Martian Interstate 431-B

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click to enlarge Martian Interstate 431-B - NOELAND COLLINS
NOELAND COLLINS
Martian Interstate 431-B

He thinks a lot lately about spectacular demise. Not his own, necessarily — that would create fundamental problems in the way of imagining spectacular demise. He thinks maybe he's drawn to the spectacular because everything's so ... mundane. Eschewing the fact, of course, that one person's mundane is someone else's spectacular.He sits on his porch in Ybor and gazes out at the traffic with his vodka. Tonight, he'll drink, tomorrow he'll exercise. Logical, in its own way.

A monstrous tangle of roads molts nearby, shedding old skin to grow. Like snakes, eating each other's tails — a serpentine octopus of steel and cement. Sooner or later on this planet, all this life has to produce new forms of life, right? Like humans born on Mars, tall and bald and gray-skinned, annoyed they're always compared to the original humans? What would their interstates look like? They will bend and move, he decides. Cars will speed down Martian interstates and the roads will move, too, reattaching to other freeways. On warm Martian nights, car windows down on the great, shifting freeways, Martian drivers will turn up the radio and sing aloud to the Martian pop masterpieces that capture the feeling of revolution.

He joins in the jokes at lunch, the gossip, talk about TV, like the new reality show about the cops who pose as strippers to capture prostitution solicitors. Lots of strategically placed fuzzy boxes. He gets e-mail that says his luck hinges on the number of people he can forward the e-mail to — bums him out. How dare a stranger hold the threat of bad luck over his head!

"Got a friend you should meet," says Debbie. "You'd like each other. Told her you're a Virgo."

Occasionally he calls his parents: "How's dad?"

"This is getting absurd," his mother sighs. "I'm ready to leave. He's like a child."

He writes blurbs for a shopper magazine in a Sable Park strip mall. Though he doesn't speak much, when he writes, it's like he's screaming: "Why are you still looking for love?!" "Stop shaving NOW!" "Give Us An Hour and Get Your Life Back!" There's talk of discounts for the ones who work on the blurbs, but sure — like he's going to ask.

Sometimes he takes the interstate, though it's easier to take the city streets home. The radio plays a new track by someone he's never heard of, rapping about being rich. It strikes him as odd — shouldn't the boasts be saved for the second album? Maybe there's no time for second albums.

Not having a kid yet isn't totally his fault — not since his two sisters haven't had kids yet. Camille, 28, is engaged, at least. Deborah, 26, in nursing school.

Amy would have saved him by having a child by now — she'd be 32. The SUV barreled through the intersection and smashed the passenger side of the car, which spun and screamed and finally stopped in a pile of glinting debris.

At lunch, someone's heard about the Debbie's-friend thing.

"Guess it can't hurt," he mutters. Someone's seen Debbie's friend out in Hyde Park. Maybe it's Debbie who wants to hook up. Girls won't set you up with more attractive friends when they're the interested ones.

"Call her yet?" Debbie grins. Curly brunette, tight gray pantsuit. Guys in the office say they'd totally nail her if it wasn't for her fiancé. And her teeth — just too big, and there are too many of them. But still ...

Today, the city streets are as bad as the interstate. He imagines a diabolical plan by an engineer gone insane. A trick of magnificent proportions, somehow overlooked until opening morning, orange barricades finally removed. The interchange is designed for death — southbound overpass flowing into oncoming westbound traffic, eastbound lanes melting seamlessly into speeding northbound traffic. No one sees it until they round the bend. A car will dart through in the dark. Another. Honking, swerving, metal slammed against the cement railing, cars spinning, flipping, crushing against each other. The engineer found at home, suicide.

His parents come to visit. Driving them back from the airport, his father says if there's one thing he doesn't miss about driving, it's the interstate. On his porch, they ignore the traffic and remark optimistically about the weather. The crinkled Post-It with Debbie's friend's number, stuffed inside the junk drawer.

Finally, traffic moves. The radio knows the details, but he changes the station. He thinks about the future — looking back at the traffic, drink or two, and exercise.

Brian Lott works for Tampa Electric Company in marketing and public relations and lives in Ybor City. This is his first published work of fiction.

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