Backing Out by Cara Long

Tommy helps Jessup fix his pickup truck while waiting for Leanne to come home; by Cara Long.

Jessup has his head and hands shoved under the hood of his pickup truck when I pull up into the driveway.

"When are you gonna let that old beater die?" I call out to him as I cross the lawn to go into the house.

"Never," he responds triumphantly, waving a wrench above his head.

I pull open the screen door and call out for my girlfriend.

"She's not here," says Missy, Leanne's kid sister. "She said to tell you to wait." Missy doesn't take her eyes away from the TV when she says this.

"Where'd she go?" I ask.

Missy shrugs. "With Christine somewhere."

I take a seat in the recliner. Missy is sprawled out on the couch, watching something that I can't really follow. There's a bunch of kids standing around, singing.

Jessup comes in the living room, wiping his hands on a rag.

"She up and leave you, did she?" he asks me, working the grease off his hands.

"She's out with Christine," I say.

Jessup snorts and asks me to help him with the truck.

"You rope me into doing something with that truck every time I come over," I say, not getting up from my seat.

"You're just sittin' there," he says, and I can feel his eyes on me.

I huff and rise to my feet. Missy shushes us, but never looks away from the TV screen.

"You're gonna go blind," Jessup says to her.

"Fuck off," she says in return.

Jessup grabs her head and pushes it down while she squirms against the couch pillows.

"QUIT. IT. JESSUP," she yells.

He lets go of her, and I follow him out of the house.

"I just need you to try and turn her over," he says.

"Yeah, I know the drill," I say.

I slide in on the driver's side and wait for him to give me the signal. I hear Jessup banging on something with the wrench and then he snakes an arm around the hood and gives me the thumbs up. I turn the key in the ignition and the truck makes a wheezing sound then goes flat.

"Okay, stop," he yells. "I think I'm almost there."

I roll my eyes and look around the cab. "This truck is fuckin' filthy," I yell to him.

The floor is littered with coffee cups and cigarette wrappers. There's half a dozen beer caps scattered around the console.

"Hey, I thought you quit drinking?" I say, then pitch a cap out the window toward him.

"Nope," he calls back. The beer cap misses him, falling quietly into the grass.

I sit sideways on the seat and rest my feet on the side step.

"How much longer you gonna need me out here, Jessup?" I ask.

He emerges from under the hood.

"You got somewhere to be?" he asks.

I take one of his cigarettes from the dash and light it with a pack of matches I find on the floor. "Haven't you got someone else to help you with this old wreck?" I ask, exhaling the smoke through my nose.

He steps around to the cab so he's facing me and grins broadly.

"You're just in a twist because Leanne ain't here." He lights his cigarette off the end of mine. "And here I am trying to teach you life skills," he says, and blows his smoke into my face before heading back under the hood.

I wait a second then beep the horn to scare him.

"Don't do that, asshole." The way he says it, I can tell his teeth are gritted.

I listen to him work for a while then look at my watch. It's been forty minutes.

"It's fuckin' hot," I say to Jessup. "I'm going in the house for a drink. You want anything?"

"What time is it?" he asks me.

"A little after 2:00," I say.

"Yeah," he says, "get me a beer."

As I'm heading over into the house Jessup calls out, "and tell Missy to take some chicken out of the freezer to thaw."

Inside, I find Missy in the exact same place I left her.

"Don't you have any friends?" I ask her.

She throws a pillow at me. "Don't you?" she snipes back.

"Your brother wants you to take some chicken out of the freezer," I say as I head down the hallway to the kitchen.

"You're going in the kitchen," Missy says. "You do it."

I pour myself a glass of iced tea, grab Jessup a beer and take a package of chicken out of the freezer and place it on the counter. Then I think better of doing that because it's hot today, so I put it in the sink. I finish my iced tea and put the glass down next to the chicken. I head back outside with Jessup's beer.

Missy says, "You hear from Leanne yet, Tommy?" as I pass by the living room.

"Un-unh," I say and let the screen door bang shut behind me.

Jessup sees me crossing the lawn and says, "Did she take the chicken out?"

I close the gap between us; toss him his beer and say, "Yeah, yeah, I did it."

He shakes his head. "I swear," he says to me, "my sisters have got you trained."

"I took a package of chicken out of the freezer," I say. I do not want to hear any of his shit.

"Mmm hmm," Jessup says, knocking the head off his beer.

He closes the hood of his truck and leans an elbow on it, giving me a slick look. "You know Leanne ain't coming back here tonight, right?" he asks.

I feel my stomach twist in a sick knot.

"How do you know that?" I ask, my voice low.

"C'mon Tommy," he says. "Wake up." He takes a long pull from the beer bottle. "Don't be her fool," he says to me.

I look around the property - at the house, then the truck, then back at Jessup. "Yeah alright," I say, letting out a breath. I start walking back to my car.

"Tommy," Jessup calls and I look back at him over my shoulder. "Shit happens, man. Right?" He gives me a lopsided grin.

I shrug, not knowing what to say. I get into my car and start it up.

"Hey," Jessup calls again. "Come over anytime to help me with the truck."

I shake my head, let my foot off the brake and begin to coast out of the driveway. Jessup shoves the hood of the truck back up then gets into the cab to try and turn it over again. I press my foot down on my gas pedal, sending gravel flying as I back out of the driveway, onto the road. Behind me, I hear the truck turn over. Instead of looking back, I watch my speedometer climb. I punch it as high as it will go.


  1. what a really good story. you know something must be up, but you, or I, didn´t know what. loved the build up.

    Michael McCarthy

  2. A really nice gradual build of suspense leaving you wondering where things were headed until, "You know Leanne ain't coming back here tonight" strikes from out of the blue, catching you when you least expect it. I liked the tension in the interaction between the characters and the sprinkle of the heat to add in a little more edge.

  3. Nicely written. Good character interaction and great set up of the line that says it all, "you know she's not coming back." My only question is why she told missy to tell tommy to wait. But that would be an easy fix. Sounds like missy and jessup could take him or leave him so they just let him wait. Anyway, good job.

  4. Nicely written. Good character interaction and great set up of the line that says it all, "you know she's not coming back." My only question is why she told missy to tell tommy to wait. But that would be an easy fix. Sounds like missy and jessup could take him or leave him so they just let him wait. Anyway, good job.

  5. Loved the understatement of the story and the sense of a bunch of characters more in touch with mechanics than their emotions.