Driving at Night in the Rain with the AC Broken

Tyler James Russell

You tell yourself you aren’t doing anything, not 
really, nothing strictly wrong. This is just 
how things are, and the headlights in the other lane 
are blurry as stars but brighter and the rain 
is throbbing on the roof and a girl with thin legs 
in the passenger seat is looking out the window 
like you looked out, just a few weeks after moving into 
your first house, at your wife’s friend chainsawing your 
fallen sycamore, blown over from the neighbor’s side 
of the fence but technically your side of the property line, 
the neighbor said, and when are you going to take care of it? 
You brought your wife’s friend lemonade in the August heat 
and he seemed to tower over you the way 
your father did, the way the neighbor boy 
lifted you by the back of your underwear until 
they ripped and you threw them away and lied 
when your father asked if you’d been crying. 

You are always lying, you realize, even now 
when you attempt small-talk with a girl you paid for, 
and she reminds you of how it may have been 
when other men kissed your wife before she was your wife, 
which is never far from your mind. The rain 
has been falling since before you found the truckstop, 
Penn 80, the one past the exit you take for work, 
and it makes the world blurry and bright and hides 
the stars and you apologize for the broken AC 
but the girl just shrugs because
she is immune to that low level 
of discomfort but tonight, you tell yourself, 
will be different for her, you will 
surprise her with your potency. You will be the best. 
You aren’t a bad man, you tell yourself,  
you just never feel more alive than nights when you’re the big one. 

Tyler James Russell is the author of To Drown a Man (2020), a poetry collection, and When Fire Splits the Sky (2022), a novel, both from Unsolicited Press. A high school English teacher and a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania and the University of British Columbia, he now lives in Pennsylvania with his wife Cat and their children. His work has been nominated for the Rhysling and Best of the Net, and has appeared or is forthcoming in F(r)iction, 365 Tomorrows, and Sepia, among others. You can find him at Tylerjamesrussell.com, or on Twitter at @TJamesRussell.