Route 22

by Sarah Watson



"DOLE KEMP 96" the bumper sticker read.  Jack shook his head as he approached the back of Sean's blue Nissan.  He climbed into the front passenger seat.

"When the hell are you going to take off that sticker?" Jack said, shutting the door behind him.  "I'm getting embarrassed being in this car with you.  Doesn't your Dad know it's over?"

"I've tried to peel it off.  It won't budge.  Republicans make strong glue."

"Vinegar will get it off."

"Vinegar?"  Sean pulled out of the suburban cul de sac onto a hilly highway.

"Yeah.  Vinegar gets stickers off of flat surfaces.  It's a Heloise hint."

"Who?"

"Heloise -- the woman with the hints,"  Jack said.  Sean's mouth fell open.  "You know, the woman who tells you how to kill bees with a potato." 

Sean stopped short at a traffic light. "Why would you kill bees with a potato?" he asked.  "Why would you kill bees at all?"

"Oh, God.  Here we go again."

"What?  You don't have to kill the bees.  You can just leave them alone, and they'll leave you alone."

"This whole animal rights phase is going too far.  I can't believe Alicia has you so pussy-whipped into it."

"She didn't whip me into anything," Sean said as he pulled into a condo development.  "I've always liked animals."

"Are you even listening to yourself?  'I've always liked animals'  Why don't you just wipe your ass with a doily."

"Shut up, Eloise --"

"Heloise."

"Whatever."  Sean pulled into a driveway and sat for a moment, staring at Jack.   Jack scratched his thumbnail at a spot on the window.  "Well," Sean said.  "Can you get your ass up and go get Ray?"

"All right.  All right.  Why can't you just honk the horn obnoxiously like you do to me?" Jack scrambled to unbuckle his seat belt.

"Because there are old people living here who go to bed at eight o'clock.  Try to be a little considerate.  You could use the exercise." 

Jack walked up to house number fourteen and knocked.  A few moments later, Ray opened the door full swing wearing a tight green army t-shirt.  His ribs poked through the thin cotton when he inhaled.  They walked together to Sean's car.  Ray climbed in the back seat.

"Aren't you going to be cold in that?" Sean asked.  "It's kind of chilly."

"I'll be fine.  I like being a little cold."

"You sure you don't want a sweater, Ray, just in case?"  Sean said.

"No, Mommy," Ray said.  "I don't need a sweater." 

"He just wants to show off his hot bod for all the chicks."  Jack said. 

"The skinny look is in," said Ray, leaning forward between the front bucket seats.  "Don't diss it."

"I guess there are some chicks who really dig that heroin addict look," Sean said.

"And I'm not even on heroin," Ray added, casually running his fingers through his blonde hair.

"Yeah.  That's just sad," Jack said.

Ray glanced down at the floor and saw a shovel lying flat on the footrest of the back seat.  "I am not sitting here with that shovel." 

Jack craned his neck back to look down at the shovel.  "That is pretty gross,  Sean," Jack said.  "I mean you could have left it in the trunk."

"It would bang around in the trunk.  It's safe back there.  So, where are we going?"

"Did I mention that I really don't like being here with that shovel?"  Ray curled his legs up to his chest.

"Well," Sean said, "did you want to go into the trunk instead?"

"No," Ray said.

"It's not that big of a deal," Jack said.

"Did you want to sit here, Jack?" Ray asked.

"No," Jack said, "I get carsick in the back seat."

"Where are we going?" Sean asked.  "If you don't make up your mind, I'm turning on the exit for route 22."

"Let's go to New York," Jack said.

"I'm not driving to Hoboken to take the fucking path and wander around In New York.  Plus, I have to get back tonight."

"Oh, I forgot-Alicia," Jack said, enunciating each syllable of her name

"Yep.  So where are we going to go?" Sean asked

"I don't know.  Let's drive around."  Jack said

Sean turned onto a ramp. 

"Fuck, not route 22," Jack said.  "I can't stand this white trash trap."

"You got a better idea?"

"Yeah, leave New Jersey."

"Sorry.  I can't tonight."

"Jesus, get off at the next exit." Jack said, continuing to scratch at a spot which was on the other side of the window.  I can't stand this highway.  It smells."

Sean drove further down the highway lined with gun shops and outlet fabric stores.  "There's one!" Sean said, quickly pulling the car off onto the shoulder of the road.  He grabbed the shovel from the back seat.
"Do we really have to do this now?" Ray said, wincing as the rusty metal blade brushed past his knee.

"Somebody has to," Sean said, slamming the back door.  He opened the trunk and pulled out a plastic Shop-Rite bag.  Sean walked twenty feet behind the car to where flies swarmed over a dead skunk.  The animal had bitten straight through its own tongue.  The left side of its body was congealing with blood, and the flesh was purple with bruising where the white fur had fallen off.  Sean shoveled the corpse into the bag.  The skunk's spray scent fiercely competed with the smell of its decay.  Sean tied the bag and dropped it into the trunk, where several other animals were similarly wrapped.  A loose swarm of flies escaped before Sean shut the trunk again.
Jack peered out of his window.  "What was it?" he asked.

"A skunk.  He's been there awhile."

Ray burst his door open.  "You took a skunk!"

"Sean," Jack said.  "You can't take a skunk.  Jesus, I can smell it.  That is not going to improve the odor in here."

Sean approached the back seat holding the shovel. 

Ray slammed the back door shut and locked it.  "You're not putting that back in here," he said through the car window.

"Ray, see?" Sean walked off the shoulder of the road and wiped off the shovel blade in a patch of grass.  "It's all clean now."

"No, Sean," Ray protested.  "It's not clean.  Put it back there or I'm leaving."

"Fine," Sean said, opening the trunk back up and delicately placing the shovel on top. "I'll put it in the trunk, but you're going to feel very guilty if any of the animals get hurt."

"They've been hurting a while," Jack said.  "You need help."

Sean climbed into the driver's seat.  "I don't need help.  Other people do.  I'm just trying to find an ecological solution to a social and environmental problem."  Sean looked back and forth between Ray and Jack, making sure they were paying attention.  "People recklessly kill animals on the highway, and someone needs to clean them up.  And then there's the people who want to wear fur for whatever reason, and they kill twenty minks to make a coat.  Twenty dead animals for a fashion statement."

"Are you running for congress?" Jack asked.  "What's happening to you?  She's got you so whipped reciting all of this propaganda."

"It isn't her!" Sean said.  "I'm telling you, it's me.  She doesn't even know about the cruelty-free fur.  I'm going to surprise her with it.  Don't you see, don't you grasp the waste of twenty healthy animals for a fashion statement?"

"Yeah, yeah.  It's all bad, but you're going a little over the edge with this stuff.  Every time we want to do something, it's an issue.  Now it's 'I don't know what Alicia is doing tonight,' or 'Alicia would kill me.'  You need to chill out or you'll never regain control."

"I'm still the same.  We're still hanging out."

"Route 22, scraping roadkill?  I don't know why we always come here.  I mean, the first few times were funny with the guntackle shops and the porno mini-golf, but I'm beginning to think you like it out here."

"There's more roadkill out here.  It's all that NRA trash acting out their aggressions with their cars.  They're an intractable bunch."

"So why do we have to hang out near them?  They just piss you off.  Remember when we used to go to New York -- drinking all night, yodeling Riccola, Riccola on the PATH, driving back while the sun came up.  Why don't we do that anymore?"

"Because drinking and driving isn't cool, and drinking and yodeling is obnoxious."

"Since when has drinking and driving not been cool, Mr. Straightedge, Mr. Animal Rights, Mr. 'I don't think Alicia would like this.'"

"Shut up," Sean said.  "You're just sore because you haven't gotten laid since-since-Jesus I don't know if you've ever gotten laid."

"I've gotten laid," Jack said.  "But I'm just saying, you weren't like this two months ago."

"Who have you gotten laid by, some girl from camp in the eighth grade?"

"I don't screw with girls from our school.  They're all busted-looking."

"You know," Ray interrupted.  "it really, really smells bad back here."

"Yeah," Jack said, happy for the change of subject.  "It's drifting up here."

"I just put another car freshener back there on Tuesday."

"Sean, they weren't meant to handle rigor-mortis," Jack said.  "I also don't think Alicia is going to want to suck your dick for scraping roadkill.  Girls don't really dig the cutesy wootsy fuzzy wuzzy animals when their guts are exposed and there's tire tracks on their necks."

"Alicia's different," Sean said.  "She's not like other girls."

"Oh," Jack said.  "I see.  She's special."

Sean was about to argue when a possum leaped out in front of his car from the middle stretch of grass dividing the highway.  Sean swerved hard to the right, crossing two lanes only to smack right into a deer darting onto the road's edge.  He screeched the brakes and the car kicked back into a rough halt.  The deer landed ten feet in front of the car.

"Holy shit," Jack said.

"Is everyone okay?" Sean asked.

"I'm okay," Ray said.

"Me too."

Sean opened the car door and walked to where the deer lay.  He squatted at its hooves. The fur was wet with red-brown blood.  Ray got out of the car and stood a few feet behind Sean.  Sean pressed his fingers to the spot on the deer's neck where he thought the pulse should be.  He waited, then groped around some more, but felt nothing.

"I think it's dead," Ray said.  "It was probably too quick to be painful."

Jack stepped out of the car and walked toward Sean.  "Sean," he called. 

Sean didn't answer.  He lifted the deer's front hooves and looked at the underside of the body.


"Sean," Jack called again louder.

"What?"  Sean said turning back to Jack.  A cop car had pulled up behind Sean's Nissan.  The officer picked up a clipboard off the passenger's seat and stepped out into the gravel of the shoulder.

"Oh, shit," Ray said, squatting down to Sean's level.

"It's okay," Sean said.  "We didn't break any laws.  He probably just wants to help us."

"He was parked a little ways back," Ray said.  " I saw him right before we hit.  I was going to tell you to slow down a little."

"It's fine," Sean said.  "Then he saw everything.  He just wants to check it out."  Sean had scarcely spoken before they could hear the officer's stiff leather shoes squeaking towards them. 

"Hello," the policeman said.  "Who was the driver of this car?"

"Me," Sean said.  "I was driving."

"Can I see your driver's license and registration?"  Sean opened the passenger's side of the car and rummaged through the glove compartment.  "You two," the cop said. "Could you stand over here by the car?"
Ray and Jack leaned against the doors.  Sean handed the cop his crinkled registration and driver's license.

"Do you mind telling me what happened here?  Starting with why you weaved over two lanes, endangering yourself and your passengers, along with everyone on this highway, to hit a deer with your car?  He leaned in towards Sean's face and took a deep sniff of his breath.

"Actually," Sean began, "there was a possum that came out of the grass there-"  The policeman did not look up from his clipboard as Sean pointed to the center island.  "So I tried to miss it by swerving off, but instead, I hit the doe coming in the opposite direction."  The cop walked around the front of the car, shaking his head at the deer on the ground.  He examined the grill of the car and went around to the back bumper, all the time, making notes.  He paused at the back of the car, bending down slightly to look at the bumper sticker. 

"Republican, eh?  You have a gun permit?"

"No," Sean said.  "It's my Dad's car."

"Your Dad's?  You own a gun?"

"No, sir.  I have no guns."

"And your Dad?"

"No, he doesn't have a gun either."

"Is that why you use your car to kill animals?"

"Officer, really.  I didn't mean to hit her.  There was a possum-"

"Her?  Why are you so concerned with the animal's sex?  I didn't see any possum, and I was right behind you there.  What I saw was you veering off two lanes over to hit a deer."

"There was a possum, we both saw it," Jack interjected.

"Yep."  The cop looked Ray up and down.  "Okay, I need you boys to put your hands up against the car and spread your feet apart."   Against the car, Jack shrugged to Sean.  Ray kept his eyes down on the ground.  The policeman frisked them down, drawing clean lines over the contours of their bodies.  Sean coughed, and his balls retracted as the policeman's hand veered straight up the line of his inseam.  After he was quite sure there were no weapons in their pants, the policeman leaned against the trunk and wrote on his clipboard. 

"What's that smell?" he said suddenly.

"What smell?" Jack said.  "It might be the deer."  The cop sniffed in different directions around the car.

"No.  It seems to be coming from the trunk of your car.  Do you mind if I have a look-see?"  Sean glanced at Jack, and Jack raised his eyebrows.

"Yeah.  Okay.  The key's in my front pocket."  The cop pulled the keys from Sean's pants.  He went to the back of the car and opened the trunk.  Sean couldn't see the cop's face, but he heard him gasp as he stepped back.

"Holy shit," the policeman said.

"Oh, those!" Sean exclaimed, pretending to have forgotten all about his animals.  "That's because I've been picking up roadkill to clean the streets."  The policeman slowly closed the trunk and looked from Sean to Ray.

"Cleaning up roadkill.  How thoughtful."  The cop looked up from his notebook.  "You boys are in some serious trouble here."

"Officer, really," Sean began, "if it's against the law, I'm sorry.  I really didn't know.  I was collecting them for the fur.  I wanted to open a cruelty-free fur shop-"

"Shut up,"  Jack whispered.  "Just shut up."

"Boys, we have a problem here.  See you can't just go killing animals.  Now if you happen to kill an animal by accident, that's one thing, but you can't swerve out the highway to hit them.  On top of being dangerous, cruelty to animals is illegal.  So we have a problem here, and I don't yet know what we're going to do about it."  The policeman paced behind the boys.  "I've seen a lot of redneck games out here with hitting animals, but I have to say, this one takes the cake."

"Sir, really," Sean said.  "We didn't hit those animals."

"He's right," Ray said.  "He's picking up roadkill to make furs for fancy old ladies.  He's weird like that.  Really."  Ray forced out a little laugh.  The policeman leaned against the car and came within six inches of Ray's face.

"You've been rather quiet, boy," the policeman said, "You mind telling me your name?"

"Ray Carter."

"Okay, Ray Carter.  How old are you?"

"Fifteen."

The policeman made a note on his clipboard.  "And you two?"

"We're both seventeen," Sean said.
The cop turned back to Ray.  "Fifteen and out for a drive with some older boys, not even knowing what you're getting into, eh?" The policeman looked at Ray's nipples poking through his thin camouflage shirt.  "It's kind of cold out, isn't it.  Where were you going?"

"We didn't know," Ray said.  "We were just going out to a diner or something."

"All right, there, Ray.  I want to ask you a few questions to get these stories straight, because this roadkill fur thing -- it's not flying with me, and I don't think it'd fly in any court.  So you two young men, I want you to sit in the car.  I'll keep your keys here."  He jingled Sean's keys in the air.  "And I'd like very much for you to keep your hands up there on the dashboard where I can see them while I talk to Ray here.  We can make this as easy and painless as possible if we all cooperate, okay boys?"

"Yes, sir," Sean said.  Sean and Jack entered the front seats and splayed their hands wide and visible on the dashboard.  They waited silently a full three or four minutes before Sean finally spoke.  "We didn't do anything wrong."

"No," Jack said, "but it really looks like we did.  And as for this 'we' stuff-Ray and I aren't storing large rodent bodies in the trunk.  It looks bad, Sean.  It looks really bad"

"I know.  I'm sorry about this."

"It's not exactly your fault.  I'm just saying, it looks bad."  Jack looked out over the dashboard at the deer.  "Why does he want to talk to Ray, anyway?  Ray can't talk.  Ray doesn't know his ass from his elbow."

"The cop doesn't know that.  Ray's young.  The cop thinks he can scare some kind of real story out of him."  Sean craned his neck to look in the rear view mirror.  The policemen sat behind the wheel of his patrol car, turning toward Ray in the passenger's seat.  Ray stared straight out to Sean, occasionally moving his eyes to look at the policeman through the left corners of his eyes.

"What are they doing?" Jack asked.

"I don't know.  Talking I guess.  The cop looks calmer, that's good.  This is really weird.  Why does he want to question Ray in the car?  Wouldn't they bring us somewhere else to question us?"

"Maybe he thinks we'll talk on the way, or maybe he just needs more evidence to arrest us on the spot."

"Ray looks really freaked out." Sean said.

"He's such a pussy."

"Well, I didn't see you jumping to explain."

"I didn't get us into this mess."  Jack retorted.

"It's not that big of a deal.  Everyone tells the truth, and he'll let us go."

"You think your Dad wants to find out what you're keeping in the trunk of his car?"

"He never drives it anymore," Sean said absently, scrunching his eyes as he looked into the mirror.

"What's wrong?" Jack said.

"I don't see Ray."

"Ray's not there?" Jack whispered.  "Where's the cop?"

"The cop's still there.  He's looking down.  I think he's writing something.  But I don't see Ray."  Sean craned his neck to try to see more in the mirror.  The policeman sat upright in his seat.  From under the steering wheel, a tuft of Ray's blonde hair rose up.  The cop pushed Ray's head back down and looked out at Sean's car.  Sean quickly averted his head down to the steering wheel.  "Oh my God," Sean said. 

"What?"

"Ray's head is in the cop's lap."

"Why is his head in the cop's lap?" Jack turned around sharply to see.

"Don't look," Sean stammered.  Sean peeked into the mirror again.  He saw the cop's face reddening.  "Ray's going down on the cop."

"What?" Jack said.  "Are you sure?"

"Yeah," Sean said.  "Pretty sure."

"Are you absolutely, positively sure?"

"Yes.  I am mostly sure he's sucking the man's dick."

"Why would Ray do that?"

"Cops have guns.  I don't think Ray offered to do it."

"Are you serious?"

"Yes."

Jack spun back around again to see the cop car.  "Oh my God," Jack said, quickly turning back to fix his eyes on the latch of the glove compartment.

"I told you."

"What should we do?"

"I don't know."

"Holy shit.  Should we go get him?"

"How are we going to get him?  Where are we going to go?  He has my keys."

"Holy shit."  Jack and Sean sat still, straining to keep their hands on the dashboard.  They could feel the movement of the cars rushing past them on the road.  "How long do you think it'll take?"

Sean glared at Jack.  "I don't know," Sean said.  "That fucking pig.  Poor Ray."

"Do you think he's going to try to make all of us do it?"

Sean gulped on his own spit.  "I don't know."

"Bastard," Jack whispered.  "That fucking bastard."

Sean tapped his fingertips against the hard faux-leather dashboard.  "I'm so sorry," he said.

"Shit, there he is," Jack yelled.  In the right side-view mirror, Jack watched Ray walking towards them.  "What should we say?  Where's the cop?"

"He's in the car."

"Fuck," Jack said.  "Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck." 

Ray opened the door.  Sean and Jack looked at each other quietly.  Ray buckled himself in the back seat and shut the door behind him. 

"Okay," Ray said, handing the keys to Sean.  "He said we can go."  Jack exhaled slowly with relief.  Sean started the car and pulled around the dead deer.  "Does anyone have any gum?" Ray asked. 

Sean sorted through the cup holder in the center console.  "No, sorry.  I don't have any gum," he said finally.

"A mint?"

"No, sorry, man."  Sean looked at Jack who bit down on his lip.  "We can stop somewhere and get some gum or something, okay?"

"Yeah," Ray said.  "And while we're at it, can we dump out those carcasses from the trunk?"

"Sure thing," said Sean.   
SARAH WATSON lives in Brooklyn, New York. This is her first appearance in The Adirondack Review.
TAR