Jerome was such a bastard sometimes. He was right, of course, but he was nearly always right. I kept fighting anyway.
I knew he was inside, taking out his aggression on a ten-ounce New York strip steak, and even that pissed me off—because I knew he’d pair it with some sautéed vegetables and leave it, a wrapped plate in the refrigerator, a peace offering I couldn’t talk back to.
I fumed and smoked, which I felt was appropriate retaliation for Jerome’s maddening productivity. He hated any smell not immediately recognizable as fresh food, and he was right (of course) about the addictive and cancer-causing properties of tobacco. So I’d grabbed an old pack mid-fight and stormed out the door as soon as I found a book of matches. He called my name once, twice; then left it. I could practically see him fingering his goatee, then pulling out the recipe book.
And I retreated to the porch. We shared this first-floor balcony, raised three steps above the street and the cubicle-sized yard, with the nebbish elderly man on the other side of the duplex. He kept to himself—more accurately, he kept to his back-door greenhouse and rubber ducky collection, and bicycled only to the grocery store—which left the front porch mostly to me. Usually around this time the two teenagers from numbers 168 and 170 would be having a basketball game in the road, but it must have been too cold and dark already. I didn’t see them now.
It was when I got bored of picking paint chips off one of our shingles that I noticed the black Jeep stopped at the top of the hill. When I looked at it—I’m sure it was the strange coalescence of the street lamps in a heavy summer evening—it seemed outlined for a moment; the only thing in focus. Stop and watch me. You need to see this.
Right away, as if the driver had waited for me to look before kicking it into gear, the Jeep began to roll slowly down the drive to our house.
I wanted to be back inside. But from the scent of it, Jerome had only just started his sautéeing, and I had half a cigarette left. He wasn’t going to get me this easily.
The rumble of the Jeep’s tires ambled its way to my ears; I wondered if someone had just put up a “SCHOOL ZONE” or “SLOW—CHILDREN” sign at the end of our street, and knew like a twinge of nausea in my gut that no one had.
I could barely see into the window, but I knew that the driver wore a hood, and all the other windows were darkened against the rays of ultraviolet-wavelength sunlight and the piercing observation of outsiders. Something large and heavy thumped, though, punching a ghost of a square corner into the shining obsidian top of the vehicle. I shivered. The part of my mind that wasn’t a vague haze of fear smelled Jerome’s sizzling butter and onions.
The Jeep pulled up next to our mailbox, as smoothly as if its occupant were our neighbor; in fact it almost knocked over the man’s rickety green Peugeot. I looked through the windshield, and I had to blink twice before I was sure that what I saw was a pair of bone fingers, still gripping the steering wheel.
The hooded figure turned to face me. There was nothing; so much hungry, desperate void that it burned. I couldn’t help myself. I wandered, lost, into that empty place; I saw stars, a wormhole, a universe, expanding and exploding.
I watched it all happen like I never would, the end and beginning of the world. I saw my life like a straight strip of checkerboard events, and then it puffed out and my brain tried to imagine what it would feel like with all the synapses shut down, the absence of existence.
It was the last little bit of sunlight that saved me, a dying spark that skittered across a stripe of metal in the windshield. I looked back at the window and it was simple matte black, closed; it was just a black Jeep that roared away into the night.
I think my fingers had frozen by then; I couldn’t tell you where my cigarette had gone.
As soon as I could breathe again, I ran to Jerome and the strip steak that I knew was now medium rare and covered in peppercorn glaze.