Steve Gerson: Shell

In my youth, we traveled the back roads from Baton Rouge to Biloxi, Jackson to Monroe, the roads coiling like a nest of snakes, us staying each night in a fleabag motel, paying 31 cents per gallon at one-pump stations, our ’57 Olds, 264,000 miles on the odometer, sucking gas like a four-pack-a-day smoker, the junk’s hood hooked to the front bumper with baling wire, a proverb painted on the rear window from Matthew’s “thrown into the furnace of fire,” us eating at drive inns, greasy chicken or fried burgers: “don’t spill none of that soda on the upholstery,” dad would threaten, “just remember oysters don’t spit out pearls all the time, we don’t got money to burn” as he’d drive from one revival meeting to the next, preaching the gospel:  “oh lord on high, we got sinners among us who better fear, cuz’ hellfire’s around the bend,” but around our bend was the red dust and dirt of another road, another tent, another night in another swaybacked motel with its parking lot of broken cement, weeds sprouting through the cracks like dreams awakening in a nightmare, and him shouting damnation gospel from Revelation 10 or Thessalonians 1, and now, it all in a rearview mirror, my eyes squinting in the glare, my throat scorched from swallowing his perdition, my soul as empty as a closed roadside diner along a bypassed road, I think about how cement is made from crushed shells.

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