in cars

“We drove his 1986 Jetta, blasting a Discman via cassette-deck adapter, sunroof hand-cranked open, hair stiff with gel…”



by jeremiah o’hagan



I came of age in cars at the beach, in midnight cemeteries and Highway 20 turn-outs. Engines off in hard-shadowed summer dusk, crunching the gravel perimeter of graves, shivering beneath a bowl of stars.

There were girls whose scent lingered in the dark, but not often. There was Trent’s white pickup, blue seat dusted by the powder-sugared doughnut hole he dropped shifting to fourth on the bridge over Thunder Arm, but only once.

Mostly, there was me, my cousin, and music.

We drove his 1986 Jetta, blasting a Discman via cassette-deck adapter, sunroof hand-cranked open, hair stiff with gel. We circled from his house to my house on back roads, drove back roads from my house to the beach to his house. The soundtrack: Springsteen’s Greatest Hits. Tom Petty, Steve Miller and the Best of U2, 1980-1990. The British import with a second disc of B-sides. The boy with the infantry helmet. Even in the black and white photo, we knew his eyes were blue.

Pick any day of hundreds: It’s July, the Fourth has disappeared in shreds of paper. All that remains is the flowering scorch on the Jetta’s hood, where a string of Black Cats scared the shit out of us. It was lying there and I clenched a punk between my teeth, reaching across for another bottle rocket, and it only takes one ember, barely falling. The sun’s glare is broken by this scar, convincing us that we have stories.

We’re quiet today. We have so much to say and no one to listen and we’ve told ourselves the stories too many times. My cousin slips a new CD into the Discman as we drive along the shore, toward the end of the parking lot. It’s the first time I’ve heard The Clash. “London Calling.”

There’s a roundabout at the north end of the parking lot and we always take a turn around it. Sun zooms in the open roof and we take a second turn, my cousin pinning the wheel just far enough left for this circle to last. A third. Why stop?

Originally published:
Issue Seventy
October 2015


Jeremiah O’Hagan was a high school English teacher and is now a newspaper reporter. When he’s not reading or hammering a keyboard, he likes to wander agape through wildness and hang out with his partner Amanda and their son Roman.  More from Jeremiah O’Hagan can be found in the Vault of Smoke.

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