Novel Flash: “I’d Walk with My Friends If I Could Find Them”

“Maybe we can get him into luge,” his mother says, thumbing back at her son. Then, tone rising: “How many people can be into luge? A hundred?”

“A thousand, worldwide. Still good odds.”

“What do you say?” his mother says.

“That’s headfirst, right?” Armando says.

“It is? Forget it, then,” she says.

“But you’d be okay with feet first?”

“Drop it,” she says.

“Figure skating,” says his sister. “I can see you in skates.”

“I could wear pink,” he says.

Armando’s father whistles, sees the approaching dotted yellow center line, flicks the left turn signal on, and acceler­ates out into the left lane to pass a brown truck doing forty-five, but as their van draws even the truck speeds up, so he pushes the accelerator, but the truck matches him, and four seconds in he peers over and spots two shirtless boys, the young driver smirking, glancing at his speed, and nodding to his buddy, and Armando’s father presses the brake, but the truck slows as well, and Armando’s mother reaches up and touches her window and says, “Hey. Hey,” and the dotted line goes double yellow and Armando’s father smashes the accelerator down and they fly along a bend, the van tilting hard, and a car coming for them in the far distance flashes its lights as the van’s engine wails a high-pitched squeal, and Armando freezes in the back seat, and his father’s head leans forward as the van gains a bumper ahead, then a full car length, and his father turns the wheel and cuts the truck off and the oncoming car whips past, horn ablaze.

“Shit!” his father says, lifting his right arm up with a fist.

His mother moans.

“My God,” she says. “Slow down. Slow down. Now. Please.”

Armando’s father lifts his foot from the accelerator, but the pedal sticks. He presses the brake and the van shakes.

“Stuck. Pedal’s stuck. Shit,” he says. “Help me.”

Armando glances outside and watches the red rock and pine trees flash by. Amid his still-forming fear he wonders if they’re doing a hundred.

Later Armando will understand that his father’s mis­take was not shifting the car to neutral and not making any attempt to turn off the engine, but no one in the minivan knows that now, so while his father hammers down his left foot on the parking brake and his right on the main brake pedal, his mother unbuckles her seat belt and leans over the center console and yanks on the accelerator. The burn­ing brake stench overpowers them. From the back seat Ar­mando watches his mother’s lower back jerk and jerk. He has never seen her body move so wildly, and the sight scares him more than anything that has happened up to this point, until his body launches sideways, then presses taut, and he hears his father yell out “Na!” as the van begins its roll.

His vision straightens and Armando makes out his sis­ter’s wet face and the ground at the window behind her. Something presses on his neck and he reaches there and grabs at flesh, bone underneath, and he moves it away from him. A dangling, shoeless foot on a leg — his mother’s leg extending out at an impossible angle toward her body. He hears voices nearby and reaches out in the space in front of him, toward his sister, and sees his hands there before darkness overtakes him.



Used by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.

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Jesse Goolsby

About Jesse Goolsby

Jesse Goolsby is an Air Force officer and the author of the novel I’d Walk with My Friends If I Could Find Them (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt). His fiction and essays have appeared widely, to include Narrative Magazine, The Kenyon Review, Epoch, The Literary Review, Salon, Alaska Quarterly Review, The Greensboro Review, and Redivider. He is the recipient of the Richard Bausch Fiction Prize, the John Gardner Memorial Award in Fiction, and fellowships from the Sewanee Writers' Conference and the Hambidge Center for Creative Arts and Sciences. His work has been listed as notable in both Best American Essays and Best American Short Stories, and selected for Best American Mystery Stories. He serves as a genre editor for the literary journals War, Literature & the Arts and The Southeast Review.