Fed-up with the lies, Johnny intended to recite one with each belonging he packed. For some reason, though, he couldn't recall any at the moment. However, not one to be deterred by a technicality, he continued – teary-eyed examining each item before packing it away, only to discover that all of his most cherished belongings easily fit into just one of the three cardboard boxes he’d stolen from the family barn for the occasion.
In the morning, Johnny once again recalled each lie and after writing “PLEASE DON’T THROW OUT” on all 6 sides of the box, swung the plastic bag that contained a single can of white spray paint over his shoulder, and high-tailed it towards highway 33, singing, “Girl, ba-room-boom-boom, you’ll be a woman soon,” the song that had long served as a family anthem.
“And I’ll be your man” he repeated over and over as the family tractor caught up beside him, pulling the rusty manure wagon from which his mother, grandfather, and sister reached out to beat him with apple tree branches until the tractor ran out of gas a mile or so down the road. “And I’ll be your man,” he frantically continued through clenched teeth, without breaking stride, and never turning around to witness the vulgar lower throat to chin hand gestures that the shit wagon of loved ones directed his way, without mercy, until he was well over the horizon.
Johnny's mother had a left leg that was a full four inches shorter than her right. Because of this, and at his father's prodding, Johnny had always affectionately referred to her as "Kickstand."
"So how's Kickstand?" yelled a well-dressed elderly lady to the amusement of everyone in the roadside diner where Johnny stopped to catch his breath and eat some toast before continuing his escape.
"Yeah, how IS the old gal holding up?" taunted the burley cook, poking his head through the small kitchen window opening. "Is she still up on the hill running in circles?" he roared to the delight of the other customers.
Johnny sat at his table, wishing he were anywhere else other than where he was, a position he'd been in for most of his life. With his head bowed, he bit his lip and took comfort in the fact that after today he would be somewhere else.
"Here's your toast honey," exclaimed the young waitress. "but, are you sure you wouldn't like some LEAN bacon with it?" she blurted, turning and sardonically hobbling back towards the counter.
Johnny jumped from his chair, stuffed the toast into the breast pocket of his jean jacket, and ran through the gauntlet of snickering customers out the front door.
"Hey kid!" the cook called out from the diner porch as Johnny ran down the country highway. "You're heading in the wrong direction. What's the problem? You don't believe in TIPPING?"
"Oh, leave him alone," he heard the waitress follow, "he's probably just trying to get a LEG UP on the day."
The town of Broken Wagon Wheel, Indiana was founded by Johnny's great great great grandfather in 1851 during an ill-fated attempt to move his family west from Cleveland, Ohio to stake a claim in California's 1849 Gold Rush. "I guess it'll be up to the young uns to make it the rest of the way on their own," his pioneering ancestor declared as he slapped the ass of the horse in which sat three of his four crying children, ranging in age from three to eight. "Now come on you two," he urged his wife and remaining 12 year old son, "stop your blubbering, you both got plenty of work to do. Don't you worry none about them, the good Lord has a plan for everyone."
Running past Dead Frog pond, Johnny's thoughts turned to this account of the town's founding, which was inscribed on the first page of the family's bible. He proudly recalled how it was his job to fetch the Good Book to use for propping up Kickstand's left leg when Aunt Pam would (during her annual visits) take the customary front yard photo of the family standing beside the legendary broken wagon wheel. His pleasure would prove only momentary, though, as he found himself wondering who would fetch Kickstand the book next year. Making it around the Suffering of Christ Presbyterian Church bend, Johnny's lower lip quivered as he envisioned next year's photo: his mother sitting in a chair, crying with the rest of the family standing high above her. Tears flowed down both of his cheeks as Johnny clenched his eyes shut and violently shook his head from side to side. "Girl, ba-room-boom-boom, you'll be a woman soon. . . ," he sang out loud.
Johnny loved his nine year old sister, Elaine. But not the same way that his grandfather did. "She could easily pass for eleven," the family patriarch would often explain. Passing the old Pecker brothers homestead, Johnny figured that, out of everyone in the family, he'd miss Elaine the most. Although he was eight when she was born, with both being home-schooled, they had formed a tighter bond than do most brothers and sisters with such an age difference. He expected that he'd especially miss the hours they spent together every Sunday afternoon, killing flies in the windows of the upstairs bedrooms - fond memories that, as far as he was concerned, would never be overshadowed by his last vision of her, with the family, reaching from the manure wagon and flogging him with apple tree branches.
Arriving at Push-Off Boulder on the other side of the Good Luck Bridge that crossed the Beer Can River, Johnny hoisted himself onto the landmark rock to sit and catch his breath. He'd run three miles since leaving the diner, for a total of nine since setting his plan into motion. Johnny pulled the crumpled toast from his pocket and unravelled it the best he could. The warm Autumn sun felt good.
With his belly full, Johnny stood up on the rock to gaze at Beer Can River for what might very well be his last time, and thought of his Uncle Willy. Johnny was four years old when Uncle Willy first brought him to Push-Off Boulder. At the time it seemed as high to Johnny as their old barn silo, which thousands of bats flew from every night at dusk. "Why do they call it Push-Off Boulder?" was the last thing he recalled asking his uncle before waking up on the floor boards of his home porch later that afternoon. After this experience, Uncle Willy, Johnny, and Johnny's cousins secretly referred to Push-Off Boulder as "Magic Rock." For the next couple of years, the cousins competed daily for Uncle Willy's favor by doing his chores and whatever else they could, in hopes of being chosen to "experience the magic" with Uncle Willy during his Saturday morning visits to the river. Since Johnny knew where Kickstand hid her change jar, over the years, he won more often than all of his cousins combined. Johnny jumped from the rock. Highway 33 was still seven miles down the road, and he had no interest in waiting around to see whether the tractor he heard in the not-too-far-distance was pulling a manure wagon.
Having maintained a steady pace since leaving Push-Off Boulder, Johnny was within two miles of the highway when a rusty Ford Escort with only one brake light pulled over in front of him. Startled, he stopped, nervously looking for any signs of apple tree branches extending from the car windows. As Johnny instinctively began humming the melody of the family anthem, he was once again startled by a blast of the car's horn. A skinny arm reaching out of the driver's window waved him forward. Johnny squinted and carefully counted the fingers of the driver's hand. His humming faded as he reached four, assured that it wasn't his father, who had lost two fingers of his left hand in a childhood fireworks accident.
"C'mon. Get in. You wanna ride or not," the voice from the driver's window shrieked.
Johnny ran to the passenger door. As he reached for the handle, the car abruptly drove forward before pulling over again about twenty feet up the road.
"Oh, c'mon. I aint got all day," the voice called out again.
Johnny stood there.
"C'mon. Can't you take a joke. You wanna ride or not?"
Johnny slowly walked to the car and once again reached for the handle. And again, the car abruptly accelerated, this time spinning its wheels and leaving Johnny in a cloud of dust.
Johnny stood frozen with his hand still extended from reaching for the car door. As the dust settled, he could see that the car had stopped once more.
"Oh, c'mon," the voice called out between laughter, "honest. I'm sorry. Really. C'mon, I really gotta get going."
Johnny wasn't about to fall for it again. With both arms at his side he defiantly stared towards the car.
"Oh c'mon. Really."
Determined to win the stand-off, Johnny was prepared to stand there for hours if necessary.
Suddenly the car's single reverse light came on. Johnny jumped back to keep from being hit. The passenger door swung open.
"I'm heading into Fort Wayne. If you want a ride, get in. C'mon, let's go. I'm going to be late," the voice whined.
Johnny hesitantly got into the car, setting his bag on the floor near his feet. The driver was the waitress from the diner.
"What are you, practicing for the New York marathon or something," she asked while frantically texting on her phone.
Within a couple of minutes, Johnny could see the highway 33 intersection ahead. He smiled and leaned back in his seat. As the Escort made that all important left onto 33, he closed his eyes and thought of the black and white image of the Negro man speaking in front of the Lincoln Memorial, that he once saw on the History channel during his family's free Dish Network trial period.
"Free at last!" Johnny thought to himself. "Thank God almighty, free at last!"
Adrienne was on her way to Fort Wayne for her monthly tanning session. She knew it was a bit crazy to travel so far for tanning, but when her Aunt died and Ashley got her car, she found a nearly-full coupon book for monthly sessions in the glove compartment. She figured it'd be shame to let them go to waste and, beside, her Aunt looked fantastic when they buried her. Ashley also attended FWCC for two semesters and still had a few friends there, including an old boyfriend, who she had sex with after the sessions. He was an asshole, but what was she to do? Ashley was twenty-four years old and had three older brothers, although she was the only child still living at home. Her mother was a secretary at the Churbusco Town Hall. Ashley's father was a disabled veteran. He earned extra money delivering snacks to bars all over northeastern Indiana and he either didn't know or didn't care about the affair her mother had been involved in for the last five or six years. Ashley's cousin, Jessica, was a real slut and the two hadn't spoken since Uncle Dick gave Ashley the car. And if Johnny had any plans to have sex with Ashley he'd better have a condom because, even though she was on the pill, she wasn't taking any chances because she'd already been through one abortion and wasn't about to go through another.
Johnny learned all this within the first five minutes of getting into the car.
"Where is that asshole," Ashley suddenly exclaimed, throwing her phone onto the dash board. "What's your story, anyway? You running away? How old are you? Fifteen? Sixteen? I'm not going to get in trouble for giving you a ride, am I? Shit, I better not, that's all I need - Kickstand on my ass. Jesus Christ."
Johnny wasn't sure which question to answer first and was still contemplating Ashley's ability to talk, text, and drive at the same time. He didn't know such feats were possible, and found himself excitingly considering everything else he was going to learn now that he'd left Broken Wagon Wheel.
"Well. . . ?" Ashley asked.
"I'm heading to Brooklyn," Johnny ultimately replied, adding, "I've had it with all the lies and I'm going to New York."
"And, were you planning to run all the way?"
"If I had to," Johnny answered as he pulled the last piece of toast from his jean jacket pocket.
Ashley drove on, reached for her phone and began texting again. "Yeah, I don't blame you. I should get the hell out of here, too. What are doing about money and food? Or do you have an unending supply of buttered toast in that pocket? You certainly don't look like you're carrying an American Express card in your wallet. Shit, I bet you don't even have a wallet. Jesus Christ, where the hell is this asshole!"
Johnny grew more relaxed and gazed at Ashley – her eyes jumping back and forth from the road to the phone she worked in her right hand. She's actually a very pretty girl, Johnny thought to himself. She had long black hair with tight curls, beautiful thin bright red lips, and larger than average breasts that made for a wonderful cleavage that popped out of the white tank-top t shirt that she wore under a loose-fitting bright red button down blouse. And if her breasts weren't enough to direct your attention there, the shiny thin gold necklace she wore was just long enough to seductively make its way around the top contour of each breast. Down boy, Johnny thought to himself.
"I don't friggin' get it. He knows I come to town the first Monday of every month," Ashley declared. "Fuck him. How the hell are you plan to get to Brooklyn from Fort Wayne, anyway?"
"I'm not sure, keep going east I guess."
"Oh, you're a regular boy scout aren't you? If you wanna wait for me, I'll take you for a burger or something when I'm done and we'll figure out where you should be dropped to start hitchhiking or running or however you plan on getting there. Jesus Christ, you gotta problem with buses or something? Yeah, frig him, I'm turning my phone off. Hell, I wouldn't even bother calling the asshole if there was anyone worth screwing back home."
Johnny asked the lady at the bank for a credit card application. She smiled politely and called security. Johnny had gone in the bank to kill some time while Ashley was next door at the Brown Yur Bunz Tanning Salon. "Do you know who I am?" Johnny protested loudly while being led to the door. "Heads will roll, my uncle is the wealthiest guy in this town," he proclaimed.
"Oh yeah," taunted the security guard, as he gave Johnny a shove out the front door, "so what's that make you?"
Johnny thought for a moment and then stuck his head back in the bank door, "his nephew. That's what it makes me. It makes me his friggin' nephew," he yelled into the bank before turning and racing towards Tastee Donuts on the other end of the parking lot.
By the time Johnny got back in the car to meet-up with Ashley, a police cruiser was parked in front of the bank. When the security guard and a police officer came out of the bank together, Johnny crouched down in his seat and donned the pair of Ashley's sunglasses that he found crammed between the driver and passenger seats.
"Oh, now don't we look beautiful," Ashley proclaimed while getting into the car and turning her cell phone on. "Where the hell did you find those? I've been looking for them for a week."
Ashley reached under the sheet for Johnny's penis. Johnny placed his hand on Ashley's left breast.
"Jesus Christ, you're a virgin?" Ashley thought out loud.
"No, I'm not," Johnny replied. "I've been masturbating since I was twelve."
"Oh shut the fuck up," she said, softly sliding herself and her breasts downward, over his chest and stomach, positioning herself to comfortably suck on his penis.
"I think I'm going to like this freedom thing," Johnny thought to himself.
Johnny awoke to the sound of Ashley's cell phone going off on the stand next to the bed. He was in a motel room just outside of Akron, Ohio and could hear Ashley showering in the bathroom. He threw on his pants and picked-up the bottle of wine that was laying on the floor under them. It was empty, but not one to be deterred, Johnny raised the bottle to his mouth, tilted his head back, gave the bottle a few good shakes, and savored the last couple of drops. After throwing on his shirt, Johnny reached for Ashley's wallet, which was sticking out of her pocketbook setting next to the cell phone. He quickly found the compartment that held a handful of quarters and emptied it into his left hand. He figured that a Coke machine couldn't be too far away.
"NO, I DON'T KNOW WHEN I'LL BE BACK," Ashley was screaming into the phone when Johnny returned. "What am I supposed to do?" she asked rhetorically, "stay with you and Dad for the rest of my life, heading into Fort Wayne once a month to fuck that asshole?" Johnny began fidgeting with the buttons on the television. Ashley continued, "I'm gonna be 25 in seven months and . . . Oh yeah sure, who? David Fuccarro? . . . Oh yeah, that would be just great, mom! Then I could spend the rest of my life wiping the drool off of his mother's chin and scrubbing the piss stains out of his father's pants. Thanks a lot, mom. I gotta go. I'll call you later when I figure out what I'm doing."
Ashley threw the phone back on the stand and grabbed the makeup bag out of her pocketbook. "And don't you start getting any ideas that we're boyfriend and girlfriend," she snarled without even looking at Johnny and storming back into the bathroom and slamming the door shut.
"And a good morning to you, too," Johnny said under his breath, still trying to figure out how to turn the TV on.
Johnny and Ashley sat in Burger King.
"You needed the remote," Ashley said while holding an english muffin in her left hand and texting with her right.
"What?" asked Johnny chomping on a hash brown.
"The remote," she answered. "You needed the remote control to turn on the TV. It was probably in the drawer of the bed stand."
"Oh," Johnny replied. "Who you texting? I thought you weren't going to try getting ahold of him anymore."
"Not that it's any of your business, but I'm not trying to get ahold of him anymore," Ashley shot back, mimicking Johnny's monotone style of speech. "I'm just letting Jessica know what I'm doing."
"Jessica, your cousin? I thought she was a slut and the two of you haven't spoken since you got your aunt's car."
"We haven't, I don't care if I ever speak to her again. But that doesn't mean we can't text. We text each other all the time," Ashley explained.
"Oh," Johnny replied, as he sipped his coffee, and began giving some thought to taking up cigarettes.
"TWENTY-TWO DOLLARS!" Ashley screams, getting back in the car, "you've been planning this trip for over a year and you only have twenty-two friggin' dollars? Jesus Christ. I've got to be out of my mind. I'm down to $43 and a handful of quarters in my wallet."
Johnny stared out of the passenger window and began nervously rubbing his upper leg.
On the northern end of the Pensacola, Florida beach, Jennifer and her children use government shovels to scoop tar balls into 5 gallon buckets, from the 60,000 barrels a day BP Gulf Oil Spill. In the mountains of southeastern Afghanistan, the lifeless body of a seven year old boy dangles from the Taliban's makeshift gallows. And while Dick Cheney artfully taps the perfect amount of A-1 sauce onto his fillet mignon, Kickstand struggles up the steps of the Broken Wagon Wheel, Indiana diner.
"So who wants to dance?" Kickstand roars, bursting through the diner door. "Cause that's what's gonna happen to anyone here who knows anything about my boy but doesn't tell me. We're gonna have a little dance. You Charlie?" she asked, kicking a chair out of her way, "Huh Charlie?" she repeated raising her voice, "you wanna dance? Bert? How 'bout you Claire, maybe you'd like a little dance?"
To be continued . . .