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The Passenger MAG
The driver, a lean man of fifty, cruised the night. Tiny beads of sweat waterfalled from his forehead, and his greased-back hair was wet and stiff. Reaching into the chest pocket of his soaked plaid shirt, the driver pulled out a pack of soggy cigarettes and extracted one with his lips.
He looked over at his passenger. "What ... you want one, too?" He coughed a little as the metal gear of his lighter struck its hidden flint. "These things'll kill ya, you know."
His passenger was silent.
The car floated like a candle in a dark room, in a dark world, illuminating only a firefly point on the countryside and then moving on. A few weeks back the man had painted the car green, emerald green, just to be on the safe side. Now, this lone jewel rolled lazily about in the night.
"You know," said the driver as he took a lingering puff, "each and every time, I think it'll get easier. That I just won't care ... that it won't hurt anymore. But it always does. It always hurts ... "
The passenger made no comment.
Suddenly leaning over, so that his face was directly in hers, he screamed, "DON'T YOU EVER THINK THAT I DON'T CARE ... 'CAUSE I DO!!"
Another car passed, its headlights reflecting chalk white off the unflinching passenger's skin. The driver swabbed his brow and unrolled the window in a single motion. One cigarette stub and two wads of spit took their leave. He rolled the window back up.
The car cruised on, and the man slapped his pocket. "Aw ... that was my last one."
The man grew cautious as, a half hour later, the car slipped beneath the neon light of a 7-Eleven sign. The light painted a thousand portraits on the car's green metal canvas: a flock of fluorescent birds dipping and diving through rings of fire ... a suspicious soul in silent regard behind silver spectacles ... brittle bones of missing persons thrown atop a pile of broken chess pieces ... it was all there, in that hair-strand instant, strobed for only sharp-eyed owls to see.
Pulling into the empty lot, the man left the car running. "You stay here. I'm gettin' some smokes." He was slightly nervous. Surprisingly, nothing bubbled or shined or gemmed in the counter clerk's eyes, nothing at all. They sat like dull pebbles beneath the half-closed eyelids of those on the night shift. It was too easy sometimes. Fooling everyone, that is. So incredibly easy.
He slid back behind the steering wheel, brooding. They had a long drive ahead of them. He turned to her. "Do you even have any idea what it's like to be lonely, truly lonely?" The driver swabbed his sweaty brow with a shirtsleeve. "I didn't think so."
He lit another cigarette which, in a short five minutes, had turned to ashes and was blowing across the countryside.
And the candle continued to move in the pitch-black room, in the pitch-black world, igniting everything yet stopping nowhere, and as usual no one turned on the light. n