The cars crawled along the freeway like toddlers, retarded toddlers, weighed down by malaise and milk fat. The Barham exit sign loomed in the distance, and when he craned his neck, Jeremy thought he spotted Highland beyond it.
But no, it was just a mirage, the nasty sun catching on a thousand vanity plates. It was done; he was going to be late to his meeting, this fucking meeting of all meetings, and there was nothing he could do but watch time tick away like sand through an hourglass, or some other more zeitgeisty, less literal reference he was too pissed-off to make his mind recall.
Jeremy rolled down the window. He rubbed the beard he’d trimmed before leaving his apartment, using the guide in the copy of Men’s Health he’d pilfered from his dentist’s office six months earlier. His chinline was buzzed to maximize his face’s masculinity, but it was all going to waste here on the 101.
“Dammit!” Jeremy’s voice cracked, escaping his body in a manner his therapist father would categorize as “repressed.” (Technically, Jeremy’s therapist father would categorize himself as Jeremy’s “analyst father.”)
He told himself to calm down and looked to the radio. “Hotel California” was playing, like it always was, but Jeremy had been so distracted by self-pity that it had taken most of a minute for him to realize it. He flipped to the next station on his dial, which was also playing “Hotel California.”
“Well, this is goddamn ridiculous,” Jeremy said to no one. He hit more buttons on his radio: commercial, commercial, giveaway. It wasn’t like this meeting was going to fix his whole career, or anything, but still, it would really help to be on time.
Commercial, news story, and then a station playing “Desperado.”
“Fuck you!,” Jeremy yelled out his window. “Is this some kind of cosmic prank?”
As if in response, traffic slowed to an even more dim-witted crawl. Don Henley broke the news to his protagonist that he wasn’t getting any younger and Jeremy realized he was going to very, very late to his meeting. He just needed something to come out of it, a glimmer of a prospect of a job to bring home to Thanksgiving. He slammed his fist into the radio. When he pulled it away, he saw that a hairline fracture had slashed through the display. Who’s repressed now, Dad?
“Your prison is walking through this world all alone,” was all anyone said out loud, and it was fucking Henley.
Traffic still hadn’t moved. Jeremy slumped down in his seat and inched his car forward so that it was nearly touching the “Sound Engineers Do It with Frequency” bumper sticker on the Prius in front of him. He checked the time on his phone and tried to breath deeply. He switched to another station, and, impossibly, heard the opening notes of “Desperado.”
“God. Damn. It.” Jeremy roared each syllable loudly enough to topple a gazelle, but he was still too quiet to make any impact on the freeway traffic.
Wait, speaking of God – was that it? Was God… just another fucking Eagles fan?
He laughed aloud at his revelation. Laughed harder and harder. He was at a full uproar when it started, and so he saw it before he felt it; the line of cars in front of him swaying back and forth, and then his own car—an old hatchback he’d need to replace soon—rocking backwards and forwards, trying to stay connected to the furious earth.
Jeremy imagined he was riding a mechanical bull—poorly—and then he worried about the size of his penis.
Chaos erupted outside his window. Horns honked, women screamed, car doors slammed. And the ground continued to shake like it was undergoing a bout of electroshock therapy. (Jeremy’s father would not approve.) The radio began to broadcast static, and even that cut in and out.
Just when he thought the quaking might go on forever, Jeremy felt his hatchback settle. But he wasn’t through the concrete gauntlet yet. He smelled smoke and watched a fire grow along the side of the road. Horns still blasted and people still screamed.
And then, through the static:
“Desperado, why don’t you come to your senses? Come down from your fences, open the gate.”
Jeremy took a deep breath and ran his fingers through the comfortable stubble of his beard.
“Oh, you’re a hard one. I know that you got your reasons. These things that are pleasing you can hurt you somehow.”
He turned up the radio. Folded his hands behind his head. He watched the chaotic scene unfold outside his window.
And then, Jeremy smiled. Because fuck it. The world might be going up in flames, but at least it didn’t matter that he was going to be late to his meeting.
Liana Maeby’s first novel, South on Highland, will be out this summer. In the meantime, follow her on Twitter.