocks reel under the weight of the mower in my truckbed. The whole hull rattles like a go-cart, and I can feel vibrations spiral from the hood to the floorboards and through my seat giving my buttocks a mechanical massage.

Red Light #1

I idle and pick flecks of crust off my scalp. I brush a shard of dander into my lap and lazily twist knobs on the console, and the busted AC releases a gust of swampy breath. The vapor fills my mouth with the flavor of sulfur and cypress pine, and my taste buds slowly pucker, and my stomach starts to bubble. When the light changes, I rub my eyes, sneeze, and begin to drive.

My brother is standing and waving at me from the curb of the car lane outside truck hub where he works. I weave the nose of my flatbed into the queue of stalling automobiles. My brother steps off the curb and walks through the lane rubbing his crew cut. His expression looks tired, and bored, and a little psychotic. When I stop, my brother stops and runs his curious eyes over the truck, my mower and me.

“I had to come straight from a site,” I say after I crank the passenger-side window down. My brother reaches in to unlock the door, and as he climbs in the seatbelt almost chokes him.

“Balls,” he says chuckling as he adjusts the buckle to accommodate his paunch with long, gaunt arms.

“Can we swing by Shelia’s for a minute?” my brother says. “Just for a second.”

“Sure,” I say. “Where does she live?”

“Just drive,” he says. “It’s not too far.”

He tunes the radio as we drive through town, and we listen to the news as we pass things: an old strip mall, a periwinkle water tower, a church for Jehovah’s Witnesses, a bulky oak tangled in black power lines.

Red Light #2

A cluster of young boys stands at the end of a crosswalk. They take turns bounce-passing a basketball back and forth against the asphalt. One has a plastic pick stuck in his giant afro. Another drops and does half a dozen push-ups. All of them look really thin and wear their mesh shorts halfway under their asses. An elderly Asian woman jaywalks across the intersection dragging a canvas suitcase. The light turns green. Some asshole honks.

“So how long are you officially grounded?” I ask my brother.

“The suspension is almost over,” he says, and he looks at me and then past me, slouching in his seat seemingly born into the beige upholstery and listening to a hoarse radio anchor mime the evening news.

“So what do they have you doing all day?” I say. “If you can’t make deliveries.”

“Bullshit teamster paperwork,” he says. “Today, I met with my Union rep and all he did was bitch about how fucked-up his wife is. He said she was some other race. He told me, but I forget which one.”

My brother motions his hand at the windshield.

“Get ready to turn right,” he says. “Not this, but the next light.”

Red Light #3

I brake and the front wheels screech. As we roll to a stop, I look out my window and stare into the marshy void of the median. A flock of migrating geese occupy the entire gully between the lanes of traffic; fifteen or twenty birds, some waddling across spongy clumps of sod, some coiled up like loaves of feathered bread and snoozing in the cattails. The afternoon sunlight beams through the empty heavens above the road. It moves across my arms and feels like a scratchy blanket.

The air is still, and I can smell gasoline leaking from the tank of my mower and dripping onto my truckbed. I wait and listen for the splash fuel makes when it drips off a muffler and into the cracks in the road that drain into a fetid wetland.

“It ain’t right,” I say.

“It’s just bureaucratic bullshit,” he says. “More or less.”

I shrug. “So what can you do?”

My brother leans against the door and sighs. “I’d like to knockout the buttwank who arrested me,” he says. He looks at me and cackles, and I can see the dark green fillings in the back of his mouth. My stomach begins to squirm, and I try to fix my eyes on the road. I feel my body sweat through a layer of old perspiration and trickle down the curve of my spine and crack.

Earlier this summer, my brother was clocked doing 95 mph on the Long Island Expressway and got a DUI. He went to court and the judge agreed to temporarily suspend my brother’s license if he consented to six weeks of Addicts Anonymous. There, he met Shelia whose parents sent her for pulling her hair out and eating it. Now she and my brother fuck.

The light changes, and I make a right onto different the road that looks like a gravel coffee stain. I feel a scab on my neck, and I pick it and flick it like a booger onto the floorboards.

“I’m ready for this summer to be over,” my brother says, and he hangs his head out the window and spits. We pass an empty schoolyard with an intricate wooden jungle gym.

“Man,” he says. “I’m feeling fatter and fatter every year.” He rubs both hands against his gut.

“I think I know how you feel,” I say. I slide my fingers down the steering wheel, and my hands glide against the clammy vinyl as I move them into the seven and five o’clock positions.

My brother turns to me and says, “Cigarettes?”

“Fresh out,” I say. “But there’s an old roach in the ashtray if you’re interested.”

My brother flips the ashtray open and a cloud of grey soot plumes out. He fingers the roach and sighs as if tussling with a faraway urge from deep within.

“No can do,” he says. “I have a piss test coming up.”

I don’t know what to say, so I say, “That sucks.”

“Tell me about it,” he says. “Let’s stop for some Marlboros.”

I pull over at a gas station, and we walk inside. My brother grabs a Budweiser six-pack, sets it on the counter, and asks the attendant for a pack of Lights. The tatty woman behind the cash register squints her mascara at my brother as he lies about having “misplaced” his ID.

I wander down an aisle and admire all the shiny candy wrappers. My stomach makes a sharp pang, and I can feel my intestines gurgle. For some reason, I think it would be funny to steal some Life Savers, so I snag a roll and slip it into my pocket. I maneuver the roll around with my fingertips, and it feels like a miniature hard-on through my jeans.

We walk back to the truck and I get in behind the wheel. I look at my reflection in the rearview as I bite into a Life Saver hoping to see a spark shoot out of my mouth. My brother presses the cigarette lighter and drums it impatiently as he waits. When the lighter springs out, he snatches it, lights a cigarette, and blows a cloud of smoke out the open car door.

“I get my license back in a few more weeks,” my brother says over his shoulder.

“The sooner the better, I guess,” I say.

We used to catch snakes in the creek behind our old house. We’d find them under rocks along the bank, and we’d knot them to sticks and fence. When the snakes were dead, we’d throw them into the stream and try to shove one another into the water. Now I mow lawns for a living, and my brother drives a delivery truck.

I nod at the Marlboros on the dash and say, “I need one of those.”

I feel my heart climb the filter through the drawl of smoke, and I drive with the dull twinge of rot pulsing behind my tongue. A piece of road kill splays the yellow line in the middle of the road. There are chain link fences and stray cats all over town. In a few more weeks, my brother might not need me to drive him anywhere anymore.

“The next light,” my brother says.

Red Light #4

I run the light as it changes from yellow to red, and my trailer hitch scraps against the uneven asphalt as I turn and brake into Shelia’s sub-development.

“It’s the house at the end of the cul-de-sac,” my brother says. “Just pull in.”

I veer into the driveway and my rear fender clips the side of her mailbox and makes a scraping sound. My brother glances behind us and turns back around.

“Fuck it,” my brother says laughing as the truck jerks to a halt. He climbs out, shuts the door, and leans into my window. For a second, I think he’s about to thank me for the ride. I think about saying something about his suspension, about feeling fatter and fatter every year, about the creek behind our old house.

Instead, I say, “Are you going to crash here tonight?”

“Nah,” he says. “Give me fifteen, twenty minutes?” He snickers and rows his arms towards his pubis in a klutzy humping motion.

“Go for a spin,” he says, and he pulls a Budweiser off the plastic rung and tosses the can into my lap. I watch him turn and slowly walk across Sheila’s shabby lawn, wobbling like a goose smoking a Marlboro on boggy earth.

It’s summer and the air is gas and thistle and low tide. A breeze moves the stench of sour crab off the distant Sound, and it seems to hiss and sing. I sit with the Budweiser in my lap for several minutes pondering whether or not to run the mower once or twice through Sheila’s bushy yard.

Instead, I decide to drive.

Red Light #5

I stare at the sky with my eyes halfway open, and when the light changes I shut them and press the pedal down expecting to hit a mailbox, or a stray cat, or a kid torturing a snake with a stick, always stopping, waiting, and going again, laughing like the sun at an ice cube.

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