By Anthony Neil Smith
Do not, I say, DO NOT tailgate me in your Dodge Dart on this narrow highway on the outskirts of town.
I tap my brakes at you. I tap them thusly.
Do you not appreciate the timeless wisdom of which I speak? Your Dart weaves, accelerates.
I, having achieved one mile past the speed limit, deserve this position in the left-hand lane. I am not the “slower traffic” of which the sign speaks. As you can see, I am passing, albeit slowly, the station wagon in the right lane.
And will soon pass the tractor-trailer traveling from Indiana, seeking to unburden its load at the next Wal Mart.
But still you weave, putting your fellow travelers in danger!
I tap my brakes at you again!
Who are you that vexes me? The sun glares on your windshield! Who is it riding my ass?
You cannot intimidate me! In spite of appearances, this Buick Encore is not one to be threatened.
Now you think you can overtake me on the right?
I accelerate! I keep you at my hind parts!
I have been driving these hallowed roads since I was but a lad. A gentle lad who borrowed the family car for rides down the strip, for nights at the parking lots, or to Jeffrey’s house so he and his current girlfriend could meet without her parents aware, dry humping in the back of the Olds Cutlass while I watched in the rearview.
I have driven these roads, the hand of the almighty upon me, as lager thickened my blood and doubled my eyesight, never once detected by those who enforce the law.
I have driven my wife to the hospital, not once, not twice, but three times, yes, to deliver our children unto us. The same children I raised on a less-than-comfortable salary in a too small home, overworked and overlooked, but loyal, ever loyal. The same children I taught to drive in a Ford Taurus and a Honda Accord – my middle daughter totaled the Taurus. Her injuries cost us a summer vacation that year. Dollywood!
The same children who now won’t let me see my grandchildren without conditions upon my visitations - abstain from beer and wine, arrive unarmed, and clean the cursing from my tongue.
Never, goddamn it! Conditional love is not love! I will be the man I am, and that’s all that I am!
These conditions, mocking my authority. I am the head of my family, as Christ is the head of the church!
You, child, do not deserve the privilege you demand on this road.
You, stranger, should yield to my bumper.
The minivan to my right turns off! The flank is exposed!
You slingshot your Dodge Dart around me, as David to the Giant.
I see you now, an impatient teenage girl. Finger curling your hair. Glancing at your phone screen.
You pass right on without as much as a nod or wave.
I will not stand for this! The disrespect! The vanity!
I will follow you now. I will tailgate you now. I will honk my horn. I will flash my lights!
Why? Why do you ignore me? I demand your attention! I demand recognition!
Do you not understand what I’ve been through already? Would you respect me if you did?
The revolver on my passenger seat remains unfired. The ale bottles rolling around the floorboard are empty, but were not drunk today.
I have come from my eldest daughter’s house, where my wife absconded to the night before once I had taken my rest.
My daughter, she screams. I wrestle her husband, demanding entry into their home to see my wife, whose injuries can be explained! To see my grandchildren, who should not be taught to fear their own grandfather.
I am not addled with ale
I am not with wrath!
I tell my son-in-law, This is not wrath! You haven’t seen my wrath!
But I do carry my gun. I have no choice. I must defend my life from even my own family
The forces are summoned! I must desist and away before they unlawfully detain me.
I do. I must.
But you in your Dodge Dart dare challenge me on a day such as this?
I whip around on the left. I pass, giving you an evil eye.
I expect fear on your visage.
I receive only scorn. A middle finger.
You have given me no choice.
When I’m ahead, I jerk my wheel to the right and
Hard brakes. Fiberglass on Fiberglass. Steel on steel.
Your Dodge Dart veers off the shoulder and tumbles, once, twice, three times! Upside down in the ditch, a foot of water.
You should not be screaming. You should be penitent. You enrage me!
The back end of my Buick Encore, crushed.
And you still haven’t learned your lesson.
The revolver, on the passenger seat.
I haven’t fired it in years, and only ever at targets. Big round targets, or targets shaped like torsos, or with pictures of robbers, rapists, thieves, Islamic terrorists, the President, the Secretary of State, Osama bin Laden.
But the muscle memory comes right back.
Will you respect me now, when I shove this in your face?
You crawl out of muck, cut and bruised, but not seriously harmed.
Your luck is running out.
But you raise a block of chrome towards me. It’s small, but it shines. I can imagine the pride of your daddy buying it for you, teaching you to shoot it. Telling you no man is worth your own life. No one else’s feelings are worth an assault on your body.
Your hands shake. Cold or scared? Does it matter?
“Leave me alone!” You scream. “Help me, someone!”
I can’t help but laugh. You’re showing me much more respect than I expected from you. You are telling me I am worthy of your bullet.
So I guess it all comes down to, who is the faster shot?
Anthony Neil Smith is a novelist, short story writer, and professor. He likes Mexican food, cheap red wine, and Hong Kong crime films. His dog, Edmund, is the devil.