Portraits of Detroit: Wylie Edwards by Patricia Abbott

His whole life was about cars, and it was a flat tire that landed him here—that was one of his final thoughts as he lay dying on a deserted road outside Jackson. Deserted except for the two dudes who’d just stabbed him and were about to steal his truck. At least, that’s what it looked like from his view from the ground. What else could they want? It wasn’t even dark yet—he’d bet they were high on something. It was a back road, but someone could possibly come along.

A huge fist jabbed him as he put the jack away. He hadn’t seen the flash of metal as the knife went into his chest. Only got a look at them as they walked away: two white guys with bullet-shaped heads, black tee shirts, swastikas on the backs of their necks. Nobody’d believe it. Except maybe they would. Hadn’t one of those Oklahoma City bombers come out of Michigan? He’d been a kid then, but he’d heard later they came Lapeer or some farming community. Deer-hunting country like this was.

Wasn’t even a new truck they were hi-jacking—he’d bought it used, if not used up, last year. Made the mistake of fixing it up, drawing attention to it: decals, cool paint job. Well that’s what he’d done since he graduated in June. Fixed trucks up. He was learning how to customize vans right now. Don Blake, guy he worked for, was showing him the ropes.

“You got an artistic bent,” Don said, encouraging him with the personal use of the garage’s tools and paint ‘cause he couldn’t afford to pay him much. “You’re a decent mechanic but a better artist.” Don built a special down-draft paint booth for him and brought a fellow in from Indianapolis to give him some tips on the air-brushing technique. He picked it up quick.

Sometimes Wylie could imagine putting his pictures on a canvass. Maybe not the graphics that looked like cartoons or tattoos, but the ones he sometimes was asked to do of nature scenes. Last month he painted sand dunes and beach grass on a van. He could imagine those dunes on a piece of wood.

He guessed his future as an artist was coming to a quick end—along with everything else. Funny thing. He didn’t even feel that bad. Probably in shock. If someone—like his Mom, a nurse—was around he could probably be saved. She’d stick a tube in his chest and stop the air flow out. Keep his lung from collapsing; stop his insides from kinking up. He’d read a textbook or two when he wasn’t looking at car magazines or Playboy. No Mom around to save him today though; she was doing the night shift just a couple of miles away. First thing the guy did after sticking a knife in him was take his cell and toss it.

Knowing some medical stuff from living with a nurse, he thought he was probably a goner. He also couldn’t help but wonder what the guys were going to do with him. Probably leave him here to bleed out or die of an obstruction before bleeding to death.

If his whole life had been spent around cars—well eighteen of ‘em because he was only eighteen—his whole life had also been spent around guys like those two. One of those guys was ripping the tab off a can of beer, lighting weed from the smell of it. Other one was examining the contents of Wylie’s toolbox. He heard a wrench fall, clattering against the side of his truck.

Cons—he could pick up the smell of the prison down the road from the ground he lay on. He’d bet they’d been out of the place less than a month. Maybe they’d even jumped the 40-foot wall somehow, evading the constant eye of surveillance cameras. Nah, he’d have heard about that. They still had the kind of haircuts men got at Jackson though. Everything about these guys shouted Jackson. And he knew Jackson. Dad, a guard and Mom, a nurse; their house a half-a-mile away. Dinner talk always ended up being about parole hearings, discharges, assaults in the yard or cafeteria, diseases going ‘round, union stuff. The company business, they both joked.

He could hear the two guys debating what to do with him now. Telling each other that he’d probably be okay if they just let him lie where he was. But maybe someone would see him on the roadside before they could get away. He’d be alive to identify them, one of them said. Maybe it was better to take him along. Get out of here before someone else came along.

Suddenly they were picking him up, dumping him in the back of the truck. The wind whistled through his chest as they whizzed down 1-94. He was finally leaving Jackson Prison behind.

Patricia Abbott’s work has appeared in more than 70 publications, online and in print. She won a Derringer for her flash fiction piece “My Hero.” She is the co-editor of the forthcoming e-anthology DISCOUNT NOIR. She lives six blocks from Detroit.

10 comments:

Paul D. Brazill said...

A wonderful piece of writing.

AJ Hayes said...

Smooth and nasty and sad. P. Abbott, you can write some, that's for sure. Thanks.

Fleur Bradley: said...

Love this. Beautiful narrative.

Shannon said...

I really like this piece a lot.

Bruce Harris said...

I like your style. Nicely done.

Bryon Quertermous said...

Thanks everybody for commenting. I'm not particularly skilled at remembering to come back and do the participation part of this job and I hope that if the stories are good enough people will talk about them without my prodding. But go out and tell people about us here and submit submit submit. Thanks.

Alan Griffiths said...

Beautifully written, Patti.

Christopher Pimental said...

Very good read.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Thanks, guys. You are the best.

Kevin Atherton said...

great stuff--keep 'em comin'