You were eight and Sam had just turned four. You remember, because those were the climbing years; Sam wanted, eternally, to be high, to be above all obstacles, to see everything. And he was old enough now--and you were old enough now to let him. You were not afraid he'd fall. (Mostly.)
Dad said he knew Reinders, the man you'd come to see. They weren't pals, though, and their talk involved the grand arcs of their shadows against the plains, black against brittle gold, as the sun went down and their shouting never ceased. At one point you think, This is what it would have been like if Mom were still here. All this shouting. But then you're asleep, made lazy by the sticky heat of the car.
It's dark when Sam wakes you.
Dad and Reinders (Sam calls him Reindeer) are laughing now. Six-pack between them, long thick legs dangling off the tailgate of Reinders' Ford. It's still hot in the Impala, but tonight it's gonna get desert cold, heat wicked away by the wind that moves the plains like snakes. You hear the creaking of metal--Reinders' project.
Sam wants to climb.
"No," you say.
You've been telling all the schools your baby brother slammed your hand in a car door. No big deal.
Your Dad slammed your hand in a car door. It was better than the alternative. The thing on the other side of the door.
I'll go without you, Sam threatens, with a four-year old's bravado that scares you more than anything else: He doesn't know what might happen to him. He doesn't know what that will do to you, to Dad, if he disappears too. But you tell yourself Sam won't go. He's been trained well; and little Sammy, he's afraid of the dark.
When he turns back to you, he has this look on his face like he's about to pee himself. His hair's all matted on one side from his carseat. He has these big, wide eyes you're really just waiting for him to grow out of. When he turns back to you, he's terrified.
But Sam wants to climb, and Sam goes.
And you follow him. This way, if he falls, you'll be there to catch him.
(You wriggle the nubs of your fingers.)
The rest of your right hand is all white plaster and furry gauze.
Reinders' statues scare you at first. They're not all done yet, but there are marks for a full ring. The bases that are up look too much like your Dad's car. Nose to the dirt, painted dead and gray, they look too much like your Dad's car.
(It's been different, since the surgery. Dad's been working stranger hours, and there have been fewer motel rooms. There have been more nights he's left you and Sam, the lone car in the middle of a Wal*Mart parking lot after midnight. At your last school, there'd been a girl in your class who shared a similar story. You know your Dad doesn't have money any more.)
If Dad gives Reinders the car, you're not sure where you'll sleep. There aren't very many trees in Alliance, Nebraska.
Sam thinks you're afraid of everything. His favorite word as of six days ago, as of that ER waiting room, is "fraidy-cat." But he grips your good hand tight, his fingers sticky. Because Sammy's afraid of the dark, and you're still the bravest person he knows.
Before he even gets any climbing in, Sam trips and falls. There's a hidden piece of sheet metal in the grass.
It reads, with white scratches in the rust, HERE LIE THREE BONES OF FOREIGN CARS. THEY SERVED OUR PURPOSE WHILE DETROIT SLEPT.
"NOW DETROIT IS AWAKE," you read.
Put something else, Sam says. He has a crayon. He's at an age where he's excited by the idea of letters. You almost remember that age. You remember your mother kissing all your lumpy Ms.
(They taste like birthday cake, she jokes. You had a tendency to eat the wax.)
You ignore Sam's crayon and take out your knife. You get down on hands and knees. You put the blade against the rust. Of course you'll do this for him. Plus, you're getting pretty proud of your penmanship, with your left.
"What do you want it to say?" you ask.
When the sun rises, Sam is on top of Reinders' statue. He's crawling to the center of a station wagon, suspended between two hulking sedans. He's the one bright thing in the whole world before the sun rises up more and its light catches the rest of Alliance.
Dad's not awake to see, but you are.
You are, and you are terrified and proud.
Sam's not feeling Carhenge this year. There's a thing, he mumbles. We should check it out.
"Wow, scintillating, Sam," you say. "A thing."
Sam stopped using nouns with you thirteen hundred miles ago, because apparently he's too pissed off for the English language. Knowing Sam, that's pretty fucking angry. But you don't care.
That's why he's angry. You don't care.
I threw long, you don't tell Sam. It doesn't matter how hard Sam runs; he won't catch it.
In five weeks, your soul's gonna land in Hell no matter what he does. Only difference is whether you burn through him first or not.
You want him to be above that.
You avoid the disaster in Detroit. 2014 passes Sam by.
(In 2014, your soul doesn't need to go to Hell. Hell comes to you.)
By 2017, you and Sam have lost so much ground you've (quadruple-handedly) pushed the world to the brink again. Lucifer always said you'd end up here. Lucifer always said you'd end up in Detroit.
You're in Alliance, Nebraska, actually. And you're getting ready for the solar eclipse with a couple dozen other whackjobs. It's been what, thirty years since this pile of bones went up? You're almost forty. You almost remember being eight, watching this thing get made. Mostly, you remember Sam being four. You don't remember being scared of Carhenge, ever, but you can look at it now and appreciate that it's fucking awesome.
My baby brother climbed that, you'd say, if you were more drunk, and the guy--you shove him back--puking next to your car were less so.
If Lucifer wins, it'll happen in Detroit.
If Sam does, well. You'll know where he'll be.
You look up at the sky, and like everyone else and their cow and their pinhole projectors, you wait for the solar eclipse.
The car in front of you reads, "HERE LIE THREE BONES OF FOREIGN CARS. THEY SERVED OUR PURPOSE WHILE DETROIT SLEPT. NOW DETROIT IS AWAKE."
And this next, you can still see in your mind, in your hand and Sam's words:
AND AMERICA'S GREAT!
(He'd just turned four.)
You wait for the solar eclipse.