For a moonless night in the middle of goddam nowhere it sure was bright. Brent leaned his head against the cold window, squinted his eyes against the streetlights.
Brent swiveled his head on the glass, looked at Tom staring straight ahead.
"Why do they call you Mohawk? Did they call you that 'cause you used to have a Mohawk in your hair?"
Brent watched the light from passing cars slide off Tom's profile. Without taking his eyes off the road ahead of him, he fished a pack out of his pocket, flicked out a cigarette, and lit up. He cracked the window, said, "We had a DI who kept calling me 'last of the Mohawks' and it stuck."
Talk filled the space in Brent's brain and now that he finally had Tom talking he kept up the volley of questions.
"Did he see the movie?"
"Did the, the DI, did he see the movie?"
Blowing smoke. "No man, he never saw it."
"The guys we going to see, do they call you Mohawk?"
"First ones to. They gimme that name."
Brent saw a flash of yellow and red, swung his head around to look out the windshield. "Hey, can we stop real quick and get something to eat?"
Tom crept the car through the drive-thru, told Brent, "No drinks. We won't make time if we have to keep stopping for you to piss."
"But it comes with the value meal."
"No drinks." A whine started across Brent's lips but Tom cut him off. "Don't make me explain to your mama why you're sitting on the highway all by yourself in Bakersfield at 1:00am. And keep that shit off the box." Tom set his hand on the box on the seat between them. "Respect it."
"Okayyy." Brent reached into the McDonald's bag. "Tom, what's 'cremains'?"
"It's what's left after you burn a body."
"Why don't they just call it ashes then?"
The window was still cracked, but Tom was exhaling over the steering wheel.
"It's not ashes. It's like sand with bits of bone in it."
"Can I see?"
"No." Another cigarette. "It's just a box of bones."
"You said it was cremains."
"Eat your fucking hamburger, kid."
"How much longer til we're there?"
"We're about half way."
"Half way! But we left before it was dark!"
"It's a big state."
Another burger. "Did you know the guy in the box?"
"Yes. Yes, I did."
Brent woke up, cramped and cold. It was truly dark now, no streetlights, no other cars. He realized Tom had cracked the window again for another smoke, filling the car with the frigid night air. It smelled green and dusty at the same time.
"Where are we?" He stretched, crammed his hands in his armpits.
"Just past Boron."
"Wake me up when we get there." He pulled his jacket over him, scrunched down on the seat.
Brent woke up again, still cramped, and the air inside the Caprice was stuffy with heat. It was light, but the sun wasn't in the sky.
He looked around, didn't see anyone. He rolled down his window, tossed his jacket in the back and got out. He saw a motorcycle and a rusted-out van parked a little ways behind the car.
When he got to the motorcycle he could see the top of Tom's head, went over to investigate. The heat and the dryness surprised him, and that what looked flat and simple from the car turned out, once he stepped out of the car, to be full of folds and dips and wrinkles hiding who knows what.
He stopped when he could see all of Tom, sitting on a rock in the hard morning sun, smoking a cigarette. A guy Brent didn't know was standing next to Tom. He had one thumb hooked in his jeans, the other hand holding a cigarette, a pointy-toed boot resting on a helmet sitting in the dirt. A third guy was sitting cross-legged right on the dirt. He wasn't smoking, just crying. Little snuffly cries.
In the middle was a small pile of bleached-white cardboard boxes, some split open, their sandy contents mingling with the sandy dirt of the desert. On top of the old, brittle boxes sat the new box from the car seat.
Neither Tom nor the two men Brent didn't know were doing anything, just sitting (or standing) there. The guy on the dirt was still crying, then Brent noticed that all of them were crying. Brent had never seen Tom cry, not in the eight years he'd been with Brent's mom. Not when he ripped his thumb on the table saw, not when that guy at the bar broke a chair over his head that time, not when Reddy died and everybody else cried for days.
Brent went back to the Caprice, sat inside with the windows up, thought about Sausage McMuffins and coffee so hot it could win you a million dollars, about Kenny Chesney and Alyssa Milano's breasts and the new releases rack at VideoTime and his mom's promise of a cable modem and maybe getting Matt's brother's used Kawasaki and not about being old or married or working and having to pay bills or table saws or old episodes of M*A*S*H or "Hamburger Hill" or three gray-haired men crying in the desert.