All posts by Demi Sullivan

A Methamfairytale by Shane Stricker


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Originally published in Issue #14, December 2013

At first, you were only making enough for yourself. It was easy. A trip down to Wal-Mart. One to the farm supply store. A quick ride across the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers there at Cairo and you could get the Sudafed just by asking the pharmacist to take it from the shelf for you. No prescription needed. And you were smart enough to drive just a little further for it from time to time. Down past Wickliffe to Paducah, or a little further still over to Eddyville. You held onto a calendar you received from the Jehovah Witnesses who came by beating on the door, poking their heads in where they didn’t belong. You thought it was funny to keep your schedule in there, marking the dates when you got the Sudafed, where you bought it, in what town, and when you could go back to get more without catching any badges. But the money ran out. Gone, dried up. And you had friends who would pay top dollar for what you were making. They already knew you cooked it. You might as well stack some green toward bills, toward groceries. But even as you sat there arguing with yourself about where that money was going, you knew it wouldn’t be to groceries. You were educated enough to know the economics of a fix. It was either bills and groceries or the dope, and everybody knows which you chose. After the family all passed away, you were out there living alone in that house on the farm where you grew up. When you still held down a job, there were friends who didn’t even do dope swinging by when they were in town. Sure, you had loads of those kinds of friends, all of them there to pull you out of that big ole shit pot you had gotten yourself into. They came in groves— their buses parked end to end along the dirt drive leading up to the house— all of them fighting each other to see who could give up everything in their lives the fastest; all of them struggling over each other to reach down and give you their hand.

Truth is, there weren’t any of those kind of friends. But there sure were plenty to come by and pay for more dope making. That there was. And since that shit does do you different the calendar that worked so well at first got a little disorganized and before you knew it, you had thrown up a red flag at a Walgreens in Paducah.

They didn’t have a goddamn scrap on you but they said they’d go ahead and let the Sikeston cops know what you’d been up to and you know how

the police are in Sikeston. Lord yes, you knew those Paducah boys weren’t lying when they said they’d alert the locals and not two days passed before a couple of those Sikeston cops came out to the farm.

One of them you had known forever and had graduated with. The other had been a few years behind you in school. The one you had known your whole life was still knocking on the peeling wood of the screen door when you looked out through it. The one you didn’t really know asked if you minded them taking a look around. You eyed him, then the other, and told them both you’d had your problems. They knew that. You knew that. Everyone in town knew that. But you went on, telling them you were still an American and you had your rights.

That was enough for them to turn away from the door but as they stepped from the porch into the dirt of the drive, the one you knew turned around. “We’ll be watching,” he said. The man tapped his hat with his fingertips and the two cops sauntered to their cruiser and drove off, a cloud of dirt left in their wake. You stared after them, through the screen door, until they were gone and the dirt had settled. You didn’t need telling about their watching. No, they didn’t have anything on you but it made you cautious again didn’t it? Cooking small batches in that shed at the corner of the property.

Just a little for you, and a little for a buddy who’d been going to see his sick grandmamma in Little Rock quite a bit of late, bringing back the Sudafed you needed to keep cooking. When your buddy came by, the money was starting to run out again and you had been high for eight days. The way you had it figured, if you could just get a little money together you could pay off the back taxes on the farm, sell it. You could get out of this town, away from this life. You could get off this shit. Like now. Right now. For good. If you could only get your hands on a little bit of money. That’s when your buddy starts in, talking about this Arkansas gypsy woman that helped his grandmamma out a few months back. He’s got this story and he’s telling it and you can’t, for the life of you, hear a goddamn thing. All you can do is stare at that mole on his cheek, stare at its little mouth and the long gray hair growing out of the middle of it. The thing bounces up and down and then it stops. It’s just sitting there smiling at you. But then it starts bouncing again and this time you hear what it’s saying and it’s telling you to pay some goddamn attention, that it’s trying to help you. Its little mouth is flapping away so fast it takes a minute for you to catch up but when you do it’s telling you about your buddy’s grandmamma needing new shingles. She needed new shingles. Needed the sons a bitches up and down, every way around, forever. Just forever. So she’s down, way down about these shingles. But the carnival comes to town and this grandmamma goes down there to get some deep-fried Oreo’s or funnel cake, one or the other. Anyway, she’s down to the fair eating on something and she sees this beatdown trailer beside the VFW’s tent and it says something about the gypsy woman on the outside. His mole just keeps on eyeing you and it’s bouncing up and down but you barely even notice it now. Yeah, it’s there and it’s bouncing and you’re looking at it but you’re also listening to the story. She’s talking to this gypsy woman and the gypsy woman flat out tells her she’s gonna get those shingles she’s been wanting. The grandmamma didn’t even say a word about needing shingles and that freaks her out. She goes home. Wallop. Two weeks later she wins a goddamn drawing she didn’t even enter down to the Home Depot for, you know it, shingles. She thought it was a scam. Didn’t answer the phone for a week straight but the people from the Depot don’t give up that easy. They came to her house. Knocked on the door. Talked her into letting them do the work. She couldn’t believe the gypsy woman was right.

But you aren’t just a dumb shit of any kind. You know no old hoodoo, gypsy woman was out there in Maumelle, Arkansas or God knows where, telling folks about getting free shingles then it happening just like she said it would. But you can’t tell your introspective, dumb-shit subconscious that, can you? When you finally sleep, after those eight days awake, you crash like a derby car. And you crash hard. You dream hard too, don’t you? You dream about driving through Arkansas back roads. You alone. The car isn’t even yours but it feels like yours and that’s enough. You don’t know what you’re doing yet, but you know you’re on a mission. You can tell because you’re wearing cufflinks and you have never worn cufflinks before. Not one time has your life called for cufflinks, and so you know you’re on a mission. When the car disappears and you forget, for the moment at least, that you had ever been driving a car, you’re at the carnival standing in front of a trailer marked gypsy woman . It doesn’t actually say gypsy woman . It says gpsy womn  but you get the point.

You’re inside the trailer without walking in a door or sliding through a window and the gypsy woman’s sitting right there across the table from you, already talking. Her mole is smiling at you and bouncing up and down, up and down and you’re staring hard without feeling self-conscious a bit and it just can’t bounce fast enough or smile big enough for you until it stops bouncing altogether and closes its mouth. The gypsy woman tells you that if only you had listened you’d have heard the secret of life and you get that same oh shit feeling you had when those cops came by the house. But she slaps her hands down on the table laughing—laughs so hard she chokes and starts coughing something up. When she gets done with her fit and finally spits, there, lying on the table, is the head of a sugar glider. It still has its fur attached, the black and white stripes like a badger staring back at you. You try to slide your chair back, try to get away, but you can’t move. You look up at the gypsy woman to avoid looking at the head and her mole’s already settled back into the natural rhythm of doing business. She’s telling you about your farm. A long dirt road up to the house. A barn. Grown over pasture land. A shed that smells like the fires of hell. You’re not sure if the mole even opened its mouth for that last bit but you heard it just the same. She says she knows you need money. If only you had the money, she goes on—you’d have no need for that shed. And then she tells you to listen carefully and you hang onto her words like they’re the last bit of cliff and there’s sixty feet worth of open air waiting to engulf your life. “Walk two hundred and forty-three paces from the screen door, to the northwest corner of the fallow field, as the crow flies.” She tells you that when you dig you’ll strike oil, and then it’s your turn to laugh at her. You slap your hands down—full-well knowing there aint no oil in southeast Missouri—and when your hands smack table, you wake up in the bed that used to be your grandparents’, face-down in a puddle of your own spittle. The floor’s covered in newspaper trimmings, Kentucky Fried Chicken bags, hangers. So many hangers. Lucky Charms boxes. Window frames. Magnets that wouldn’t stick to the fridge. Ashes and burnt out cigarettes mound to one side of your head. To the other, a bowl of congealed chicken salad. This is the homestead that’s been in your family since before the Depression. But you aint like them, your family. They worked their hands until the skin grew translucent by the fire’s light. You’ve racked up a life that’s getting harder and harder with each day not to put a bullet through. They might have died by gunshot or with a bottle sitting next to them but they trudged the righteous path, as far as they could tell it. They believed in powers greater than themselves, in the role of dreams to guide the way. And despite you not agreeing with their beliefs, something about this dream feels so real it draws you in like an open sore. You don’t even bother putting shoes on. You walk out of the house, shoeless and shirtless. The sky is a painting you wouldn’t appreciate unless you were selling its beauty down to the pawnshop. The dirt cakes to mud on the soles of your feet as you pass across the dirt drive into the grass. After grabbing the shovel from the cook shed, you retrace your steps back to the screen door. You must begin there. Two hundred and forty-three steps later, you’re in the northwest corner of your property, just like the gypsy woman foretold. You know there aint no oil to be found and this thought keeps you from making the first strike at the ground. Five, ten, fifteen minutes pass with your bare foot pressed down on the head of the shovel, your forearms resting against the handle.

Finally, your patience—which has never been very long to begin with— goes completely and you strike down on the earth with a massive blow. The reverberation echoes from foot to teeth. You do this over and over. The thud of shovel meeting dirt is followed by the plop of dirt discarded on the pile. You’re at it thirty minutes, an hour, two hours. The foot that’s doing the work is bleeding and may be broken. The rusty spade of the shovel is covered in your blood. You’re ready to quit altogether when you hit something. It cracks loud enough for you to hear it and you bend down. A pickle jar in four jagged pieces. You manage to dig it out of the hole and cut yourself on the broken glass. Inside of it, there’s money. Loads of it, crisp like burnt magazine. And your blood stains the greenbacks.

But when you go to pull the money from the jar it’s so old it crumbles.

The bits of paper stick to your bloody hands. Now you really can’t help  yourself. You push that shovel into the ground, a hundred times if you ever pushed it once. With each strike of the earth, it becomes clearer that your foot is broken. Your hip feels like it’s going to snap off and become its own being, free from your bullshit. But you keep going. By the time you’re finished, you’re sweating all over and having trouble breathing. The blood on the shovel is dried black. In all, you’ve removed seven pickle jars from the hole, all of them filled with wads of money as big as your calf. But when you look closely, two of them are cracked just beneath the lid, small cracks, but enough to let moisture in. The others weren’t threaded right and all that money that could have been yours has been given over to years, maybe a century’s worth of dirt, and air, and wet. You go to pull the bills out of each one, jar by jar, but all that money turns to dust just like the first. It’s like you’re fighting that invisible bear in the woods again. You can hear everyone laughing. You can hear the silence between their laughs. The way their tongues click against the roofs of their mouths. You can hear the sound of every mistake you’ve ever made playing back on a loop. You can hear your grandmamma’s voice telling you to get to school, to get to work, to make something of yourself.

Get Your Heart Right by Greg Glazner

Get Your Heart Right

Originally published in Issue #13 June 2013

You’d kept your mind on music a long time, kicking at gravel on down-beats, stepping over cracks, imagining an electric in your hands, playing the fuzzed guitar part note for note, for your amazed biology classmates. But when you made it to your street, clapboard houses, straight driveways, more pickups than cars, you couldn’t avoid worrying about Friday night any longer. You knew your father would laugh and your mother would exaggerate. It was late afternoon, you were carrying your gear in your duffel, tired from track practice, trying to come up with a way you wouldn’t have to say anything at all. Early in the year when you’d told them you sat next to a girl in your driver’s ed class named Jenny Phillips and that she was pretty, your mother had said “Well! Do I detect a little crush?” putting her elbows on the kitchen counter to wait for more. Your dad had looked over at her from the table and said, “The hormones are about to kick in, Linda” in a high-pitched, cheerful way that made it sound like a joke. You didn’t really want to go to it at all. You felt stiff as a robot when you danced, even for a freshman you were skinny, and you knew some of the juniors and seniors would laugh at you. You walked up your front porch thinking, at least somebody asked me, even if it was Martha Tramwell. You didn’t know why it was called Sadie Hawkins. Maybe you didn’t have to tell your parents. You could act like you were just going to the drive-in and get it over without them making something embarrassing out of it.
You opened the front door and headed through the living room,
just don’t bring it up, just go on like normal, and you noticed she was asleep on the couch. Your mother was never asleep on the couch. She was always folding clothes or unbagging the groceries or studying the checkbook with the cancelled checks spread on the kitchen table, or, if it was bad, she was in bed with the door shut, but she’d been sleeping on the couch and was still not quite awake. You said, “Mom?” She opened her eyes, waved, said, “I miss you all too much in the bedroom. I’ll know you’re here even if I’m resting,” and closed her eyes again. You put your gear away and went over and sat at the table pretending to read the newspaper so you could listen to the quiet way she breathed. If this kept up for very many days, she’d be living at her mother’s house again, and you had no way to guess when she’d be back. You didn’t want to hear the vehicle driving up on the gravel, but at the same time, you wanted to hear it so it could be over, the El Camino, the hardware store vehicle, because it’s practical but rides like a car, he’d said. You didn’t want to hear the wheels stop and the tuned engine idle quietly, then turn off, or the driver’s door open and shut, the precise foot scuffs on the gravel, but you were hearing these things, and at least that would make them be over soon, and you knew this was wrong. What kind of a son were
you? He was your father, he provided the food you ate, the room you slept in, you knew you should be glad, you’d seen that on TV when the fathers came home, the boys running out onto the sidewalk, grinning, to hug him, and you were a fist in your thighs and chest. By the time he walked in the front door, your mother was up, moving slowly, putting something in the oven, not really frowning but her face squeezed tight like somebody who had been in bed for a long time and couldn’t completely wake up. You moved to the couch and turned on the TV. He looked exhausted coming in. He said “Hi son,” and went over and gave her a long hug, whispered something to her. She nodded and smiled, he smiled, sad and exhausted over her shoulder. It looked like a waltz without anybody moving. He didn’t let go for a while. Then he opened the refrigerator, got a glass of milk, kissed her on the cheek, and headed to the couch. In the back bedroom, Steve and his friend Jason from down the block were playing Hot Wheels. They’d kept their squabbling just above a whisper so that you’d hardly notice them until the sound became more of a buzz than a whisper. You were on one end of the couch facing the TV where horses stampeded across the screen. Your father sat down on the other end, put the milk on the floor, and put a hand on the armrest, then on his knee. You knew what the argument in the bedroom was about without being able to make out the words of it. The red car ran straight and fast, and the blue one’s wheels were crooked so it scraped against the sides of the track enough that
it couldn’t make the loop-the-loop half the time. They were mad back there, trying to keep it to a whisper, but it was louder now, a sound like confined bees.
After a while he jerked his head toward the bedroom, and yelled, “Hey,” just that one word. Silence, except for the soft gunfire. At least right now he wouldn’t ask you anything that made you have to talk about the dance. By the time commercials were on, you could hear them back there at it again. Your mother sat down at the kitchen table a while with her eyes closed. He turned his head toward her for a second, then snapped it toward the hall, and yelled, “Hey.” No break in the noise. “Hey,” he said again, unbelievably loud. “You better shut it up. I mean immediately. I better not have to
come in there.” Quiet again. There was no way he was going to ask you about girls. It took a while, the firing of rifles was over, the Cartwrights standing in a line, smiling in front of the ranch house in a dusty breeze, but the furious whispering came back all at once, and Steve yelled out above it, “I don’t give a crap if you’re company. Give me that! GIVE IT. GIVE IT, or I’m going to TAKE IT.” You could hear them wrestling, kicking and banging into the wall.
He jerked his hands up off his knees, stood to unbuckle his belt, and you slipped off of the couch and back to your room. You eased the door to your room shut. You wanted not to hear him walk down the hall ever again, but if you had to, you knew it would be better to
be hearing him right now, the precise footfalls, deliberate but not too loud, to get it over with. You knew you couldn’t be a Christian if you felt that way, couldn’t be saved. You would learn not to feel that way. You would learn to feel no way at all if it helped you to be a decent son and a Christian who could be saved. Now you could get the low tones of your father telling Jason to go home over with, and then the front door shutting loudly behind him as Jason walked out into the sun. You could get your father’s instructions to Steve over with. “Stand here, I mean it. Stand here. Move your hand or I’m going to whip it too,” and Steve’s frantic interruptions, “I’m sorry, I gave it back, I won’t do it anymore, I won’t, I promise,” and the crack of the blows in the middle of Steve’s high-pitched crying that he’d shaped into words. Now you could get his quiet crying alone over with as your father walked in his measured way back to the couch and sat back down. In a while you could hear Steve get the wood-burning set out of the top of the closet and then you could smell the burning wood and hear him talking to himself and singing a little. Even after a whipping Steve knew how to get his heart right for his own father, who’d done nothing at all to you, not even look over from Bonanza and ask you something embarrassing about the dance, and you still couldn’t get yourself right toward him in your room with the door closed and the headphones on now, waiting out the song for the place where the guitar soared up over the chords on its own. The smell of the wood-burning set kept going a good while, until your
mother came into the hall and said, cheerfully, tired-sounding, “Len, Steve, supper’s ready. Get washed up.” You got up off the bed and took the headphones off and didn’t open your door until Steve went into the bathroom ahead of you. You listened for him to run the water and leave and head toward the dining room and then you went in, washed your hands without looking in the mirror. There were bowls of mashed potatoes and mustard greens, a platter of
pork chops. Your mother was setting down the last glass of tea and taking her seat at one end of the table, your father at the other. Steve sat across from where you sat down. His face was red, but he looked soft. You seemed to live mostly down in at the bottom of your throat in a hard ball or fist. Your father bowed his head and then everyone did. “Lord, we thank you for this food, for this house, for Linda and all she does for us, may she get well and be strong again, if it be your will, and we thank you for these boys. We thank you for your word and ask that you help us live by it. In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.” He took the potatoes and dished himself a serving, handed the bowl to Steve, who smiled right at him and said, “Thanks, Daddy.” You put some greens on your plate and didn’t look up when you handed the bowl to your father. You could afford to grit your teeth, but you couldn’t let anything flash in your eyes, not for even a second, so you looked only at his hands and then back to your plate. You couldn’t let down in your muscles and nerves. If you couldn’t get your heart right toward him, you still needed to lay low, stay out
of the way. Maybe at least he wouldn’t think to ask you anything about girls. He picked up the bowl of greens, dished some out, looked over at your brother and said, his voice calm, a guiding sort of voice, interested, ready to help or praise, “Steve, tell us what you’re doing with your wood-burning set.” Your mother was listening, a kind look on her face. These were your parents who fed and sheltered and loved you, you should not live in a ball or fist down in your throat, a son with the least decency would appreciate them, these were the most important people you had in the world, these were Christians. Steve was smiling with red eyes. “I’m doing a rope that spells my name in cursive. You should see it. I got a crate from the grocery store, I was going to put polished rocks in it, but I got an idea to burn in a rope in the shape of my name. First I drew it, braided like a real rope, it loops one time and turns into my name. Then I burned it in, I’ve got it all done except for the ‘e’. Daddy could I bring it in here?” Steve was smiling, his cheeks were still red, his eyes looked like they were asking for something, you knew he had his heart right toward his own father, who said, “After dinner, son,” and smiled with his top lip covering the bottom one, an approving, proud smile, his elbows on the table, his hands folded together up over his food. You looked back at your plate and finished what was there. If you didn’t look up, maybe they wouldn’t pay you any attention, maybe they wouldn’t ask you. Your mother said, “Len, do you want some more potatoes?” and you said no thanks. She was your mother. She was kind to you, she was sick with something you’d never heard of, but you knew it was bad, really bad, Lupus, people said, her face grayer or whiter or some other color you didn’t have a word for. She seemed sorry for the whole thing, sorry that Steve had done wrong and had to be whipped, sorry he’d pushed Jason into the closet door
and bent the hinges and that would be expensive to fix, sorry to be sick and letting the family down, and now everybody just needed to love and forgive each other, and you were a fist at the bottom of your own throat, what kind of a son were you? You were something there were no words for. You thought maybe if you just didn’t go out with girls no one would ever embarrass you, maybe if you could stay unnoticed at the table for even five more minutes, if you kept your thighs tight enough and your head down a little but not too much, you would be able to get back into your room without being asked
anything and get the door closed and the headphones on and let the music soak into you so you could rest.
You heard the El Camino pull in on the gravel, footsteps, the front door opening, and he was inside, shutting the door hard against the sandstorm, saying in his high-pitched voice “Hey folks,” to your grandparents who had come in for a few days and were watching TV. You’d laid the headphones to the side of your open chemistry book.
“Let me wash my hands and try to get the hair back on my head and I’ll get some lunch together for us. I guess Len’s in his room?”
“Believe so,” your grandfather said.
“Okay,” he said brightly. His crisp footsteps were in the hall. It was only a few steps. He opened your door, about to say something, but he’d seen your shirt, a T-shirt rolled up at the sleeves. You’ d been taking Weight Training at college. It was a black shirt featuring a black man playing an electric guitar upside-down, left-handed.
He said, “You’re going to change the shirt.” You said “No,” just that. You stood up, the same height as him. It occurred to you that you were stronger than him now, maybe a lot stronger. He stepped all the way in, shut the door behind him, spoke just above a whisper. “You’re in my house. Change the shirt.” You said, “I’m nineteen years old. I think I ought to decide how to dress myself.” Some sensation was climbing your throat into your jaw. It wasn’t fear. He said, “Your mother’s in the bedroom. Keep your voice down or I’ll shut it down.”
You said, “No, you won’t.” You were unbelievably alert. He had his right hand clenched in a fist. His arm seemed to have its own
mind, the man himself just able to keep the arm cocked in back of him like a bowler’s, trembling back there where you could see it but he couldn’t. His eyes were amped. He said, “I expect some respect.”
You leaned a quarter inch toward him. Square your shoulders, he’ d said, holding your wrist until your hand was white. You said, “What do you know about respect?” Don’t dance, the more you dance the worse it will be.
Your mouth was full of blood. Take it like a man, you remembered,
the seething quiet of it, a man, like a man, like a man. Voltages were coming into you, your hands inflated and hot, your iron jaw. His breath was on your face. “You’ll do what I say as long as I’m paying
your bills.” You shook your head. “No, that’s over. You’re done. I’m taking it from here.” He said, “What’s over is your attitude,” the skin of his face tight, his lips a bloodless line. You offered your chin. Hit me. Neither of you spoke. Hit me you hypocrite, I’ll shove your head through the wall, I’ ll break your jaw into gravel, I’ll rupture your spleen, they’ ll have to airlift you out of this place if you touch me.
A few seconds of quiet took a long time. Hit me here’s my chin go
ahead hit me now that you’re the one in danger you pathetic shrunken coward. He stood with his fist shaking behind him, his arm tight against his side. “Your grandparents are here.” He gestured toward the living room with his head, not taking his eyes off of you. “Be here tonight when I get off work.” He opened the door, stopped, turned back around. “I had better not see that shirt.” He paused a second to let you see the whites of his eyes. Shortly you could hear the lavatory faucet. He walked on to the bedroom where your
mother was, stopping a minute in there. Then he was down the hall. In his high voice he said to your grandparents, “It’s good to see you, but I don’t know why you had to bring this wind with you,” and they laughed. You heard lunch dishes clinking, the scrapes of chairs on linoleum, low pleasant voices. In a half hour, he said goodbye to them and then your mother. When you heard him pull out of the gravel drive, you stuffed everything you’d brought home in your duffel, went in to see your mother lying in bed with the blinds pulled. Her face was cool to the touch. She said, “Maybe I should get up,” propped up on pillows in her floral robe, and you said, “No, Mom, go back to sleep.” She told you she loved you, and you told her the same.
You carried the duffel from your room out to the big Chevrolet, not saying anything to your grandparents, and drove the two hours back to Shawnee. The next week you got the ditch work job that would carry you through the spring and summer. When that played out in the fall, you took a full-time janitorial night job, cut your load to two classes. You had the tuition bills sent to your college box.
Thanksgiving, you drove back to Ardmore for the first time. You wore the T-shirt under your unzipped jacket. Your father opened the door, looking pained. He said, “Hi son. Come in. Come in,” in his high voice. He asked about classes, work, your friends. He talked about the hardware store, about Steve, who was running high school track, same event you’d run, the 220. He didn’t mention the shirt. You ate tensely with them, your mother grayer than ever, your father bent a little more, Steve taller and leaner. There wasn’t a word about what you should or shouldn’t do. On Sunday, when you were packed and at the door, your mother hugged you a long time. Steve saluted and grinned. Your father said, “Bye son. I have no doubts about you.” He looked you in the eye, shook your hand the way he did the hands of contractors at the store. You didn’t know what to say. Standing in a ditch all summer with a shovel in your hands, in the winter office
foyer with your broom, finishing up at three a.m., the work was what it had cost to be your own man. It had been worth it. You’d never have imagined him changing as well. You drove back to Shawnee, the music high, solo guitar soaring up over the chords. There was no one luckier. You were grown, you’d earned your right to your life, you could do anything. The Chevrolet eating up all the road your headlights could reach.