By John Jodzio
I grew up in a small town and when I was going to lose my virginity I didn’t want to go to the local pharmacy to buy condoms and so I drove to Ridgedale Target to buy them. When I was at Target I decided I didn’t want to only buy a box of condoms because I thought that would make me look like a total skeezer so along with the condoms I also bought a Nestle Crunch Bar and a cassette tape of Bruce Springsteen’s “Tunnel of Love”.
When I got to my girlfriend’s house I showed the receipt to her and she thought that was funny and cute and then we put the Springsteen cassette into her boombox and then we had sex and it was really cool. When we were done I was like “Do you want some Nestle Crunch now?” And of course she did, so we sat there naked and eating chocolate while The Boss sang his songs. Except after a few minutes I looked over at her Sony Dream Machine and it said 10:45pm and my curfew was 11:00pm so I said “Oh shit!” and kissed her quick and jetted out to my car.
My car was a Plymouth Champ which was a cheaper version of the Dodge Colt. This meant I had a cheaper, shittier version of shit. Besides being shitty, there were many things wrong with my car. For instance, the driver side door was broken and so I always had to climb into the car on the passenger side. Also for the last few weeks, it was having some transmission problems and it wouldn’t go into 4th gear and had a top speed of like 30 miles an hour. So I knew I was probably going to be late because of my dumb car, except I knew there was one thing that might save me. And this thing was something strange I’d discovered about my car a few months ago. One day when my friend Russell Grabowski and I were dicking around on the dirt roads out near Delano, we discovered that my car would go like 50 miles an hour in reverse. Which was weird because my car could hardly get up to 50 miles per hour going forward. Also in reverse, the wheels hardly shook at all, it was a way smoother ride.
“It’s fucked up,” Russell told me, “but your car drives way better backward than it does forward.”
I thought of Russell’s words as I left my girlfriend’s house. I knew going backwards all the way home was the only way I was going to make curfew and I decided to go for it. When I got to the end of the driveway, instead of turning my car around, I just turned myself around.
It was a pretty straight shot home and between the full moon and my backup lights I could see just fine. I knew that the clocks in our kitchen always ran a bit slow, so I thought I had a shot at actually making it, but then, just as I came flying down that hill just outside of town a deer ran out front of me (or in back of me, or whatever the hell you call it when you are driving backwards and the front of your car is actually the back of your car). It happened so quick and there was nothing I could do to avoid him. I nailed him, square with my bumper, hard and then I screeched to a halt. I was fine, a little shaken up, and after a minute or so I climbed out of my car to assess the damage. My bumper had fallen off and my quarterpanel was all fucked up and one of my tires was flat. The deer had gotten it much worse. He was lying off to the side of the road, dead, with a telltale trail of matted fur and blood leading from its body to the back of my car.
While I stood there in the middle of the road surveying the scene, I saw some headlights coming over the hill and a truck slowed down. It was this dude named Itchy Kowalke who I mostly knew from getting really drunk during basketball games. Itchy worked at the lumberyard and lived up above the dry cleaners. As he got out of his truck I was thinking about how I could explain this scene to him? Maybe I had panicked when I saw the deer and my car spun did a 360 and I hit the deer backward? Was that explanation even sort of possible? In the end, Itchy saved me the trouble of having to lie.
“We’re you going backwards?” he asked.
“Uh-huh,” I told him.
“I used to do that shit sometimes too,” he laughed, picking my bumper off the ground and setting it up on top of my car.
“As long as you let me keep the deer, we’ll let this be our little secret.”
I helped Itchy load the deer into his pickup and then he bent my quarterpanel back into place with a crowbar. We put on my spare tire and I wiped off the deer fur and blood from my car with a chamois and then I turned my car around and drove the rest of the way home, very carefully, facing forward. My mom was waiting up for me at the kitchen table, pissed as all hell that I was an hour and a half late, but I told her that I’d gotten a simple flat tire on the way home and she totally bought it.
John Jodzio is a winner of the Loft-McKnight Fellowship and the author of the short story collections, Get In If You Want To Live(Paper Darts Press) and If You Lived Here You’d Already Be Home (Replacement Press, 2010). His work has appeared in One Story, Barrelhouse, Opium, The Florida Review and various other places in print and online. He lives in Minneapolis with his wife Katie, his new son Theo, and a lifetime supply of tacos.