Thursday, 8 September 2011

Burning Down DJs by David James Keaton

Before the night ends with me crashing through the woods in a stolen police car, I’ll drive around stuck on one thought. But not the one you think. You know how in the movies someone does a horrible thing because they start out with a righteous cause but took a wrong turn somewhere? I love those movies. But I never had the patience to start with the righteous cause. I skip to the wrong turn, trying hard to look conflicted if someone’s watching this movie with me.

She parked my car at his house last night. It sat under his window with the two of them fucking twenty feet away. I was alone in our bed waiting for a train loud enough to rock my brain to sleep while my car’s battery died, headlights fading, all the windows down, and her favorite station cranked loud.

Now I’ll hear her favorite station everywhere, with the radio off, across impossible distances, even through weather and hate that hinders most reception.

While I’m driving towards the antenna, I’ll call the request line.

“Sure, I’ll play it! This happens more than you’d think. You know how they say bathrooms contain the last evidence after a break-up, like her shampoo? Wrong. You know where she exists last? Her music.

I’ll want him to play it fast.

“Play it fast? Or play it fast? But if I don’t read these commercials, they dock my pay, brother!

Taxes take a big enough bite! Speaking of, did you know monkey bites are genetically indistinguishable from humans? And that's tonight’s theme! Song duels between evolution and interior design, uh, I mean, Intelligent Design. God or monkey songs only…”

I will wonder what time he’s off.

“Midnight to 4:00! Now, to get it goin’, we got Presley Abbott's ‘Fish to Frog to Monkey to Man to Monkey,’ and The Pixie Sticks’ doubleshot ‘Monkey Counts to Seven’ and, of course, Pete Ezekiel’s classic ‘Shock the Monkey (Within Reason).’ Admittedly, our definition of ‘evolution’ gets stretched kinda thin, but songs with mermaids will count. Next caller!”

I will roll down my windows, crank the radio, and climb his fire escape.

“...Bob Money was in here Friday, confessing he uses clich├ęs in his choruses so people think they heard his songs before. But ain’t that cheating?! Speaking of, looks like we got a visitor...”

I will punch him in the face so hard his headphones will end up clamped around my fist, so hard the “On Air” sign above us will detonate, so hard my fist will sort of become his face with this asshole’s ears and ‘70s sideburns suddenly adorning my knuckles like a fucked-up Mr. Potato Head. Sinuses will collapse like a crying child’s waffle cone on the sidewalk when I bury my arm halfway through his chair, spraying blood, brain, spit, spite, everything he was hiding down in there except his goddamn voice. Then I’ll take out my road flares and squirt gun full of gasoline to torch the rows of CDs lining his glass booth.

At some point, he might want to know what he did to deserve this, maybe deny fucking my woman. I’ll set him straight.

“Your voice killed my car.”

Listening for sirens, I won’t be sure if music will burn.

Then I’ll remember the camping trip her and I took last summer, the fire dying because the wood was wet. Down to a road flare like tonight, barely enough red light to fuck but desperate to keep going, I found a basketball in my trunk, low on air like us, deflated. I'd only kept it because someone ran it over and it sort of survived, worse for wear. Like us.

"Do basketballs burn?" she’d laughed. And right before the ball detonated and knocked me on my ass, blowing out the flames and peppering my balls with needles of scalding rubber, we discovered that, yes, they do burn.

It turns out everything burns. Just not for very long.

* * *

I’ll run out of gas because I siphoned it for my squirt gun. Engine light flickering, I’ll have just enough coast in the car to reach the giant blue wheelchair stenciled outside of a theater. In my rearview, I’ll see a police cruiser spin, run the stop sign, then screech into the spot behind me. When the cop steps out, I’ll be disappointed.

“You should have a helmet.”

“Why?” she’ll ask.

“You could have pulled it off all dramatic, hair spilling out like in the movies.”

“I don’t see a handicap permit. Move it.”

I’ve had stretches of all-female law-enforcement run-ins before, sometimes for months at a time, but I’ll have a feeling this is my last.

I’ll click my ignition in vain, hoping she’ll understand I’m empty and spare me the detached series of questions climaxing with the $600 ticket. I’ve had friends before try to convince me that only law-breakers hate cops. That’s one theory. But it’s worse to respect them because they let you get away with something.

This is why you should dread getting out of a ticket way more than getting one.

But I’ll be thinking about smoldering songs instead of money, knowing that no one would ever believe I’m out of gas if you could smell it on me this thick. Then I’ll touch my tongue to my nose.


She’ll never believe I ran out of that, either.

Nostrils flaring, she’ll ask for I.D. as I attempt a distraction.

“Why’d you run that stop sign?”

“It’s my job.”

“It’s what you do?”


“You know, whatever made you run that stop sign, that’s ‘what you do.’ So just say it.”

“Say what?”

“‘It’s what I do.’”

“It’s what you do.”

“No, what you do.”

“It’s what you do.”

“Close enough. But you know why that drives me nuts?”

“You’re the one that said it, sir.”

“‘Cause it’s not as impressive as you think. You only hear people say, ‘It’s what I do’ if their list of previous jobs is embarrassing. Dishwasher, landscaper, boiler cleaner, construction worker, fertilizer spreader, cat-sitter, motel mattress mover, slaughterhouse hoser, stolen candybar peddler, and, as of today, disc jockey. That’s what I did. Get it?”

I won’t tell her what all those fuckers really have in common. It’s not what I did at all. It’s what he did.

“Step out, please, sir.”

When my feet touch the ground, moonlight will reveal my raspberry glaze of gore, and she’ll draw what looks to be an elaborate toy pistol.

“The fuck?”

I’ll barely get out the “fuck” when she pulls the trigger. Two darts will pierce my sternum, and I’ll curl instinctively, sucking my gut as if I caught a cannon ball. The umbilical of telephone wire that now connects us will crackle, and I’ll wince, expecting the cool comfort of asphalt on its way.

But the electricity will have no effect. I’ll take a halting breath. Nothing. She’ll flick another button on the toy to amplify the noise. And we’ll keep staring at each other, me tempted to whistle so she doesn’t feel so stupid.

“Are you sure it’s on?” I’ll ask finally.

She’ll turn the weapon sideways for study.

“I think so. You can hear it, right?”

“I hear something. Wait, try turning that knob near the pink thing.”

“Hold on...”

She’ll fumble with the grip as the weapon unspools more wire to the pavement, crackling even louder.

“Nothing?” she’ll ask.

“My mouth’s dry. Could be unrelated.”

I will carefully pluck the darts from my skin like I’m unhooking a fish lip, dropping them with a shrug, trying hard to keep a smile off my crimson mug. Disgusted, she’ll throw the weapon aside and hold up a finger.

“Stay here.”

She’ll retrieve something else from her car. At first I’ll think it’s a shotgun, though it’s way too big and purple. I’ll swear there are even stickers decorating it like a kid’s skateboard, a dead ringer for a Super Soaker, right down to the steady drip off the tip like an old man with prostate trouble.

“What the hell is that?”

“New Tasers. Shoots an electrified stream of water.”

“That. Is hilarious.”

I’ll be dodging streams as we circle her cruiser, me laughing outright, her yelling into her shoulder for backup. Then suddenly we’ll be two feet apart, me staring down the barrel of this comically huge weapon while she pumps it like a cock furiously to build water pressure. I’ll raise my hands.

“Ya got me.”

She’ll hose me down, nose to toes, electric insects buzzing again. But besides some sniffles, maybe a bloody nostril bubble, nothing will give me any incentive to submit. I’ll be sincerely sorry, but it’ll be hard to get this across.

“Don’t feel bad. It’s not you. It’s me. That’s what she told me, anyway.”

She’ll throw this weapon next to the first as I reflexively try to reassure her, hands still high, palms out.

“No, no, it’s not your fault. See this? I’m missing five things; thumbs, a nervous system, and basic math skills. Sorry, but maybe those guns don’t work anymore. On anyone. Maybe you fuckers are using ‘em too much. It’s evolution, baby! Don’t you listen to the goddamn radio?”

She’ll finally smile as she gently cocks her .38 Special flush against my forehead.

A minute later, I’ll slip behind her steering wheel smooth as smoke as I put the cop car into gear. I’ll leave her studying her revolver, wondering whether she fired or not. I won’t need to wonder after touching my tongue to my forehead.

Evolution, baby.

Then I’ll bounce over speed bumps, dodging theatergoers with thumbs in each others’ pockets. I’ll miss most of them.

Blue lights will fill both vanishing points, my night ending with the perfect chase, off-road through stones, into those trees I spent my life hiding behind. They’ll explode and fall easily, long dead from a thousand carvings of pierced hearts, initials, corrections. No one will dare follow me.

All this shit will happen. Just wait.