At 15:04, Tyler’s ‘57 Volvo comes to a stop by the caterpillar treads of a tank. Although a decade old and acquired second-hand, the blunt-nosed car is still a shiny red, like the sunburned arm dangling out its window.
The tank sits on the edge of a Wisconsin cornfield, put there by a local veteran of World War II. The barrel of the old armored vehicle points out toward Interstate 90, running parallel to the service road where Tyler has come to a stop. The August afternoon is brilliant, filled with the sounds of traffic and barking dogs, with the screeching of crows in the top branches of the nearby oaks. It is a moment for Ty to love everything: he’s graduated from high school, his summer’s free — nothing required today but a trip to the grocery store. It’s a time of passage and possibility: one door has closed, and another stands ready to open.
Tyler’s right hand rests on the black plastic ball of the stick shift. To his left, a dark blue pickup truck is pulling out of the little gravel parking lot by the tank. Its driver, wearing a black cowboy hat, suddenly notices the Volvo and jerks to a stop.
Ty motions for the pickup to proceed. The cowboy defers with a wave of his hand. Tyler waits a moment to be sure, then begins to accelerate. The cowboy sees the pause and moves forward.
At 15:19, a police officer parks his squad car next to the pickup and steps out.
By 15:31, the cowboy has accepted responsibility for the little dent in Tyler’s front fender. As the police officer completes his notes, a blue jay rises from an oak branch overhead. The bird squawks, drops its payload and is out of sight — leaving a white stain on the officer’s navy blue shirt.
The officer smiles dryly, shaking his head. “For some people they sing,” he says.
At 15:46, Tyler pushes a grocery cart briskly through the U-Save, gathering the items on his mother’s list: bread, milk, a large bunch of bananas, frozen orange juice, carrots, pretzels, canned tuna. In the produce aisle, the stock boy drops a box filled with heads of lettuce. Although he is forty minutes late, Ty stops to help pick them up.
“Lettuce turnip and pea,” he quips.
At 16:15, Tyler pulls into the driveway of his parents’ house. The grocery bag wobbles slightly in the seat beside him as he opens the car door. His father comes out of the garage and walks slowly towards the car. Behind the front door screen, his mother stands silently. His father’s face reddens; the right hand clenches — his eyes fix on the front bumper.
“Give me your license!” he snaps.
Tyler’s chest fills with sudden, hot electricity. He stands motionless, unable to think of anything to say.
“Don’t even think about arguing with me,” his father yells.
Ty pulls the plastic card from his wallet and surrenders it. His mother closes the front door and is gone. His father returns to the garage, throwing the license into a trash barrel.
Tyler enters the kitchen through the patio behind the house. He goes directly and quietly to his room, pulls a carefully packed, olive drab duffel from under his bed, and carries it to his car.
Where one door closes, another opens. Better to retreat a yard than to gain but an inch.
On Interstate 90 at 16:38, Tyler rummages in the bag of groceries for a banana.
Copyright 1996 by Brian Dean Powers
Published in Tasty Morsels: An Anthology of Short Fiction