Toy Cars

Toy Cars

Scotty has parked matchbox cars on the carpet along the wall in his room. Others are stalled on a make-believe freeway, in a made-up traffic jam—hundreds if not a thousand of them. From what I remember, if one comes up missing, or out of place, he knows the model, the make, the color, if there’s a scratch on the hood, anything, and the whole world better come to a screeching halt until it’s located. It’s been twelve, fifteen years since I’ve been here, looks like not much has changed. The walls are still plastered with illustrations of Peterbilts, Macks, Kenworths and Freightliners. Michael Jordan dunks on a poster, tongue hanging from his mouth. The waterbed is still here. When I was a boy and my dad was gone doing whatever he did, and my mom had left us by then, I’d stay here, lying next to Scotty in this bed, awake with so much on my mind, counting not sheep, but the headlights of his semis.

Next to the bed, on a table are five or six prescription bottles. My stomach nosedives into my ass when I see them. Like running into someone you still aren’t over and they have a new lover by their side. My wounds are still fresh and I turn away quickly before I can make out any labels, before I see something I can’t say no to. Scotty is on the floor, asleep on his stomach. I kneel down behind him and lift a blue Mustang from a bay in a plastic garage and drive it up his back. He shivers and arches cat-like as the tiny plastic wheels rattle over his vertebrae. Real quiet, he says, “That better not be my favorite car.” Then he turns around, takes a moment to study my face, sees the car in my hand. “Kevin that better not be my 68’ GT convertible.”

“What, no hello? You haven’t seen your favorite cousin in years. I stop for a visit and you’re more worried about your car?”

This makes him smile, but he acts like it doesn’t. “Kevin what are you doing here? Messing up my cars, that’s what you’re doing. My moms’ gonna’ be mad at you.”

I extend my hand, he takes it. His skin is dry and flakey, his nails are long but clean. When I help him up, he grunts like the forty-year-old man he is and I grunt like I’m not far off, just three years younger. Middle-age has caught up to him around the gut, namely from all the soda he drinks, which has also browned his teeth, though, after all I put my own body through, my teeth don’t look any better. He is overweight, but not obese—just flabby. Seems shorter than me now, even in his Jordans—the only brand of shoe he’s worn since the mid-eighties. Maybe it’s the way he hunches, his neck seems to have fused with his head over the years. Wrinkles are carved deep around his eyes. And one of them—I wouldn’t call it lazy, it doesn’t droop, just peers to his left, all the time, always has. If it wasn’t for this eye and the way he talks, the awkward way he moves, you might confuse him with any other middle-age man.

“I see you guys still keep your door unlocked. What if I was a robber and was able to waltz in and kidnap you then I decide your toy cars are worth more than you so I tie you up and steal all of your stuff instead,” I say. “Would you like that?” Standing there he claps his hands, rocks back and forth on his heels. This is what he does when he’s excited, but also when he’s nervous. It’s been so long since I’ve seen him, I’m not sure which applies. He knows I’m just playing with him, but what he doesn’t know is the idea of me stealing his stuff wasn’t that far-fetched a few months ago. Perhaps it even crossed my mind a time or two. Perhaps some sick part of my mind was hoping nobody would be home right now.

“You decided to come see me? Huh, did you? Where you been?” he asks.


Scotty and I, we were inseparable from grade school to the first year or so of high school. Fridays. When my classmates gossiped in the halls about how rad so and so’s party was going to be, I knew I’d be kicking it with Scotty, usually at the dog track just across the border in Colorado, specifically, the dog track parking lot. Sure, I was never invited to those rad parties, but that doesn’t mean I couldn’t have showed up with someone that was. But what would Scotty do? Hang out in the car by himself? Alone on a Friday night? I couldn’t let that happen. So Scotty and I, not yet old enough to gamble on dogs, fogged the windows of my uncle’s blue Pontiac while my uncle was in the grandstands. Dollar beers. Two-dollar bets.

Hours ticked by. And hours back then seemed longer than they do now for some reason and we’d sit in there, me in the backseat, neck pulled back watching the moon through the foggy rear window, the smell of the Greeley stockyards in the air and Scotty up front, behind the wheel, bouncing, vroom, vrooming, yanking the steering wheel left then right then left. Scotty had to bring his cassette collection, or part of it, carrying them around in a plastic grocery store bag. My uncle always left me in charge of the keys so we could listen to music. The cassette player turned up, speakers cracking, Scotty played his favorites of the time: George Strait, Alan Jackson, Clint Black. I’d reach over the seat and honk at sad-faced gamblers slouching by, then I’d duck. This would cover the first hour or so, then restlessness would set in. That’s when I’d coax Scotty out of the safety of the car with “false narratives” and sneak up to the fence.

There was a gap in the wooden slats and we took turns peeking at the dogs. Greyhounds in their kennels—beasts yipping from their dark enclosures, their sharp lean faces flashing in and out of shadow and the million-watt track lights. Then the handlers heeled the dogs out in a line before the race, numbers and colors draped over their backs, the horn blower calling to post, the dogs trotting into the starting gate. On the loudspeaker the announcer would go, Here come’s Wizbo. I can still hear it in my head, Here come’s Wizbo. And Wizbo, the mechanical rabbit would speed around the track, whirr, whirr, the gates would lift and the dogs gave chase, all muscle and sinew working in unison beneath their smooth, sleek coats. Up above, knuckles of moths punched against the track lights, and above that, tin stars pinned to the black night. Scotty couldn’t turn away from the action. He was just like his dad in the stands, filling up on watered-down beer, screaming at the top of his lungs—c’mon, c’mon youse cocksuckers, number seven for the trifecta!

Scotty was more open to my suggestions back then, but I guess most of us are more open to stupid ideas when we are young and invincible. It might take some convincing, but generally, I could talk him into anything. On the rare occasions he’d stay the night at my house, I’d let Scotty carry all the newspapers for my paper route while I walked along next to him tossing them onto the lawns. His mom said I was taking advantage of his naivety and his unbridled strength. Yeah, now I see it was wrong, but at the time, I believed I was doing him a favor by allowing him to do things normal teenagers did, things he wanted to do—mowing my lawn, cleaning my room, sending him into the store to buy cigarettes, prank calling my bullies from school—things his mom wouldn’t let him try.

It was the summer before my senior year of high school that I found my own group of “normal teenagers” and the plastic bottles of vodka, piss-water beer, pot, meth, painkillers—whatever we could get our hands on—seemed to drive Scotty and I apart. Scotty believed in Santa Claus, combustion, white sugar; I believed in the buzz, the fog, the beautiful release when the needles found the vein. I believed I could quit using at any time. That was twenty years ago.


“I’ve been sick,” I reply. “But hey, we haven’t hung out in a long, long time. I thought you might want to check out the car show with me.”

“You’re better now?”

“That’s what I tell people.”

“What car show Kevin? The car show at the mall?”

“Yes, that one.”

Scotty claps his hands together, one eye looks off into space, he bends his fingers backwards like he’s counting. He lacks the common sense it takes to make remedial decisions—should I turn the stove off, should I stop playing for a minute and go to the bathroom, should I go to the car show. He will be forever-stationed in his parent’s basement because of this and I picture his mind the same way, in a basement. Underground, where it never gets too warm and his CD player drones on, the songs of lonely rodeo men, where he can sing and dance along, where nobody can touch his cars, he can be himself, free from being called retard every time he opens his mouth. While the world keeps building up around him he is stuck down there, stunted by childish habits and thought, the emotional, and spiritual level of an eight or nine-year-old child.

“My mom won’t get mad, huh Kevin.”

“I already asked her. She said it was okay,” I lie. “Plus, you’re a full-grown man.”

“They have all kinds of cars. Do they?”

“Yep, just like you do here, new ones, old ones, red ones, fast ones, but there’s are real. Get your shit. Let’s go.”

Over the next half hour, Scotty grabs a plastic grocery bag, picks out maybe twenty or so toy cars, gently places them in the bottom of the bag, takes a small stuffed elephant off of his bed, puts it in the bag, takes it out, puts it back on his bed, his CDs, all of it in the bag, A small American flag, he puts that in there too. Goes to the refrigerator, takes three cans of Coke out of the twelve-pack, puts two in the bag, puts his arm through the bag handle so it hangs from the crook of his arm, holds the last Coke in his hand and pops the top. “This will be fun, huh Kevin. My mom doesn’t care. She said it’s alright, huh,” he says as I hurry him out the door.

I have this fear of being alone, like I don’t trust my own company, like I might talk myself into doing something stupid if left to my own devices and I’ve been alone a lot since I came home and moved back in with my dad. I mean, my dad’s around sometimes, but we don’t get along so well. Men want to make their fathers proud, but all I feel is shame when I see him, still just a little kid. So many times I lied, and stole and manipulated not just him, but everyone that was close to me. I try to stay out of his way, keep a low profile. He says he doesn’t hate me, but he should. And my so-called friends have all but forgotten about me, which is fine, since most of them are still using and I need to stay away from the people, places and things that trigger me, that’s what I learned while I was away. I’m glad to have Scotty’s company. Scotty doesn’t judge. He doesn’t see the evil in me.


We are blowing down Old Highway 30 by the time Scotty asks where we’re going. “Kevin, this isn’t the way to the mall,” he says.

“I just need to run somewhere real quick first.”

“Then we’ll go to the car show? Huh Kevin?”

“Yes, then we’ll go to the car show.”

There’s always this voice inside saying, This would be a lot more fun if you were high. With everything. And the next thing I know I’m driving by Dave’s house. He’s this old guy I used to buy pills from years ago. Maybe I just want to see how he’s doing, or if he’s still alive. I don’t know. I didn’t even make a conscious decision to come here. It’s like I’m on auto-pilot. I pull onto the shoulder and stop out front. I’m looking towards the house hoping I’ll see him, I guess.

“Kevin who’s house is this?” Scotty asks. I look over at him. He has no idea, still has an innocence left. I can’t bring him into something like this. My foot stomps the gas, the tires screeching thrills Scotty. He bounces up and down, claps his hands, laughs all wide-mouthed.

Wind gusts rock the truck, houses grow scarce, the road opens up and something in me also opens up, like the further I drive into the nothingness, the safer I feel.

Twenty miles later, west of Cheyenne, I pull off of Old 30, into Vedauwoo. We cross a cattle-guard and head down a dirt road, then off the dirt road onto an old wagon trail. Cows scrape up short-grass with meaty lips. Bone-dry and rust-colored, the soil doesn’t have much to give. Two or three look up and moo. Scotty clenches a can of Coke between his thighs, one hand on the dash, the other locked on the oh shit handle. His window is rolled down. He grins nervously. Sage scrapes the undercarriage of the truck, branches of it crush under the tires. I inhale deeply. The kick of fragrance exfoliates the relentless cravings from the wormy ridges of my brain. Crickets and grasshoppers, and birds that sound like crickets and grasshoppers, all buzz from a swatch of reeds just off the trail.

We come up the other side of a washout. Up and out, rear wheels spitting what it can of this hard-packed land, the panorama unfolds in pale, washed out greens, yellows and browns. It is wide. It is flat. Pre-historic. These plains here are closer to the sun than the tallest buildings down in Denver, with an elevation over 8000 feet and nothing to hold up the weight of all that sky, no skyscrapers, no tall trees, it just goes on, unfurling. I mash the gas pedal and disappear into it. “Kevin, Kevin, Jesus Christ! Slow down! God Kevin. Now my frickin’ Michael Jordan’s are untied because of you.”

“I’ll tie them when we get there. I remember showing you how to tie them thirty years ago. You did it too. Remember? It’s because your mom will tie them for you, so you don’t try. If you told her that you forgot how to wipe your ass she’d do it for you. Baby Scotty needs his wittle doo doo hole wiped.”

“Kevin don’t say that. You’re the doo doo. I know how to wipe my own butt. My mom’s going to be mad at you. She says you’re a junky person.”

“Not a junky person, she says I’m a junkie. Big difference. You better not tell her we’re out here either. She’d kill me.” I say this knowing that eventually he’s going to tell her. Scotty doesn’t know how to lie. With him, you have to create a new truth to bury the old lie.

“The frickin’ car show, Kevin. That’s where I wanted to go. Not frickin’ four-wheelin’. Like frickin’ Dukes of Hazard,” his voice is high-pitched, staccato, razor blade upon razor blade.

“That’s your problem. You need to get out of your comfort zone and live a little. Your whole life you loved cars more than anything, but you’d rather play with them or look at them instead of driving one. This is what men do. They drive over stuff. Wouldn’t you rather do that?” I say.

“Kevin, what’d you say?”

“I was going to let you drive. I was trying to surprise you.”

“Drive? This truck? How? I don’t know how to drive a real car. God, Kevin.”

Rock formations spring up before us, fracturing the thin line between blue and brown. These tables and spires of granite and evergreen speak to the reptilian brain, the flight of a person’s primal instincts. Trees and rocks, a sense of safety, the only cover among miles and miles of flat expanse. The back of my neck tingles with the thought of something watching us from above. This land doesn’t coddle, it doesn’t lie, and if it hurts you, it isn’t personal. And I’m thinking that for some of us, we could be locked in a box all alone and we’d still be hunted. For some of us we are our own worst predator, killing ourselves with stupid habits, little by little we die every day. The insignificance of us, it’s something I am learning the longer I stay sober—going on four months. The world is so much bigger than me, than Scotty. Now that we are out here I want to show him how large and unpredictable it really is.

I look for the rock that resembles a turtle. I know that one, Turtle Rock. I pull up, park in the blue shade of it, get out. Scotty stays inside the truck. Blackened beer cans lie in the fire pit. A meadowlark yodels from somewhere on the ground. There’s magpies shrieking and the heavy scent of pine fills the hollowed wind. A shit-stained piece of toilet paper waves like old glory from a yucca plant spear. A small nebula of gnats buzz my face. I swat them away, bear-crawl up a boulder, look down on Scotty pouting in the truck. His mouth is moving. I can see that he’s cussing me out. “Get out of the damn truck,” I shout. “Quit being a pussy.”

Scotty rolls down then hollers out the window, “Kevin you’re a pussy. I’m mad at you.”

“Just get out. Come look how pretty it is out here,” I say.

“Kevin, my frickin’ shoe’s untied.”

“Well get out here and I’ll tie it.”

It takes five minutes for the truck door to finally open, it squeaks, he steps out, it squeaks again when he slams it shut. “Kevin I can’t climb up there.”

“If you want your shoe tied you will,” I say.  I concede, shuffle down the rock face to meet him. My muscles are old rubber bands. The doctor said it may be a year or more until my body feels normal again, my mind even longer than that. A chipmunk whistles and darts across the rock. “Give me your hand. It’s easy. You have the best shoes for it. I read that Jordan’s are the best for rock climbing.”

“They are? Kevin I can’t climb up there. Kevin my shoes are good huh. I can huh.”

“Yeah man, look at your shoes. They are made for this type of shit. You can do anything in those bad boys.”

My hand is extended. To my surprise he steps forward and takes it without too much ado. He outweighs me by fifty pounds, I strain to pull him up to where I stand. He steadies himself. I kneel down and tie his Jordans. He claps, then remembers he’s up on the rock. “Whoa Kevin,” he says reaching out for me. He takes hold of my shoulder.

“Almost there,” I say. I don’t give him time to overthink it. I get behind him and push him the final ten feet up the face. “Look, isn’t it pretty out there?”

I gaze cross the horizon. A train slices the prairie and a Cessna does the same in the sky. Past that is a pyramid built in the middle of nowhere to mark the highest point of the transcontinental railroad. Not the golden spike or anything, just the highest point of elevation. And clear out there is some little town that sprung up with the railroad and died when the interstate was built. Besides the wind there is only silence, but you can feel it—the earth and its history, almost like lungs sighing under our feet. Scotty looks out across the plains, “What is it?”

“It’s the wild,” I answer.

“Is this better than the car show? This isn’t better. Huh, is it Kevin?”

Two red-tail hawks catch thermals, they circle, lifting, lifting, they hold on, they ride, they keep their hawk-eyes peeled on the ground. “I bet we look like two tiny bugs to those things,” I say.

“What things Kevin, huh?”

“Those hawks. See them?” I point them out.

Scotty doesn’t see the hawks. He’s looking for something though, and I want him to know what I’m showing him isn’t really something feathery and precise, it’s everything. The hawks are a symptom of something larger. “I wanted to go to the car show,” Scotty says.

And I want to grab him by the neck and shake him. He’ll never get it. I got him out of his basement and he’s still whining about the car show. He doesn’t know what’s good for him. “Stay here,” I say. “I’m going to take a piss behind this rock over here.”

“Kevin I need to go too.” Scotty is now holding his crotch, shifting his weight from leg to leg. His cheeks are rosy from the wind.

“I wish you weren’t such a baby. You haven’t grown up at all since I last saw you.” I take his hand and lead him up to a flat spot behind a boulder. “Just piss here.”

“Kevin make sure I don’t fall. Please.”

“I’d never let you fall. I might push you though.”

“Kevin, don’t.”

“I’m joking. I’m right here.” I put my palm flat against Scotty’s back.

He drops his high-waisted jeans all the way to his ankles. His pasty ass shines in the sun. “Kevin, I can’t go with you watching me.”

“Jesus Christ Scotty. Here, I’m going to take two steps over here and piss behind this rock. You’ll be fine,” I say. “You’ve pissed more than I have. I mean, you’re older. You should be making sure I’m okay.”

“Kevin you’ll be okay. Go to the bathroom if you want,” he says, concentrating on his penis.

Through a small crevice I keep an eye on Scotty. I’m sure he can’t see me though. “Kevin, is this how men pee? Men pee like this huh, Kevin. Just pee wherever we want.”

“Yep, this is what men do,” I answer. “Use Mother Earth as one big shitter.” Scotty laughs at this. “Kevin, that’s funny. Big shitter, huh.” He makes a fart noise with his mouth and laughs some more. I piss and as I’m zipping up my pants I back into a dried yucca stalk, it rattles and this gives me an idea. A lone cloud rolls through, blocks out the sun and I watch its shadow creep across the prairie. The breeze is cooler now. It blows through the granite corridors. Then I scream, “Oh God! Oh God! Fuck, Scotty it hurts!”

“Kevin, what’s wrong?” He turns his head, looks for me. I can see the concern in his face, the way it hangs open. I limp from behind the boulder into view. “Oh man, I’m pretty sure I just got bit by a rattle snake. You have to help me drive home.”

Scotty’s eyes widen. Seeing him there washed in fear and his pants down to his knees in the middle of nowhere, I get this image of a sparrow on the ground, one that never learned to fly. His vulnerability is palpable. A small pang, a tinge of guilt, burrows itself under the flappy part of my heart and I wonder if I’m really trying to change something in him, or myself.

“Kevin, where? What happened? Are you okay? Kevin, where is it?” He scrambles to pull his pants up. “It won’t bite me too, huh Kevin.”

“Snakes can only bite one person, like bees. Did you hear me though? You’re going to have to drive. At least for a little bit.”

“Bees? Drive? Where’s the snake? Did it go home?”

“Forget the bees. The snake went home. It’s long gone. I read that after they bite you they go home and die, underground. Don’t worry about the snake. Worry about me. I’m poisoned, my foot.” I fake limp across the granite to Scotty. “I can’t press the pedals with it. If I don’t get back to Cheyenne in time I could die. Do you understand? It’s up to you to save me. You have to drive Scotty.”

“Kevin, only I can save your life? My mom won’t let me drive. It’s like the cars in my room, huh.”

“Just like your toy cars, but bigger. You have to drive. I’m getting woozy.” I put my arm around his shoulders. “You’re going to have to help me down.” As he feels my dead weight lean against him, a sense of urgency overcomes Scotty, one I can’t remember having seen before. I don’t have to explain step by step what to do. There aren’t a hundred questions. He takes my arm, pulls it all the way around his neck and holds my hand to his chest. I can feel his heart beat on my palm. He says, “Hold on Kevin,” leans forward, lifts me off my feet, my toes drag along the rock. My cheek rests against the cold sweat on the back of his neck. He watches his Jordan’s closely, but we are scooting along.

“You’ve got to save me Scotty,” I plead into his ear.

“Kevin, I am. Your breath stinks. I will.”

Back down on the dirt, next to the truck, I hand Scotty the keys. The cloud is gone and the truck’s silver paint shimmers.

“Wait,” I say. “Let me back it out for you first, get you out in the open.” Scotty doesn’t question why I can back it out but can’t drive us home. He doesn’t ask to see the snake bite. After all the years of me tricking him, he still trusts me. My addict reasoning tells me that this guilt hurts almost as much as a snake bite, so I’m not really lying to him. Even though my wound is on the inside, it still hurts. But this one is for Scotty’s benefit. This will be something he will always remember. He will have one of the best memories and I will be a piece of it. He won’t remember me abandoning me years ago, he will remember today.

Scotty helps me into the driver seat, hands me the keys. He’s clapping his hands furiously while rocking back and forth on his heels. I put it in reverse, peel out, back it away from Turtle Rock into the open, stop, push in the emergency brake with my foot, wave Scotty over to the driver’s side. I slide over, reach across and open the driver door for him. “Let’s go,” I say. “You’ve got this buddy.”

Scotty is hesitant, but he is moving. I can see the conflict, see him thinking through it all. Still, he doesn’t resist, forces himself into the driver’s seat. As soon as he gets in he puts his hands on the wheel, jerks it left, right, left.

“Okay Scotty, all you have to do is work the pedals and steer. I’ll tell you when to push in the clutch and I’ll shift the gears for you.”

“Kevin I can, huh,” he says.

“My life is in your hands,” I wince. “The clutch is the pedal closest to your door.”

“Kevin, I know.”

I reach over and jerk the emergency brake free. “Okay, push the clutch in. It’s kind of tricky,” I say. He does it. I force her down into second. “Let the clutch out slowly. Give it a little gas.” Wind whistles through the window weather stripping. He lets out the clutch. The truck pony-hops twice and stalls. “Sorry Kevin,” he says. “I can do it.”

This happens two more times.

“Push in the clutch and turn the key,” I say. “Give it gas.” The truck rumbles to life. His foot is holding the clutch pedal to the floor. “Ready?” I pull the stick down into second again. RPMs whine into the red. “Less gas.”

Scotty listens. We are chopping along. He gives it more gas. We shift into third with less difficulty. We kick up dust. Turtle Rock falls away in the rearview. Scotty is relaxing into it. He’s smiling and the sun glints off his eye. “Kevin, I’m doing it. Kevin am I really doing it, huh?” he says. “I’m saving your life.”


About the Author

Jason Hardung's work has or will appear in many journals and magazines including: Cimarron Review, 3AM, Monkey Bicycle, Evergreen Review, Entropy, The Common, Metazen, Word Riot, and The New York Quarterly. He has two books of poetry out on Epic Rites Press and Lummox Press. In 2013 he was named Poet Laureate of Fort Collins. He is currently writing a novel. He teaches the therapeutic value of poetry in juvenile detention facilities, jails and rehabs in Colorado, based on his own struggles with the justice system, drug addiction and mental illness.