• jill macdonald

Sidetracked - Dean becomes the hunted

Updated: Jan 21

The cruellest thing Dean has done is capture grasshoppers in a glass jar and screw the lid on before puncturing breathing holes. Beth snatched the jar and hid it, he lost sleep imagining the insects suffocating under their grass stalks, roasting under the relentless summer sun. They were eight, old enough to understand torture. Even then, he had suspected the elusiveness of redemption. Dean slams shut the trunk of the rental car with the heel of his left hand, both wrists sore from stickhandling. Having a twin has not been pleasant, Beth invades his privacy, she preys on his strength, she infects their parents with hope that she is capable of change. She isn’t.

Rough asphalt jostles the wheels, the tires roar as Dean presses the gas pedal to the floor just to see how far he can push the engine. Speed is his release. On his motorcycle, he becomes the machine and the rush is probably what Beth feels when she makes him twist inside, leaning into the corners of his psyche that should be private. 80 mph, the car holds steady, tense, balanced at this speed on a straightaway. Ahead is a long curve that banks gently left toward Lake Huron, the scenic route with less rapid traffic where his sister could too easily blend in by riding with a truck driver, an escort service or in a stolen car with Ontario plates. If she is following him here, he will notice. The accelerator maxed out, Dean backs off, lowers his pulse rate as he thinks of neutralizing his sister. When they were kids, he and his friends tied her to a clothesline after she interrupted their game of shinny by firing snowballs filled with rocks at them, she hit one kid in the nose, blood flamed over the snow soaking them all in wet red slush. Beth stamped her boots in it and danced. The other boys stared at him, afraid. He wanted her to go away, forever. But when they caught her and tied her up, he made sure she could escape, the cord was not too tight, the knots were faulty because he was different from her, he was kind. Dean angles into the curve and lets out his breath.

The overstuffed packages in the back seat shift, spilling dried beans and jars of mole paste across the cloth upholstery. He plans to cook for his parents, warm, simple foods they can’t find in their upscale Ontario town. Trevor claims to be open to new ideas, Marge clings to the lean lines of her body, hoping that muscle definition will bring her clarity, yet Dean finds the opposite to be true; thin people have difficulty seeing and telling the truth. He catches a glimpse of orange in his side view mirror, it’s a dog carrying a frisbee, running free beside the highway. He pulls over and whistles. The dog jumps in the back seat, pleased. Dean waits but no one appears. Fifteen cars go past before he gives up. As they crest a small hill, the dog climbs into the front seat, fifty pounds of short-haired cinnamon fur that set off the seatbelt warning. He cracks the window and fresh air blows over them. Twenty miles to the border, the point where the dog becomes a complication.

They stare at each other, dog and man. Dean likes him. “Rusty,” he fondles the dog’s ears. “You gotta go, pal.” But the dog doesn’t jump out, he leans into the car, forcing Dean to manhandle him at which point the cop surrenders, it’s poor police technique. On either side of the road stretch swaths of grass and deciduous trees bordering the water channel. Flat terrain is deceptive, a person can lie down and disappear, an animal can hide in the slightest disruption, like junkies who have learned the art of vanishing. Dean’s pulse is elevated, it hammers in his chest and throbs in his swollen fingers. She’s near. He slams the door with the dog inside. He has a hockey stick and a steel pen that can be used as a weapon, no gun. His parents are not aware of his itinerary. The car’s hood shimmers with heat. Rusty stands on the console, closer to him. Dean outs the car into gear, they ease out onto the road headed south. At the first major intersection, he wheels west and pins it. Rusty puts his face into the wind, lips flapping. They flash past something in the ditch and Dean keeps going.

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