Stop/Yield/No Turn on Red
by Percy Rarely
|Photo courtesy Robert Frank|
“Beautiful,” I sighed as I surveyed not crops, or livestock, but signs: my terracotta army of traffic control, the hundred-strong battalion of seven-foot soldiers that rose from my rear acreage like the spikes of an iron maiden. Stop, yield, no turn on red 6AM-11AM school days only - mesmerizing variegated shapes and colors all turned to face their king at the kitchen window, who smiled back at them. My evening cocktail of Rockstar, coffee and hazelnut creamer clenched my veins as the moon rose on my subjects and soon only the tangerine LED “SPEED 50 MPH” was visible among them, their vigilant guardian. Tonight, they would receive new compatriots into their ranks.
I climbed into my powerful matte black pick-up truck and drove away from my lot nestled deep in the woods, down my dirt road sublimely free of signage. It was only after I turned west onto Pool Road that those fingers of society came to me, long and outstretched, telling me that I could go no faster than fifty miles per hour. I was heading for Presence, where it had begun. I’d come a long way since the night I’d prowled those streets, taking pot shots at the traffic signals, what few there were, and the week I’d spent behind the only bars in town, saved from community service because the sheriff was fucking my mom.
It was a long drive to Presence, and my only companion was garbled evangelical radio. I arrived at the town limits near midnight. My headlights flooded the old “Welcome to Presence - Lovely!” sign with white light, but I drove on, knowing that the climax must be saved for when the task is nearly finished.
The next offender my eyes fell upon was a lowly speed limit sign, lowering the acceptable speed to a pitiful thirty five miles per hour. I pulled my truck off the road, hid it in a copse of trees, and began my work.
With exercise and practice, the extraction of a sign can be executed in mere minutes by a capable individual. One need only dig a couple of feet on any side and the thing can be easily plucked from the earth. Refilling and covering the hole is advisable for smaller scale work, but the people of Presence would be waking today with no signs to live by anywhere within the town proper. No amount of refilled holes would be able to hide what I had done.
I dug, I pulled, and I carried the sign to my truck. I laid it in the bed, poking the dirt-caked bottom through the rear window and into the cab. I covered the bed with my tarp and moved on down the road to the next sign, which warned of a dangerous curve ahead - a rarity, to be sure, but it came out as easily as the first, and on and on until the walk to my truck became minutes long and I had to move into the cluster of houses on the edge of town.
I parked my truck across the street from the houses, in a dark corner of a pharmacy lot lit by a single flickering light. I’m not ashamed to admit that my hands were trembling now as I worked as if at the bottom of an amphitheater, surrounded by windows and eyes peering out of them. I reminded myself it was one in the morning on a Wednesday night in the town of Presence, population three hundred. I pulled down a yield sign and my hands steadied to feel it come free of the earth. After I put it in my truck I dug at a speed limit sign on the other side of the street.
I hadn’t heard the door open. I was bending down to lift the sign when I heard it close. From a porch across the street, a shadowy form hailed me under a dim light.
It was then that the mistake was made. With my truck visible from where I was standing, I ran instead into a knot of trees in back of a nearby home, shovel in hand, the sign laying across the sidewalk. I laid prostrate in the damp underbrush. Crickets chirped several times before I heard the man’s footsteps approaching me. I muttered a curse for the pointless bravery of this idiot. “What are you doing,” the do-gooder called.
I held my shovel close and stood against a tree, out of his view, and still he crept closer, feet tramping the filthy leaves. “Come on out here, I’ve got a gun,” he said. Louder, he shouted “Baby, call the sheriff.”
At that I knew I had to get out of there fast - the word and the face attached made my head sick. I ran at full tilt, emerging out of the trees like a Viking berserker. I heard two shots, saw two flares of light come between me and the man in a wife-beater and boxer shorts before my shovel clanged against his skull. To tell the truth, I winced at the sound. His head was bleeding on the grass and I kept running, to the front yard and down the street, across the road and into the parking lot where my truck seemed to shine in spite of its matte paint.
I collapsed against it and felt the shot for the first time. I lifted my shirt and saw the red blooming out of my side. The pain was mounting fast as I jammed my key into the door, pulled it open and pulled myself inside. The cab was crowded with dirty metal poles sticking into it like nails in a nail bomb.
People were gathering on the street, people half-clothed or decked in pajamas, morbid curiosity lightly tugging them toward where the man who was bleeding out of his head lay. I drove slowly past them, as any car would, at an advisable 25 miles per hour. I thought of the sheriff being woken by a ringing phone and wondered whether it would be my mother’s blue bedside rotary I smashed into the wall when I was ten years old. My vision was blurry, my ears were ringing, and when the sign at the end of the road said stop, by God, I did.