Jasper and the Road.
When Jasper killed the mortician, we thought that was the end of things.
The porch smelled like hay, honeysuckle, and burning car tires. The cornfields out back were still on fire. From where we stood, we could see the beltway backed-up in an endless gridlock. You kept checking your phone in case the battery had decided to stop being dead. I kept wishing the car had overheated closer to a bar.
“That’s it, then,” Jasper said coming out of the funeral home.
“That’s it?” you asked incredulously.
“That’s it,” he said.
I marveled at our conversation skills. “Drinks?” I asked, but Jasper shook his head.
“No time. How’s the car?”
“Hot. Stopped,” you said. “Like Sixty-Five.”
Jasper surveyed the beltway. “Shit,” he said. “Shit.”
We exchanged a glance. I didn’t know what you meant by yours. Mine meant: “What the hell are we doing out here?” Yours could have meant the same thing, or it could have meant: “Drinks would be good right now.” I never know with these things.
“Get the bags,” Jasper said. “And put on your uniforms.” He kicked the ground and then went back inside the funeral parlor.
We went back down to the car and opened the trunk. There were two large duffle bags inside. On top were our shirts and Jasper’s cape. You pulled your shirt on over your tank top. Somewhere between the bar last night and the car ride that morning you doctored it up: shortened the sleeves and cut a ‘v’ in the neckline that almost sliced the lettering. You could sell shooters in a shirt showing cleavage like that, except, instead of saying anything dumb or funny, both our shirts had ‘Goon’ written on them. You had decorated your iron-on letters with blue glitter.
“You take the bumper stickers,” I offered. “I’ll take the t-shirts.” You tactfully didn’t mention the gender disparity thing and I tactfully didn’t say I could bench-press you.
“Thank god he didn’t bring them all,” you said. “These are heavy enough as it is.”
“Should’ve gotten a rolling suitcase,” I said.
“That would have been smart,” you said, but conversations are always difficult when you only know someone through someone. And us, we knew each other through Jasper, so that just doubled the awkwardness. “Think he’ll want the cape?” you asked, but we didn’t need to answer that question.
Jasper came back out with his lighter out, which we both didn’t like. You didn’t like that he smoked. I didn’t like that he lit other things on fire with it. You didn’t like that, either.
“Okay, let’s roll,” Jasper said. He put on the cape and that time I knew what your look meant. It said: “It’s ninety-seven degrees out and that thing’s made out of polyester and wool.” I only got the ‘polyester and wool’ bit because you talked about it the night before. My look said: “It’s fucking hot out here.”
The funeral parlor exploded by the time we climbed up the embankment to the highway. If traffic hadn’t already been at a standstill, the rubbernecking would have been astounding.
The most amazing sight wasn’t the fire blazing in the fields behind the smoldering remains of the porch, though. It was Jasper, standing on the median, wearing his ill-fitting suit, loafers, and heavy cape and carrying a briefcase. He set the briefcase down on the partition and climbed on top. The sound of car windows rolling down was clearly audible.
And then Jasper gave the strangest, most moving speech anyone in a three-car perimeter had ever heard.
Drivers farther out shouted things like: “Speak up!” and “We can’t hear you!” and “What the fuck is going on here?”
You winced, mostly because Jasper was doing all the things you had told him not to do, and you were in charge of all the P.R. stuff. Not that that really meant anything. You had, after all, told him not to wear the cape. That a good tie and matching socks could make up for that.
“At least we put the inserts in with the t-shirts,” you said.
Jasper climbed back down and motioned us over. “Pass them out,” he said. He opened up the briefcase and pulled out the forms, a pen, the clipboard, and the digital camera. “Let’s register them.”
It was slow going at first —especially after we left that three-car perimeter— going car to car, getting everyone’s name, picture and shirt size. The t-shirts were popular with the kids. You kept saying you were glad we had gotten so many smaller sizes. It was also lucky, you said, that we had switched up the sayings on the bumper stickers and shirts so they didn’t all say the same thing. It was cleverer that way.
Jasper lagged behind handing out job applications and flattening the cars of the more belligerent drivers when you weren’t looking. Around early afternoon you told him he couldn’t just do that arbitrarily anymore and that he wasn’t allowed to kill people when you were around. Especially if he couldn’t explain to you how he was doing it. Everyone else got a lot more cooperative whenever he crunched another one, though.
A disparate crowd followed us down the highway. Someone pointed out the fire in the fields was getting dangerously close, but Jasper blew it back the way it had come.
“This is getting ridiculous,” you said. You stepped out of your heels onto the pavement, then put them back on again. “Fuck, that’s hot.” I glanced at Jasper, but he was busy being all-powerful and getting fresh batteries for the camera.
Things sped up when you told Jasper he couldn’t hold interviews with everyone who filled out an application. And that holding interviews in the middle of the highway wasn’t appropriate. I kept quiet and kept handing out the giveaways.
“But who’s going to oversee all these people?” Jasper asked.
“We can deal with that later,” you said. “We’re running behind schedule.”
When the helicopters started showing up, they had to wait until Jasper stacked some of the flattened cars to the side to land. “What a waste,” you said, but you kept on working. I tried to remember if we had left that fifth in the freezer last night.
Even after Jasper had finished cleaning things up, there still wasn’t enough room for all of the news crews to land. About five of six ended up just circling the interstate, filming the gridlock and the fires.
Jasper came back over and sat on the partition, watching the helicopters land and camera crews pile out.
“What do you think?” he asked. The lighter was back out, which was a bad sign. We joined him on the wall.
“That one,” I said.
“That one’s bigger,” Jasper said.
“You don’t want to give the wrong impression,” you said. “Over-compensating, you know.”
“Shit,” Jasper said, but the lighter went away. “Let’s do it.”
“Thank god,” you said. “I’m starving.”
Before we got going, Jasper picked a few people from the crowd to keep going with the work. You upgraded their t-shirts to match our uniforms and I showed them how to work the camera and change the memory cards.
“We need an oath or something,” Jasper said.
“Dude, that’s lame,” I said, but then I remembered I was talking to a guy who was wearing a cape.
“How about ‘don’t kill me’?” you muttered. Earlier in the day that would have been a look moment.
If it hadn’t been for Jasper, we would have had to fight our way through the press to the helicopter. A five-foot perimeter surrounded us as we walked. A couple of the reporters that tried to rush us were knocked out cold by the barrier.
The slower, more cautious ones still tossed questions at us, like “What’s going on here?” “Who are you?” “What are your plans?” “Do you have a message for the nation? For the world? For the president?”
“Yeah,” Jasper said before we got into the helicopter. “Reality TV is over-rated.” You kicked him. Hard. “And global-warming is real.” You kicked him again. Harder. Jasper glared at you. You smiled. “And we’re commandeering this helicopter.”
We handed out the last t-shirts and bumper stickers even though Jasper complained he wanted to dump them from the air like in the movies. “We’re not littering,” you said adamantly, and that was the end of that.
“Do you know how to fly this thing?” I asked.
Jasper shrugged. “How hard can it be?”
“Lovely,” you said, but we managed to take off all the same. Below, a sea of people wearing shirts that said things like ‘Minion,’ ‘Peasant,’ and ‘I Surrendered!’ watched us leave. Most of the reporters were already wearing their t-shirts. Some people even waved their bumper stickers in the air. Jasper took a picture of the crowd with his camera phone.
It wasn’t until you gripped my arm that I noticed. The engine was running, we were in the air, but the propellers weren’t moving. It was all just Jasper again.