When I came off 85 south, I just missed the car turning into the Shell station, pushed SCAN on the radio, and then let my inner drone breathe easy. Each day for ten years I’d had corporate radio jockeys impaling the power drive at five into my skull, or hours of tire humming as my mind slept at the wheel. CDs of Buffett, buddhism, jihad, blues, math, Spanish, writing, and Zappa went tap-tap in a milk crate hunkered down in the backseat of my blue Taurus. They didn’t help but they didn’t hurt. State route 460 is a gray drone zone peppered with brick ranchers, trailers, gas stations, and crumbling farmhouses that once fulfilled a dream. For two hours roundtrip every weekday: it’s home.

The stoplight down by Fas-mart turned green as the Red Truck man smiled at me. White car lady came up on my left as Red Truck man took off. Each day. Ten years. We played. Passing then slowing down. Ignoring one another. White Car lady passed me, fiddling with her radio. I looked at my odometer to keep from meeting her gaze. Red Truck man slowed down. She passed him as I went into the left lane, no signal. When I blew passed Red Truck man he was lighting a cigarette. I didn’t know he smoked. Normally he would put on his sunglasses (take them off) or just suddenly take a call. Rule One: Never look at each other when passing.

White Car lady slowed down after we passed Wal-Mart distribution. I adjusted my mirror as I passed her. I sensed her looking over at me. The mirror was perfect. No time to look. Far behind us, a small black car approached like a furious spider. It bobbed around other commuters and made short work of Red Truck man. I slipped over into the right lane. Its whiny, fat exhaust pipe nearly kissed the pavement. His windows were tinted. An unwilling player in commuter tag.

Red Truck man came out into the left lane. He sped up and then slowed down. In the mirror I could see him taking a call. Probably a real one this time. I waited to see what White Car lady was gonna do. Some days she quits early and pulls into a gas station. We’re too far down the road by the time she gets out. From her face I figure she’s a little pudgy, maybe fifty, with a fake tan and blonde streaks. She’s got a sticker on her Honda that states, “Redneck Bitch”.

I pulled ahead a bit. Letting my family sedan purr under the love of the cheapest gas available, I hit cruise control. It’s Red Truck man’s turn. White Car lady settles into her spot. We move along in formation. A while back I thought I saw Red Truck man in the Fas-Mart. He was buying a Corn Dog and a Mountain Dew one Friday afternoon. He was tall, thin, and wore a plaid shirt that was tucked into his iron-creased blue jeans. His boots were scuffed around their golden toes. When he paid for his stuff, he turned and caught my eye.
“Hey Blue.” He said.
“Red.” I nodded my head down like an old man.

Red Truck man blew by me while I was thinking about a new washing machine.
“Bastard.” I said.
White Car lady passed me quick. I sped up to keep speed. Red Truck’s muffler coughed white smoke, the rear-end dropped a bit and he pulled away. White Car lady kept pace, I followed. Red Truck kept accelerating until only the blurred image of his vehicle remained. I passed White Car lady quickly. She put on her sunglasses. I checked my cell phone for invisible text messages.

I took the sweeping curve just outside the Nottoway line. Black smoke billowed into the air to my right. In the distance I saw Fire engines on the roadside as County cops directed traffic. Red Truck man had stopped this side of the scene. I saw him standing by his truck. I pulled in slowly behind him. White Car lady pulled in to my rear.

The leftovers of a double wide were burning off atop a hill. An ambulance was backed up the driveway. Nearby we saw a white sheet, draped across a body that was no more than three feet tall. A woman was wailing as a volunteer firemen held her tight, but softly. White Car lady gasped and began to weep. Red Truck man said,
“Probably a kerosene heater. Those things is dangerous.”
I shivered in the cold.
The wailing woman wouldn’t let them close the ambulance door.
She wanted to ride along. We could hear her screaming,
“My baby. My baby. I’m not leaving my baby…” Her words echoed against the trees, against our vehicles.
“My name’s Julius.” Red Truck man said. He extended his hand.
“I’m John.”
White Car lady stifled her tears some.
“It’s just horrible. Just horrible.”
Julius went over and hugged her.
“It’ll be Ok.”
“My name is Angela.” White Car lady said.
“I’m Julius. This is John.”

We stood in silence. I felt morbid staring at the scene. As if I were death’s voyeur, and like a voyeur, received some perverted satisfaction for my efforts. Volunteers and professionals worked the scene while we stood by helpless to move, or to look away. They let the woman into the ambulance. Her screams were muffled by the door’s closing. A deputy shook his head and put his hands up to his eyes. A State Trooper patted him on the back. The firemen were walking around the trailer, checking for smoldering embers when Julius spoke.
“I need to get home now.”
“Me too.” I said.
“Thank you.” Angela said looking at Julius.
He waved and got into his red truck.

The next day I came off 85 south and barely missed a car turning into the Shell station. I dreaded riding by the remnants of that trailer. I heard a horn and turned to my left.
Julius was next to me. He looked me in the eye and waved.

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