This time my older brother Chris got the van from some bum across town. It was a late model Chevy, off-white like a bruise and missing its gas cap. It sat like a ruined consolation prize in the driveway and colored a patch of snow black with dead oil. The salt and sand and snow had probably gutted its undercarriage. White threading on the tires showed through cracked rubber. I looked at the rest of it. It needed a tow to the cemetery.
“You check the undercarriage?” I asked. “Thing looks beat to high hell.”
“The guy said I could have it for $500.”
“Not including questions,” I said.
“Questions not included,” Chris said.
“It looks like sculpted rust waiting to flake away.”
This was frozen country, hard packed and slick. The river that cut through town held large chunks of drift ice in place. New snow dusted everything white and there were no animal tracks on the low rising riverbank.
It was cold out. Chris adjusted his soiled ball cap so that it sat true on his greasy scalp. He cinched up his long, moth-eaten long-john sleeve and itched at the swollen purple vein in the bend of his arm. We were a couple dirty birds that needed money.
“Where’re we going today?” I asked.
“Get in,” Chris said. “We’re going to work.”
“Same deal as last time.”
“Same deal,” Chris said. “Delivery, eight hours there and back. Even split.”
I walked around the front of the van and ran my hand along the hood. It wasn’t warm and I wondered if the engine would turn over. I got in the front passenger seat and felt a spring like a fist knuckling through the foam. I looked over my shoulder into the hull. It was scuffed, exposed shell, not even rubber-lined. Only hooks where bench seats used to clip into place shot through the metal floorboard. Three thrift store suitcases were held in place along the side panels with black bungee cords.
“No questions,” Chris said.
“No problem,” I said.
Chris held a key independent of a key ring and jammed it into the ignition. The engine turned over after two tries. I packed cigarettes against the underside of my palm and offered one to Chris. He took one and we lit up. It started to sleet. We kept the windows up and let the smoke hang suspended between us like a magic trick.
We didn’t talk. On errands like this we never did. We eased onto I-35 going toward Minneapolis. In the distance snowplows pushed dirty snow into the ditch and their lights fogged the stretch of interstate in front of them. We followed slowly behind. Through the thin floorboard we heard the crunch of salt and sand on the frozen road. I always told myself this would be the last such trip, but it never was.
Blake Kimzey lives and writes in southern California. His work was recently published in The Los Angeles Review, Mid-American Review, Juked, and Keyhole. He is the literary editor of Rust Belt Bindery and is currently a student in the MFA fiction program at the University of California, Irvine. He can be found online at blakekimzey.com and @BlakeKimzey.