Hangnail

by Alex Olson

guy driving

Every sound is echoing the noise of your pulse. The steady “clud-clud” as whatever loose, rusted piece of your car’s suspension jostles and bounces on the lumpy, misshapen road. The rhythmic pounding of the drums of that music that happens to be in your playlist, half-ironically, half-because of times like these when you feel the glorious rage. You know the music, the kind kids with shaved heads and white t-shirts who sat at the back of the school bus listened to, with grim expressions on their faces. The kind they listened to while they beat on their little brothers. The kind spree shooters and abusers listen to. Does that make you a bad person? You’d normally stop and think, but the music pushes you past it as you roar down the road, pushing your busted, rusted, non-trusted car past the point you usually do, because you’re worried about making it to work, to court, to school, to the fucking Meijer supercenter, but right now you’re in a very, very weird place. For this glorious stretch of night, for the glorious 20 minute ride home from work, you feel this happy rage and nothing else. None of the squeamish worries, none of the pulsing anxieties.

Just.

Rage.

Something pure and direct you don’t have to log into. Something you don’t have to put down a phone number or an email, or watch an ad for. It’s wired in, ethernet, direct to your brain and coursing through your veins, and yeah maybe you’re off your meds and maybe you haven’t gone to therapy in a year and maybe you don’t have health insurance but oooh you have this.

This zone.

This stretch of road.

road at night

This period between clock-out from your shitty job and before you get to your shitty house. This

darkness.

So you roar down the road, going too fast through residential areas, half-hoping a cop appears because death in a high speed chase sounds oh-too-sweet. You’re in a zone, a slim area between suicidal and manic, a hangnail sliver of delicious madness where you feel you can take on the world and kill yourself at the same time, all with a grin on your face. You thrive in this zone, this is your home, you live for the moments your psyche breaks enough for you to slip into this, where you feel like a fucking superhero for 20 minutes, and yeah, okay, these are racing thoughts and you’re supposed to be alarmed and yeah, Pantera shouldn’t give you enough adrenaline to throw a car, but oh god does it feel good. You haven’t checked your phone in minutes, you haven’t worried about a flood, your credit score, your bank account, your health care, the ice caps, the Republicans, Democrats, abortion or gun violence or what you’re doing with your life in ENTIRE MINUTES.

The song ends, and you tap your phone, not looking at it, not wanting to break the spell, just tapping the screen and nodding your head and gnashing your teeth, changing songs, cutting off every slow, sad melody before it can travel down the aux cord, choking it to death before it can bring down this high.

Not this song.

Not

This

One.

Finally, a fast song, something with growling and drums and you keep going, nodding, drumming your hands on the wheel, your entire car whining in protest, no no no, we never go this fast, please your tie rods are bad, your transmission is cooked, your brain is melting–

And you go faster. Lean into it. Like you do with that tooth pain before bed, because you can’t afford to go to the dentist and #FreeHealthCare didn’t do a goddamn thing. Lean into your mental illness, and embrace all the power it brings.

That’s wrong.

You know that’s wrong.

You’re not

Supposed to

Feel this.

Way.

But.

Everyday you wake up fighting. Everyday something happens that you swear is it, that’s the last straw, this flat tire, this medical bill, this pathetic paycheck, this fucking text, this Facebook post, that’s it! I’m done!

And yet, you keep going.

You’re every low-wage employee coming into work with bags under their eyes. You’re every cashier and janitor and stocker and fast food worker trying to do it, trying to live life and you’re so goddamn mad. You’re every wife who has killed their abusive husband and you’re every guy who has tried to kill a politician. You’re every group of rebels who threw people under the guillotine and danced in their blood. You’re everybody in America, making it great again.

Faster, faster, go go go. The high is ending now. The adrenaline slows. You turn down the music to check the intersection. You have a flickering worry about your wisdom teeth, and how much it will cost to take them out.

It’s over.

The rage filled, grinning lunatic is gone.

You’re human again.

And sad.
*******

Alex Olson is from Port Huron, Michigan. He writes literary fiction, science fiction and horror about drugstores being controlled by squid-gods. More work available at www.squidthroatonline.com

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