“Pass him, Dad!”
His father, lean and tan, squinting through heavy-black-framed sunglasses at the motorcycle and its two riders fifty yards ahead of them, dropped his hands to a more comfortable position on the bottom rim of the steering wheel. He let the distance between their car and the motorcycle grow.
“Dad, we’re never gonna get there.”
“Nah,” he said. “Too much traffic. It don’t feel safe.” He pulled a depleted and flattened red and white package of cigarettes from the pocket of his t-shirt and a lighter from his front jeans pocket. He glanced at his son. “What’s your hurry?” He lit his cigarette and returned the lighter to his pocket, inhaled long and deep. “What’s the speed limit here? You been payin’ attention?”
“Sixty-five,” said the boy.
His dad watched the speedometer for a few seconds. “And he’s slowin’ us down to… fifty-three.”
The boy watched his dad drive, watched the landscape sweep back past his profile. After a few minutes the boy turned his attention to the motorcycle ahead of them. He couldn’t see the man driving it, except his knees and hands and the top of his head, which was covered by a U.S.-flag-patterned bandana. The woman behind him had her arms forward around his waist. She wore a black leather jacket and pants and her hair was tied with a red bandana. Strands had escaped and were whipping in the wind and flashing reddish-brown in the sunlight. Sometimes the woman’s head would turn toward the fields to the left and right whenever there were cows or buildings or signs to look at.
The boy looked at the dashboard clock. It was three-fifteen. “When was Mom expecting us?”
“Oh, anytime this afternoon.”
“How far is it?”
“You have the map. We just passed Hillsboro. Do the math.”
The boy traced the map slowly with his fingers, whispering as he added numbers. “It’s over 90 miles.”
“Let’s say it’s a hundred,” said his dad. “And let’s say they slow us clear down to fifty.”
“It’s easier to calculate.” He rolled the window down a half-inch and squeezed the cigarette butt out onto the road, then rolled the window up. “You think those people are wasting our time. Let’s see how much they’re really wasting.”
“What else we got to do?” He raised his right forefinger from its position on the wheel in the manner of instruction. “Okay, let’s be exact and say ninety and fifty-three. I know that bike can do better than that, because your uncle Jerry had one just like it, and when he died he was doing eighty-five.” He drove silently for a few seconds, keeping the car a steady safe distance from the motorcycle. “But they are not interested in eighty-five. They’re okay with fifty-three. So they are absolutely robbing us of twelve miles an hour.” He squinted at the bike ahead and moved his hands to the top rim of the wheel. The forefinger rose again for instruction. “Now how long is it going to take us to get there?”
“How would I know!”
“If it’s ninety miles, and we can do fifty-three miles an hour, will we get there in an hour?”
“How far will we get in an hour?”
“Well… umm, fifty-three miles.”
“Right. And that leaves …?”
“Umm… thirty-seven miles.”
“And how much of an hour will it take us to drive thirty-seven miles?”
The boy didn’t answer.
“I mean, if it takes us an hour to go fifty-three?”
Still no answer.
“Well, I’ll tell you. It will take thirty-seven fifty-thirds of an hour.” He pulled out the flattened pack, shook it, and caught another cigarette between his lips. The boy watched him draw out the lighter, light the cigarette quickly and pocket the lighter in a single smooth motion. “Look in that glove box. There’s a calculator in there.”
The boy found it.
“Thirty-seven fifty-thirds of an hour,” his dad said. “That’s thirty-seven divided by fifty-three.”
“Point six nine eight… rounds up to point seven.”
“What’s sixty times point seven?”
“So we’ll be there in an hour and forty-two minutes.” He took a long drag, squinted suspiciously at the motorcycle. “An hour and two-thirds. Don’t put that away yet,” he said suddenly. “We’re not finished.”
The boy let out a long breath. “Okay. Now what?”
“If we could go sixty-five, how long would it take? We’d do sixty-five miles the first hour, leaving …?”
“Twenty-five.” Then before his dad could say anything the boy almost shouted, “And we’ll use twenty-five of the next hour’s sixty-five!” He pecked at the calculator. “Point three eight.”
“Good work. And what’s sixty minutes times point three eight?”
“Twenty-two point eight. Twenty-three.”
“Which is how much less than forty-two?”
“Nineteen. Those people…” His dad jabbed his finger in the direction of the motorcycle. “Those people are wasting nineteen minutes of our lives.” He glared at them. A muscle in his jaw bulged, relaxed, bulged again. He took a drag, then took the cigarette out of his mouth and blew out a white cloud. “How do we feel about that?”
The boy looked at his father and said nothing.
“Another nineteen minutes sitting in this car together, instead of doing whatever you’ll be doing when you get there,” his dad said, thoughtfully drawing on his cigarette. “Maybe you’re right. Time is precious. Maybe we should pass them.” He cocked his head at the boy for a judgment. “What do you think? Is it worth the risk to get you there nineteen minutes faster?”
The boy looked at the couple on the motorcycle. The man twisted in the seat and turned his head. The woman hugged him closer, then sat back again. She looked to the right and pointed. The boy followed her finger and saw a small flock of turkeys far out in a pasture next to a line of trees. He looked back at the road. The oncoming car flashed past in the other lane. In the distance across the valley, two more cars were coming.
“I’ll have plenty of room.” His dad brought the car closer to the motorcycle.
The boy looked at the woman’s hair flashing bronze in the wind. The bike swayed gently left and right in the lane, then steadied.
“What do you wanna bet I’ll make it around him before that car gets here,” said his dad. “What do you think?”
The boy watched the motorcycle, the cars approaching over a mile away.
His dad put the cigarette in his mouth and gripped the wheel with both hands. “No guts, no glory,” he said. “Right?” He glanced at his boy, then ahead at the motorcycle. He took the cigarette out of his mouth to gesture with it again. “See, I think I can get around this bike and pull in front of them before those cars get here, without clipping the front tire of the bike.”
“Because if I did clip it, it wouldn’t knock them off the road. It would turn the wheel to the right and throw their weight to the left, so they’d swerve across the center line.”
The boy stared ahead. The bike swerved playfully from side to side a couple of times and steadied again. The cars were much less than a mile away.
“But I think there’s almost no risk because I can dive back in with several feet to spare before those cars get here.” He put the cigarette back in his mouth.
“No!” The boy shrieked his horror right into his dad’s right ear. His dad jumped. “I mean, please. Please, Dad.”
His dad allowed the distance to the motorcycle to grow comfortable again. He looked over at his son briefly, then returned his attention to the road. The two cars passed — whoosh, whoosh — making the motorcycle waver slightly in the lane.
“What the hell, we ain’t in any hurry. And they look like they’re havin’ a good time.”
The boy kept his eyes ahead on the motorcycle.
“She looks pretty good, don’t she?”
“The lady on the motorcycle.”
The boy had nothing to say to that.
His dad rolled the window down a crack and expelled the cigarette butt, rolled it back up. “Ah, Joey…” He shook his head. “I was kiddin’. I know I shouldn’t kid like that.” He shot a glance at the boy. “Don’t you know I wouldn’t risk those people’s lives like that? After what happened to my brother Jerry?”
Joey had never met his uncle Jerry.
“And for what? To save nineteen minutes?” Joey watched that muscle flex in his dad’s jaw. “That happy couple on that bike up there have given me an extra nineteen minutes with my son.”
Joey thought of how his mother would meet them out in front of her house, like she always did, and would take Joey inside, and would not invite his dad in, and would not say anything more than necessary. She never did.
“And that pretty lady on the motorcycle?”
“She is absolutely nothing compared to your mother.”