California is where we’re going, Fred and Jenny and me. This trip isn’t an exact reenactment, per se, of The Wizard, the film we did together in 1989. It’s more of an homage, a reclamation of that moment, of that time. Christian Slater as the teen heartthrob. Real Life’s lush, synth-pop request to be sent an angel, right now, right now. And we were angels then, the three of us, Fred and I playing brothers on an epic road trip west so I, an idiot savant mute save for occasionally muttering a doleful California, could win a video game championship, to grow and change and conquer our grief, to overcome our parents’ divorce and the death of our sister and adventure and obstacles and there she is! Jenny Lewis playing Haley, street-smart kid heaven sent to teach us the ropes and the rules of the road. So, there we were, the three of us, driving west, on the road to California and the climax of the film, on the road to fame and fortune. Only I didn’t find fame. Fred did. Acting in popular movies and shows, little Kevin Arnold showing Boomers their wonder years. Jenny too, in her own way, on stage with Rilo Kiley and later as a solo rock star. Fred Savage and Jenny Lewis. And me, Luke.
Maybe things haven’t gone right for me since then: a few failed films and failed investments—financial and emotional. But that’s ok, now, because in the rearview mirror I see Fred, my older brother, really and truly, not just on screen but in real life, and he’s bound and gagged and his eyes are fearful because I had to scare him a bit, get rough with him, to overcome his reluctance to hit the road once more with me though I’m certain the spirit of the venture will infect him soon. I can feel it. An electric revival of the people we once were and could be, a whole galaxy of possibilities. I smile at Fred, at Corey, for that was his name in the film, and in this car, on this journey, we’re no longer bound by who we were born as. I’m no longer Luke. I’m Jimmy. He’s Corey and it’s not Jenny Lewis locked in the trunk. It’s Haley. To set the mood I put on the first mixed CD I made for our transformative journey which starts with the opening track off Jenny’s latest record. Corey is in the back, shaking as he grooves along to the album, as Jenny sings about heads rolling and Haley can hear the music in the trunk, I’m sure, because I tested it this morning, took out the tire iron, lined it with my favorite fleece comforter covered with images of classic NES games, and crawled in with Jenny’s album playing. Her voice animated the car, not tinny or small at all despite me being in the trunk, but somehow more intimate as if she were already lying there beside me—so clearly Haley can hear anything I decide to put on now and Jenny’s new album is fantastic, her best yet, the vulnerability, the sweetness in her voice, the edge and the hard-won wisdom that honed it—it’s the perfect song to kick off the soundtrack of our journey west, the three of us together again, united in this project, a family with a whole country to cross, with decades to cover and this music will be our flux capacitor, will lift us up and over what we’ve become to who we were and are and should have always been.
Kate Bush comes on next and there are parallels to Jenny’s voice, forerunning quivers, especially in Jenny’s latest endeavor though that’s not the right word: Success? Accomplishment? Aural outcropping of the soul? It’s Kate Bush’s Wuthering Heights and I’m thinking of the music video, the one outdoors, with Kate Bush in a red dress twirling in a field for five minutes of interpretative dance, sashaying and wiggling like an inflated tube man in front of a car dealership and I hear a couple of thumps from the trunk just as Kate as Cathy’s ghost is singing how could you leave me when I need to possess you and I know, just know, we’re all in the zone now, vibrating on the same wavelength, leaves on the same tremulous limb, despite the years that have passed, their successes and my miseries, we’re together, hearing the same song, and Corey is so full of joy and energy that his trembling is like a religious seizure and who knows, maybe they’re both seeing the light, imagining the very same video, the same moment in said video, reaching out in their heart of hearts just like Cathy’s ghost except I guess Corey can’t actually reach out since his hands are duct taped to his thighs and Haley can’t because she’s trapped in my trunk and her hands are bound with heavy duty Manila rope. But the energy is there, I’m sure. The feeling. And that’s what counts. California, angels, a real life. Our collective, redemptive purpose.
With this purpose in mind I keep the Toyota Avalon I borrowed from my cousin and its precious cargo at a steady sixty-two miles an hour as we leave Pennsylvania behind us and enter Ohio, leave behind the NYPD who have been looking for the missing actor Fred Savage, last seen yesterday voluntarily getting into said Avalon outside his yoga studio on 79th street as if he knew the driver; leave behind the police in Pittsburgh who are only just starting to look for the missing rockstar Jenny Lewis after she disappeared at the end of her show three hours ago, after she called an Uber because someone had expertly slashed her driver’s tires, and equally expertly, with all the gentleness one can manage knocking a woman out with a rag soaked in Chloroform purchased in bulk on the dark web, deposited this musical genius into the trunk of Toyota’s largest luxury sedan. But that’s behind us. Or in front of us, if we’re traveling back to 1989. It’s an alternate future we’re leaving, thirty mislived years, as we reclaim our true past and become Haley and Corey and Jimmy hurtling west on I80—Can’t repeat the past? Why of course you can!—and these tires are devouring time and regrets and the vast flatness of Ohio, propelling us across the plains, the Rockies, red deserts, all the way to California.
I don’t know when the idea came to Luke, to kidnap Fred and Jenny so Corey and Haley could come on this trip and Jimmy could become, once again, the hero of the story, the videogame wizard. Maybe when he found himself muttering to himself, talking to himself, only to find he’d actually been talking with Corey and Haley and me all along, really talking, finally, unlike the mute Jimmy of the film, talking and being heard, heard and understood—and if their figments were this comforting, think what the real Corey and Haley would be? Or maybe he’d always known we’d take this trip together, maybe the idea had been with him like the remaining tooth of a vanished twin consumed in the womb? But what matters is us, Corey and Jimmy and Haley, together, in motion, listening to Kate Bush and isn’t life grand? But I have to stop and take a leak—I’d planned on pissing in a bottle to minimize the amount of stops and Corey looks fine but I have to think of Haley’s comfort back there too. We’re in this together, after all.
These rest areas are empty this time of night, technically morning, aside for weary truckers asleep in their cabs, so I pull over and park at the far end of the lot next to the strip of dead grass where people compel their dogs to shit, turn the car off, silence Kate Bush, tell Corey to hang tight, and pop the trunk. Haley looks a little worse for wear from the Chloroform, a creature curled up in the nest I’d made, hair plastered to her face with sweat, and I say Haley, it’s me, I’m Jimmy. I think she recognizes me and is smiling but it’s hard to tell since her mouth is covered with duct tape but her eyes, I swear her eyes are sparkling, shining like she understands it, me, the world, us, this magical trip to California. She understands it and is grateful. It’s something she needed. A break from the falseness of show business, from playing the part of Jenny. Her eyes say this all, dark eyes beneath red bangs and I look up and lock eyes with Corey in the backseat and I know they understand, that there’s a bone-deep understanding between us. For a moment I listen for anything amiss but there’s nothing except Corey’s tape-muffled sobbing and the soft hum of the light by the bathroom and the crickets stridulating in the grass and the occasional headlights zooming along the highway, the drivers tired, chasing their own possibilities, on a mission to their unique elsewheres. I ask Haley if she’s thirsty. She nods. I ask her if she’ll be quiet if I remove the tape and she nods again, twice. Bone-deep, I knew it. I take the water bottle with my left hand and with my right hand remove the tape, dragging my thumb across her cheek like I’m removing a smudge and the sound of the adhesive coming off her fair skin turns into a howl that, as if by magic, gallops across the parking lot, the highway, cornfields, grazing cows, state lines, years, decades—a voice so powerful and pregnant with so much raw emotion it could be heard clear to California. Except I—we, Jimmy and me—can barely hear it now as it’s drowned out by the drone of helicopter blades and the screaming sirens of a fleet of cop cars rolling up behind us. Which is a shame, in a way, that no one else can hear her, because she’s got the voice of an angel, Jenny does. She can really sing.
Kent Kosack is a writer, editor, and educator living in Pittsburgh, PA. He has an M.F.A. in Creative Writing from the University of Pittsburgh where he teaches composition and creative writing. Kent serves as the Director of the Educational Arm at Asymptote, a journal of world literature in translation, and as a guest editor providing feedback on submissions for Masters Review. His work has been published in Tin House (Flash Fidelity), Cincinnati Review, Normal School, Hobart, and elsewhere. See more at: www.kentkosack.com
Photo credit: Phoebe Stratford, Unsplash