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A Ride
By Steve Cushman


Riley is fourteen, maybe fifteen tops. Scuffed Chuck Taylor’s, jean shorts and a white T-shirt. He's a friend of Luke's, and they’re in the backseat talking about this other kid, Joey Something or other, that Riley says he wants to pop. It all sounds like child's play to me until he pulls out the silver .38 and holds it in the air like a trophy.

“Put that shit away,” I say, catching sight of it in the rearview mirror.

“Where did you get that?” Luke asks. You can tell he’s impressed.

The only reason I’m driving Luke to football practice is because his mother asked me to, said she was in no condition to drive. And we’d stopped at the light on Mendenhall when this little knucklehead walked by and Luke said, stop, let’s give Riley a ride.

“Put it away,” I say again.

Riley stares at me in the rearview mirror, testing me to see what he can get away with. It’s not like I’m much older then him, still a freshman in community college.

“What if I don’t want to?” he says.

“Then, Riley, you can get out of my car.”

Riley just laughs. “Chill, man,” he says.

“It’s alright, Jim,” Luke says. “Riley’s cool.”

“Yeah,” Riley laughs again. “I’m cool.”

I’m trying to take it easy, to stay cool too, but I’m on probation for six more months and can’t have any firearms on me. While this isn’t on me, it seems pretty damn close and I’m driving around town with a couple under-aged kids wielding a .38 

Luke and Riley start talking about something, about how Riley wished he’d have tried out for the football team.

“You ever play football, Jim?” Riley asks.

“No.”

“Why not?”

“What, all of a sudden I’m the most interesting guy in the world?”

“I’m just asking, Man,” Riley says.

What I consider telling him is that I was already screwed up by the time I was their age. I’d already been in JD twice, had stolen my first car at twelve, sold my first dime bag at ten. Football, or any sport, was not even on my radar. But I knew if I told them this stuff they’d end up thinking it was cool. 

“Was not fast enough,” I say.

“I’m not that fast,” Luke says.

“I’m like lightning,” Riley says

“Then maybe you ought to play,” I say, unable to stop myself. 

All I’d wanted to do was drop Luke off at practice, then head back home and visit his mother like we do sometimes. Drunk, high, whatever, she can still kick it.

“Jim, what do you say we rob a gas station?’ Riley asks.

“Shut up,” Luke says. “You’re stupid.”

I pull over to the curb. “Get out,” I say to Riley.

“What?”

“Get out.”

“Come on, Jim. He was only joking,” Luke says.

“Get out. I’m not going to tell you again.”

“What if I shoot you in the head,” Riley says.

“Go ahead.”

“Come on, Jim, Riley.” I can see Luke is getting nervous in his green football uniform. His hands are in the air in front of him like he’s trying to catch this, whatever the hell it is, before it gets out of hand.

I climb out of the car and walk around to the back door, open it. “Don’t make me pull you out of this car.”

Riley points the gun at my chest. He’s smiling. He pulls the trigger and my breath catches. He pulls it again, click, click. It’s not loaded. He starts to laugh. I grab the gun from his hand, and toss it across the street into the park.

“Hey, Man,” he says. “That’s my Pops. He’ll kill me if I lose it.”

“Not my problem,” I say. I consider punching him, beating some sense into him like my old man tried to do with me, but I know it won’t do any good.

I climb back in as he runs across the street, toward the park. I hit the gas and we take off.

“Jesus, Jim, you can’t just leave him here,” Luke says.

“Luke, shut up, please. Shut up.”

In the rearview mirror I can see the kid stuffing the gun in his shorts pocket. I can see the scowl on his face, the way he would shoot me now if the gun was loaded. All I wanted was to drop Luke off, get laid, then pick him up two hours later. Is that too much to ask?

At the red light, I look back and see Riley running toward us. He’s waving his arms in the air.

“Stop, Jim,” Luke says.

I hesitate, then hit the gas, running the red light, putting as much distance as I can between that boy and me.
Steve Cushman earned an MFA from UNC-Greensboro. He’s published three novels, PortisvilleHeart With Joy, and Hopscotch. His first full-length poetry collection, How Birds Fly, is the winner of the 2018 Lena Shull Book Award. Steve currently works in the IT department at ConeHealth in Greensboro, North Carolina.