She blinks them out of town like angels, tires singing on the macadam.
The road whispers hello.
Blood between his teeth is familiar, as familiar as the engine opening up and the road rolling forth: cloven hooves, gasoline, sparks, stitching his brother’s skin , his own, biting and screaming and feeling bones crack against a hundred walls, flesh crackling off bones in a parody of open-pit barbecue because hell is here, right here, in America , and they've been down there so long and they're the only ones that know--or well, she does, his baby does, she knows, as non-human things hold human things close, as only she does. She keeps them, mingles their breath with engine oil and antifreeze, pumps up their blood. Courage, heart, muscle, balls; cradle and grave.
Texas smells like pecan trees, pancakes, fast food, all–nite, oil, ketchup on formica, perfume, mesquite, roadhouse .
Heaven doesn’t smell like anything.
She smells like home.
“Sammy,” he says for the millionth time, “how far is it to fill-in-the-blank?” And Sam (map, phone, GPS, memory) tells him and they're rolling again, seconds and minutes, seasons and years. Aging, after all, is an adventure. Once he told his father (so young, both of them) his car'd be sexy at forty, at fifty; she is; he will be. If he ever gets there. How many times can a guy die, after all, and come back.
Thing is, people aren't much like cars. Except they break down eventually, or get totaled, and the only choice is museum or salvage, and you know which one he’d choose. But you can’t take it too far. Or you can take it just as far as you want, ‘til the road runs out, if it ever does.
There’s light glancing off another exit sign. Gas station. Rest stop. Vending machine. Coin-op laundry. Angel. Demon. Demon. Ghost.
Sam knocks his knuckles on the window, counts invisible cows, punches the radio on, laughs. His heart’s so loud, louder than the engine even; even before he could really hear it, before he was born, it was there.
Well I know my baby, if I see her in the dark, says the radio, I know my rider.
Baby, he says in his sleep, hands on the wheel, baby.
Where are we going.
Sam answers with a quote from Kerouac, or so he says.
You want to explain that, Princess, he says. No, Sam says, his mouth a state line, a frontier. They’ve left something behind. They always do. In Texas, in America, in hell.
You want to drive, he says, and then he’s pulling Sammy from yet another fire, the spirit so willing and the flesh so weak and oh the spiritus mundi, the spirit of the whole world; he’s saying something in Latin, fumbling it, and Sam gets it right, says, I’ve got you; I’ve got you, his little brother says, and it’s something he’s never wanted, to hand over the keys, but there it is.
And there they are, knocking longnecks on the hood, and he’s handing over the keys to the kid (shit he’s grown) and there’s John smiling, leaning on the dash, calling him son, calling him son.
A memory: flames licking up from a pyre, from more than one.
Give me a gun in my hand. Give me a hunter’s funeral. Give me the open road, and you. Give me my baby in the dark.
Something Cas said once. Something Cas said once; a head-tilting cryptic thing. Axis mundi, the road through heaven. The one-lane two-lane.Lacrimae mundi, he might have said; that’s right there on the windshield, rain and salt and tears and time; she wipes away the freaking tears of the world.
It does occur to him, sorrow.
They’ve lived in the past, the future, in all the dimensions if you call that living, but always the,what did Sam call it, the frigging cynosure, the center, the main cosmic interstate, bringing them back to themselves no matter how much they want to get off, and the doors swinging open heavy and wide as arms: get in; get in.
No matter what, she’s never gonna be too small for them, angel in the back seat and demon in the trunk and them, the two of them grown, overgrown, living, dead. She’s always going to be big enough, too big, big as the whole universe, big as heaven, punctured with stars reflected and somehow, fallen, sharp as pins, dings and dents and glints not just imagined but in the body, hers and his and theirs and god’s.
A memory: Sam shuddering with pain (or fever, or fear) in a motel off I -80 in Nebraska, the door rattling with what might be wind, might not, one hand holding his brother down, holding him steady, ready to turn, fire with the other, when Sam gets a piece of his shirt, hauls him in, opens his eyes so wide he can see them shining in the dark, says, we’re never going to get old, are we. Urgent breath, too-hot exhaust. (She’ll be hot when she’s forty, something like, he told his young father, stroking the hood of his not-yet darling.) One hand goes to Sam’s face quick, tugs back his hair, do you really want to. Yeah, his brother whispers, falls back, yeah I do. Pulse thumping; two-hundred-seventy-five horses, a heart.
That’s the thing about the heart. It stops. It stops and you go down to the crossroads with it in a freaking box. That’s what you do.
Not this time, Sam says, keep your eyes on the road.
Baby, he says, strokes the wheel, where are we going.
It’s hell, the road, can be. Well, coffee and blue sunrise aside, and Sam shoving his uneaten bacon across the table and an angel in a trenchcoat knocking back whiskey and the world, the world is, was, full of fucking miracles, that too, the way she hits the blacktop like hot midnight, slews and stops and shimmies and never, never stalls.
Did you, Sam says, runs a hand over the seat between them.
Did you, he says back, and they know what they mean.
She tells them ride on, ride on. She’s a sleek mare, isn’t she, sleek black turn-on-a-dime quarter horse and there are the Black Hills, Custer, Wild Bill; Wayne and Eastwood on first watch, of course, on a high hill, at the stronghold, where they’ll always be.
Truth is he doesn’t mind the stories. License plates and dead IDs and coffee cups aren’t much of a legacy; nor lives saved, crises locked away, secrets, the world kept in the dark.
Truth is they hear all the tales they never tell, between engine sounds as the gravel rolls underneath like a wave, like a whole sea.
Where are we going, he says, stops.
The gospel of us, will it last.
Not a memory, an action movie: His brother’s pulse, his, distressingly weak, blood on the leather, the cheap copperscotch burn of fucking fear, of things gone beyond detour bad, beyond bad-sign bad. Gun it, fly through a red, pull up at Emergency and shout for help with blood on his hands, watch themselves whisk away, turn back somehow to see Cas leaning on her hood, arms a cross to bear, come here, come here, and he gets it: she’s an angel, his baby, always has been.
They’ll come out of the hospital (the blood-sprayed, salt-rimed motel room, the graveyard, the forest, the cop shop, the cave, you know, themouth of hell) into the sunshine and there she’ll be, hot midnight, shining like a new dime, shining like the heavenly shore; that’s the way he remembers it, the way he always will.
Three sounds, no, four, that he’ll take with him, wherever he’s going. The engine of course, that tuned-up, keyed-up growl, John’s morning voice, just before coffee, too early for anger, Sam’s laugh, the one that hauls off and nails it, the innocence he never got to have. And the other’s a secret, hard to pin down, some weird remix of wings and wheels, the highway, the guardrails, white lines, a faint hit of something just about to appear.
Tires singing on the road, a whisper.
Are we, Sam asks, and he doesn't say it, won't say it. There’s the road in the dusk, static. The radio tuned to cheesy AM, time for me to fly. Cas’ voice breaking in, find the way home, you’ll know it when you see it, fading to static, fading in again, find the way home. (What will they know when they see it, farmhouse, clean and unburnt, baptism-white, “The Winchesters” on the mailbox, John and Mary waving on the porch, Bobby in the drive next door, old lives and old loves and friends and relations, calling and smiling, calling them in.) Find the way home; I’ll be there too. Static.
Are we, Sam says. Yeah, he tells his little brother, I think we are, and they clasp hands on her dash, just like that; no map, no phone, no direction home, just you and me you and me you and me.
When they were young they played with toys, left them here with her for safekeeping. Bricks and logs and men and guns and wheels in their palms and the wind in their hair. It's what he wants to remember, not all the deaths, not even the laughs. It's what he wants to take with him, leave behind, because the road goes both ways and it always will.
“Dean?” Sam's looking at him strange and somehow they're both old; they both got gray, and their hands aren't steady on their guns and how'd we get here, Sam whispers under the engine, and he says I don't know Sammy, I don't know, and he puts down the window and he floors it and they go, they go, sun sinking, smiling, singing cowboy songs and red-dirt blues and rock and roll, over the open road.