Friday, August 10, 2012


By Jim Christopher

108 Degrees.   Henry’s ass crack was getting chafed.  Why did he wear jeans for the long drive back to Los Angeles?  The trip south on Route 17 brought him down to the valley floor and the temperature soared with each mile.  Henry couldn’t afford to run the A/C non-stop.  He’d turn it on when there was a downward incline, letting gravity do the work, and when the road leveled and he had to press the gas again, he turned it off.   A/C uses gas, he thought.   He’d have to suffer.

A sign indicated Phoenix in 28 miles.   What an appropriate name, Henry thought.   He imagined a bird spontaneously bursting into flames from the intense heat – scorched feathers drifting to the asphalt like the remnants of a pillow fight in hell.

Henry scanned the dash of his 1996 Nissan Sentra.   The temperature gauge was at three-quarters.   The fuel gauge showed only an eighth of a tank of gas.  That wouldn’t do.  Once he connected with Interstate 10 he’d have a three hundred mile stretch heading West with few signs of life.  He had to stop in the next half hour and that meant Phoenix.   There was no way around it.

The sprawling Valley of the Sun stretched out like a monopoly board.  Palm trees and swathes of green indicated golf courses and the recurring billboards hawked unfinished developments to unemployed and overleveraged passersby who would never be able to make the balloon payments.

Henry thought of the air in his tires.  Heat would cause expansion.  He hadn’t checked them before he left Sedona.   And the engine coolant.   Check that too.  This little car had lasted many years – the two of them bought it new and he never expected to still be driving it.  But a lot had changed.       

He saw it on the right, one of those huge trucker stops with a sign as tall as the Chrysler building shouting Mexican Food and Diesel.  Henry guided his subcompact into the draft of a Kenworth and rolled up next to a pump.  The smell of Diesel fuel and tamales hit with the hot blast of Arizona air as he opened his car door.
Henry stood by his car squeezing the pump handle as he watched the digital numbers flash: nine, ten, eleven gallons… click.  Forty six dollars.  It was a lot of money.  But it was worth it.  The trip was a success.   He hung up the pump handle and inhaled deeply, the scent of cigarettes joining the desert stench.  Henry watched a forty-something dad sucking on a Marlboro while he deposited a king’s ransom into a rented camper from El Monte RV.   

That will never be you, he thought. 


  1. Pillow fight in Hell!!!! There is so much to love here, but that analogy has to be my favorite. Applause and applesauce and well done!

  2. I liked the description of the car on its last legs--is that a little foreshadowing? You mention that his trip was a success, but the tone of the piece was not jump-for-joy happy.

    I wasn't sure about the specific smell of tamales at a truck stop, but that is just my nitpicking self.

    1. Though I've dabbled on and off in Micro-Fiction it is still challenging for me to write a self contained piece in 450 words. There was a lot of story left in the white spaces.

  3. I feel your pain with the 450 word limit.

    What I thought was most interesting was that you painted such vivid descriptions that I had no problem seeing, and smelling his world. The hints at the larger story, that 'the two of them' had bought the car together, that he would never be like that Marlboro dad seemed to me sad, as if perhaps he was mourning not being a dad, or at least not being one with whomever he was thinking of, and not necessarily commenting on the smoking. The only concrit I had was that for some reason I wanted to know why he was on the road, even just on line.

    Nicely done.

  4. Nice. I, too, loved the pillow fight in hell image. I hear you on the word limit thing. I tend to write scenes from longer pieces as I struggle with feeling like a story is complete in that space. I do think you created a great snapshot image in this of a longer piece.

  5. I'm in an air conditioned room halfway across the world from your setting, but I could feel the dry heat and almost see the battered old car on the highway. I really want to know what comes next.

  6. Hi, Jim, welcome!

    I found myself chuckling, as your MC has a strong voice and wry humor, but there's A LOT in the white space of this story, the casual mention of "the two of them," when he is so clearly on his own with the car, the RV-filling father...

    Thanks for linking up. Hope to see you back again!

  7. Thanks for linking up with Write on Edge!

    I like his sense of humor and straightforwardness about the circumstances, the careful use of the AC, the final commentary on the RV driver. You were able to provide a complete piece while leaving the reader wondering about the missing puzzle pieces.