On the Al-Can

Richard Holinger

I tell Bob, “Turn on your lights, it’s the fucking law,” and he comes back with, “The sun’s out, asshole,” so I tell him he has shit for brains. I mean, there are only signs every mile or so saying you have to keep your lights on all the time. It’s because of the dust. You get somebody in front of you, you can’t see for shit. I’d even take sliding all over hell in the rain than not see where I’m going.

“Can you believe all these fucking trees?” I ask Bob.

“Yeah,” he says, and that’s that. What a lousy conversationalist, can’t even talk about the god damned great outdoors. You look at all these trees, and you wonder what all the yelling’s about. Population crisis, my ass. Why not move Bombay and New York up here? They’d have vacant square mileage coming out of their assholes.

I tell Bob, “Look at that silver pile of shit” as an Airstream passes going the other way pulled by an Olds’ Ninety-eight driven by some guy who voted for Nixon. I know what they pull in those oversized garbage bins. Toilet paper. That’s why they’re all so anal. Let them take one decent crap over the edge of a fallen log and wipe themselves with leaves. That’d change their hawkish philosophy.

Another Airstream blows by. It’s a fucking caravan.

I ask Bob, “Hey, aren’t those prairie dogs?”

“Yeah,” he says, and I can tell he’s such a dumb fuck he doesn’t know a prairie dog from a turtle. I don’t know why I asked him, along except I needed another driver. I could have asked a million people. The prairie dogs line the road like running lights. I ask Bob, “Want to get the .22 out?”

“What’s the law?” He, of all people, who drives without his lights, should ask.

“What law? You see anyone? There’s no laws up here. It’s the fucking Yukon.” I point at the prairie dogs. “Look at it this way: we’re cleaning up Canada. They’re rat family.” I swing around for the rifle. Dust frosts everything, even your teeth. I wipe the gunstock and load the ten-shot clip. “Keep driving. It’ll be like taking buffalo from moving trains. This is cool. It’s cool, isn’t it, Bob?”

“No,” Bob says. I recoil in disgust at his disgust.

“They’re asking for it, just sitting there with their fucking forepaws crossed like beggars.”

“Man,” says Bob when I drop my first, its furry brown body going over like a metal duck at a carnival shoot.

I nail a couple more. “Wanna shot?”

“Yeah, I guess,” Bob says. He opens the driver’s door, takes the gun, and fires off a couple of rounds over the roof of the Bronco, which is when I see the big one loping along like it’s carrying a suitcase.

“Moving target,” I tell Bob.

“She’s pregnant,” he comes back.

“Pick her off,” I tell him, but he hands the gun to me even though the dog’s on his side, so I put the barrel right under Bob’s scaredy-cat fucking nose and pull off every round left in there. The noise makes my ears ring.

Bob says, “Let’s go.”

“Couple more,” I tell Bob, and he sits and waits while I reload, taking my time inserting each bullet. It’s about ten minutes before I fire them all. Soon as we’re on our way, we see the sign, WHITEHORSE 30. “Let’s camp there and hit Alaska and blacktop tomorrow.” It’s been a long fucking haul. It’s the dust that makes it long. That and the potholes. Maybe we’ll ferry back.

“Wake me when we get to Whitehorse,” I tell Bob.

There’s a pause before Bob says, “We do everything when you want to.”

“Shit, Bob,” I tell him.

“Just because it’s your car doesn’t make you king.”

“You’re right.”

“I know.”

“Look, Bob. I’ll make ya a bet. I bet I can hit you softer than you can hit me.”

“Oh, man.”

“No, really. You go first,” I tell Bob, and the dumb fuck takes his right hand off the steering wheel, and his fist lightly kisses my bare arm.

“That’s gonna be fucking hard to beat, Bob. You’ll have to keep your arm still.” I turn around in the seat so that when I hit him, as hard as I can, my whole hundred and sixty pounds is behind the punch.

“You win,” I tell Bob.

“Oh, man,” he says and tries to hit my arm hard, but it’s crazy because he’s got the road to worry about and doesn’t have anywhere to go for a decent backswing. But since he got off a punch, it gives me the right to retaliate, and my second one lands better than the first.

“God damn it!” Bob says and hits me again, so I make sure nothing like an oil tanker’s bearing down on us and plant another solid one.

Bob pauses, probably wondering if it’s worth getting off another round. When it looks like he’s not going to prolong this, I lean back, which is when his fist leaps out, glances off the top of my shoulder, and I hear a crack as my jaw burns, and my head bounces off the window.

“You moved!” Bob yells.

“Cocksucker!” I shove an open palm beneath his chin, pushing his head against the metal roof. The jeep veers, and I’m thrown against the dashboard. Blood flows out of Bob’s mouth. The gravel heaves the car back and forth as Bob tries to coax us back in line, but I don’t know if he can get us out of this, each tack more violent than the last. It may be only a matter of time before we meet the Airstream trailer floating toward us like a swiftly rising silver moon.


About the Author

Richard Holinger’s recently published book of poems set in rural upper Midwest, North of Crivitz, and collection of humorous essays about his domestic non-bliss, Kangaroo Rabbits and Galvanized Fences, are available on Amazon or richardholinger.net. He has received four Pushcart Prize nominations; his Thread essay was a “Notable” in Best American Essays 2018; Midway Journal nominated his work for Best of the Net; and his fiction, poetry, essays, and book reviews have appeared in Witness, The Iowa Review, The Southern Review, Crazyhorse, Boulevard, among others. Holinger lives an hour west of Chicago in the Fox River Valley. Degrees include an M.A. in English from Washington University and a Ph.D. in Creative Writing from The University of Illinois at Chicago. Former jobs include secondary school and college instructor, security guard, and groundskeeper. He hopes to publish a collection of nonfiction essays, The Grounding of Flyover States, some previously appearing in Hobart and Chicago Quarterly Review, soon.