Driving With Disaster by Tyler McMahon

The airline lost everything except our surfboards and tuxedos. As it turned out, that was all we could fit inside of our tatiny rental car anyway. On the way back from our first session of the trip, at a beach called San Andres, my brother and I argued over what the 'R’ stood for on our gas gauge.

“It must mean full. What rental car doesn’t come with a full tank of gas?" Rob was optimistic. “But it’s on the left hand side."

“Maybe that’s the way they do things in whatever country this car was made. Maybe it’s the metric system."

This was our first full day on the island. We drove along a well-kept, white-sand beach on the outskirts of the capital city. I watched for the naked breasts I’d heard Rob speak of so often. It was the only beach I’d seen in Tenerife that wasn’t black.

“They imported it," my brother explained. “The Spanish government brought the sand over in boats from Africa so that Santa Cruz could have a beach. They built that big breakwater to keep it from washing away. The line of black boulders stretched out to sea. Sunbathers laid their towels on a few of them."

“No waves then, huh?"

“No waves. But it’s a fun beach. It’s a popular place for kids to go have sex while they still live with their parents."

It was chilly in the passenger seat with my still-wet board-shorts. I felt light-headed and my stomach growled. My dinner had only been half a sandwich. We’d borrowed two tuxedos for the trip, one which was too skinny for either of us and another which was too fat. It was decided early on that my brother would eat half of all my meals right up until the wedding.

“That’s the church where Maria’s wedding will be." Rob pointed to a tall stone cathedral. “The reception is in one of those yacht-club places we passed a minute ago."

The autopista rounded a curve and I looked down on a complex of concrete swimming pools right along the shore -- blue amorphous shapes, landscaped with black volcanic rocks and tropical flowers.

“They’re filled with seawater," Rob said, “those pools. They trap it at high tide. They’re the shapes of the seven Canary Islands."


“For the tourists. It’s popular along these rocky stretches of coast." My brother enjoyed playing the guide. He hadn’t been here in over five years, not since his study-abroad. But he’d never stopped talking or thinking about the place. I hadn’t seen him this happy since before the incident at the parking garage.

“Dude, I think the needle’s getting closer to the R."

“We’re just going up a hill."

Our car had a chrome lion -- a little silver silhouette -- on the grill as a logo. There was a large clock where the speedometer should have been. When my brother turned on the headlights, the engine revved and strained. Exposed bolts poked out of the dashboard and upholstery. We argued for a few more minutes about the significance of the R, then ran out of gas.

We’d been forced to go on vacation. My brother had wanted me to see this island since he studied here years ago. His old friend Maria was about to get married. Tenerife was the obvious choice.

It happened on one of those clear spring days that I loved in Northern California. We were busting rod for a parking garage in downtown Santa Rosa, across the street from the hospital. Five out of the six decks had been poured already. It’d rained the night before. All over the new concrete were thin puddles that reflected pink and orange while it was still early enough for the sun to get through. I’d been enjoying this project: being downtown before the start of the day, watching as the doctors and nurses arrived in their nice cars. Sometimes they walked outside in blue scrubs to lunch in the park. Ambulances raced up to the ER several times a day with their sirens whirring. Once, a helicopter landed on the roof. It felt good knowing that there was a whole industry set up to protect and care for people like me.

A concrete divider spanned the length of the autopista, which had almost no shoulder to speak of. We couldn’t turn around, and backing down the hill to an off-ramp looked dangerous, so we were stuck pushing uphill towards La Laguna. It grew darker, and colder, and we put on our tuxedo jackets to keep warm. Rob pushed and steered from behind the driver’s door, jumping in to engage the hand brake whenever we needed a rest. I was in the back, trying not to hit my head on the pointed noses of our surfboards. So far, Rob handled this set-back well.

What I remember most about my brother that morning was his eyes. They had an opaque look like the ocean gets on a cloudy day. Not reflecting, not transparent, they just absorbed everything with a bizarre flatness. He’d been that way on the car ride to work.

There were five of us busting rod on that deck: Rob and I tying columns, three others laying the grids on a ramp. We’d been working tens, starting at six. Around nine each morning, we took turns making a coffee-and-donut run.

I watched Rob cross the park, noticing that he’d forgotten to take off his tool belt. Then I went back to my columns, looking forward to a Boston Crème. The other guys saw it first and screamed for me.

At a gas station near La Laguna, a stray dog jumped onto my lap and refused to leave. Rob was inside, buying a bottle of water. The attendant filled the tank. Numbers ticked away along the gas pumps.

The dog was big and gangly. Small angles of bone poked out all over his body. His short hair formed a tiger- striped pattern of brown and gray.

Rob stared at the dog through the driver’s side door, the water bottle in his hand.

“He just jumped in," I said. The dog licked my face a couple of times, then sat on the floor and put his head in my lap.

“What should we do?" my brother asked. We turned to the gas attendant, who’d just finished filling the tank. He walked over and grabbed the dog by both ears, pulling hard and urging him with Spanish phrases that I didn’t understand. The dog looked up at me sadly, but never barked or winced.

“Maybe we should drive around with him for a little while." My brother nodded and patted the attendant on the shoulder.

“We’ll get him a good meal and some water," Rob climbed into the driver seat. “Let him have a decent night’s sleep and then release him again."

The three of us took off in the car. The dog stayed on the floor and didn’t make a sound.

“What should we call him?"

“Good question. I wish I knew what the R stood for on the gas gauge. We could name him after that. Maybe we’ll call him Mr.Empty anyway."

“Mr. Empty." I tried the name out and liked the way my mouth wrapped around it.“That’s good."

By the time I looked down, the donut box had already exploded all over the doctor. His blue surgical scrubs were streaked with jelly, frosting, and chocolate sprinkles. The cardboard box laid flattened on the sidewalk that criss-crossed the park. With both hands, my brother pushed the doctor in the middle of the chest.

I undid the buckle and my tool-belt hit the ground. The rest of the crew followed me down the finished ramps at a full gallop. Rob was in a lot of fights as a kid, most of the time protecting me even when I didn’t know I needed protection. But nobody would call him a violent person. From the street, I saw my brother whip the doctor with the pliers from his belt, striking him right across the cheek. The doctor’s body followed his face to the ground. Rob kicked him a couple of times in the belly, saying something that I could barely hear: some sentence with the phrase, “better than me,in it."

I threw myself over the doctor while the rest of the crew grabbed Rob. I whispered, “It’s okay; he’s my brother," as if that was supposed to comfort him.

Mr. Empty got us promptly kicked out of the host-family’s house the next morning. He found some food during the night and made a big mess of the kitchen. There was a lot of screaming. In Spanish, Rob’s old host-mom apparently told us that we were typical ignorant and selfish Americans.

At a bar in downtown La Laguna, we stopped for breakfast. My brother ordered us four ham sandwiches: two for him, one each for me and Mr. Empty, who stayed in the car. The waiter brought us café con leche and fresh-squeezed orange juice. Rob stacked a few coins on the bar.

“These were the happiest days of my whole life," Rob said. “Staying in that basement room, going surfing, partying in La Laguna. It was bitchin’. I should never have gone back home."

“Did you tell her we’d clean up?"

“She wasn’t mad about the mess. She thinks it was stupid of us to bring home a stray dog. She said that we’re just visiting for a few days, that all we’re going to do is raise up his expectations and make him never want to go back to stray life."

“I see." I wrapped Mr. Empty’s sandwich up in a napkin.

In the end, the surgeon was cool. He didn’t press charges or make things more difficult than they had to be. Our boss sent Rob to a psychiatrist. Something was screwed-up in the left hemisphere of his brain.

The diagnosis was “Intermittent Explosive Disorder" a condition most often applied to cases of road-rage. The psychiatrist gave him some pills and recommended a break from work. Our medical coverage paid for everything.

San Andres had a nice little swell running. There wasn’t much of a crowd either. I’d caught about three fun waves before I heard my brother say, “Shit. C’ mon.--"

On the beach, a lifeguard chased Mr. Empty with a long broom in one hand, a cell-phone in the other.

As soon as we hit the sand, my brother made those same apologetic noises he’d made at the house a few hours earlier. I dropped my board and held Mr. Empty around his neck. The lifeguard pointed his phone at all three of us, alternately, like it was a gun, his finger poised over one button. Along the beach, people turned and stared. A beautiful topless girl sat up from her sunbathing and snickered at us. Still talking to the lifeguard, my brother picked up both surfboards and backed away.

“Fuck this beach," Rob said once we were in the car. “I know someplace where we won’t get bothered."

“Dude, where do we sleep tonight?" I turned around and watched the waves get smaller as our tiny engine strained to make it up the hill. Instead of going back to Santa Cruz, we went further out towards the north of the island. Soon we took a left and headed inland, up a heavily switch-backed road with no traffic.

“Wait till you see this place. It’s paradise. Works best on a high tide, too."

We drove for a long while. The road was narrow and winding, an endless series of curves and tunnels. Along the sides, between our tiny car and the huge vertical cliffs, were short concrete posts, painted white, serving as guardrails. Mr. Empty didn’t like this part of the trip. He crouched on the floor with his head in my lap as our little car wound its way around all the bends and puttered up the inclines.

Eventually, we passed over what seemed to be the island’s continental divide, and started downhill. At one particularly sharp and blind corner, two or three of those white posts were missing, uprooted from their spot at the side of the road. Some re-bar stems poked out like the dead stalks of plants. I could tell there wasn’t enough iron there to hold things together, not under the weight of even the smallest European automobile.

Soon, we could see the ocean again. It was getting late, and I wondered if we’d have time to surf before dark. Mr. Empty sat up and put his head on my lap. At the bottom of the hill was a small town, with one large bar/restaurant on the main drag overlooking the sea. My brother parked and ran inside. The coast here was all jagged volcanic rocks, but there was definitely swell. The surrounding cliffs offered a little wind protection.

Rob ran out holding a plastic bag bulging with the pointed ends of bread loafs. In the other hand was a six-pack of beer.

“You’ll love this place," he said as we pushed on. “It’s a nice long right. A little tube section on the take-off. It works on any swell-direction. I used to hitch-hike out here on the weekends. Surf the place by myself. It’s bitchin’."

The sun hung low in the sky. There was no chance of heading back to Santa Cruz or La Laguna before nightfall. The road was now a narrow strip of asphalt hugging the edge of sheer cliffs over the water. As we left that last little town behind, our world became nothing but the giant vertical blackness of the earth and the endless flat blueness of the ocean. This place that my brother was taking me seemed to be the corner where these two things met. I didn’t know much about the geography of this island, but I was pretty sure we were heading out to the northernmost point, the very tip of its rough triangle.

“I used to sleep out here all the time," my bother said, “just my backpack and my board. It’s up around that next curve."

Mr. Empty sat up on my lap. The road descended closer to ocean level, and I could tell there must be some kind of cover hopefully sandy around the curve that Rob spoke of.

My brother and I didn’t speak when we rounded that turn and saw that awful thing. Mr. Empty let out a long, squeaky yawn. This secret spot had become a construction site. One of those temporary sea-walls, like they use on a lot of bridge projects, was erected along the low-tide line. Bent pieces of re-bar stuck out of half-built concrete molds like some kind of robotic seaweed.

My brother looked at me with a wide open mouth: “What the fuck is this?" I shrugged. He stopped the car next to a stack of two-by-eights. We sat there for a second. I studied the re-bar, not just what was in the ground but also what was stacked further up by the road. Then it made sense.

“They’re building more of those swimming pools!" I was proud of myself for figuring it out, and spoke too enthusiastically.

“For who?" My brother was angry. “We’re in the middle of nowhere. What tourists would drive all the way out here? There’s no hotels or nothing."

“Maybe that’s next." I couldn’t seem to say anything helpful. Rob looked like he might throw up.

I opened the door and let Mr. Empty out. He pissed behind a pile of gravel.

Then I saw something that made me just as nauseous as my brother must’ve been. A set rolled in, and a good-size wave did its best to break. The reef was right on the outside of the sea-wall. A perfect barrel formed for half a second-thin blue curtain with what looked like a nice shoulder walling up down the line -- and then completely undid itself against the wall. A spray of whitewater came over and showered the construction site. I watched in silence as four more waves did the same.

As both a tourist and a construction worker, I felt as responsible as anybody for this monstrosity.

It wasn’t enough, I realized, to live decently and intend not to cause harm. There were consequences to everything we did and didn’t do, and some of them were so big and ugly that not even the Atlantic Ocean could wash them away.

That night, the three of us camped out beside the car. My brother and I put our tuxedos on over our clothes to keep warm, and built a fire with the scraps of lumber lying around. The concrete was bright under the almost-full moon. We made a meal of the bread and cheese that Rob had bought, and drank the six-pack of beer.

“These were the best days of my whole life," my brother said again.

“This is dodgy work," I looked down at the mess of concrete and rebar below us.

“Look at the iron they’re using. You can’t pour shotcrete on a frame that thin.

It’s not even up to code.

“They have different codes here."

I burped and said, “I don’t think there’s much alcohol in this beer."

“There’s none," Rob answered. “They were all out of real beer."

We slept inside of our surfboard bags, with Mr. Empty in between.

There wasn’t much talking the next morning. We had breakfast at the bar where Rob had bought the fake beer. As we sat there staring at the ocean, several trucks drove by carrying masons and workers. We picked over our Spanish tortilla and cortados, until finally a small, European version of a cement mixer headed past.

We drove in silence almost all the way back up that long snake of a road. I tried to imagine the miniature cement truck handling all these corners. We stopped in San Andres and had a melancholy surf session. Mr. Empty was locked in the car. The waves were average at best.

On the way back through Santa Cruz, things were still silent between us. We passed by that complex of swimming pools. A few fat, pale tourists lingered in lounge chairs. My brother’s eyes got that flat look again and he ground his teeth. As we turned and headed up the hill he made a fist and pounded on the dash a few times. The skin of his face pu fed up and folded around his mouth and eyes. I feared we might have an accident, or that my brother might cut his hand on the exposed bolts of the dash, but I couldn’t bring myself to say anything. He pounded a few more times. Mr. Empty let out a low, whining noise and tucked his head into his paws on the floor. After a minute they both stopped and there was only the sound of a small engine puttering up a hill. I wondered where we’d sleep but had no intention of asking. I figured I’d take a page from Mr. Empty’s book and just deal with things as they happened.


The clouds turned orange above La Laguna as we passed the main plaza. We drove right by the host family’s place and headed up a small hill on the east side of town. My brother parked in front of a big stone house and the three of us got out.

A girl with short dark hair answered the door, said “Roberto!" and gave my brother the customary hug-with- kiss. She introduced herself as Teresa and invited us inside. We sat on a piece of furniture that was not a bench exactly, but more like a wooden couch. Mr. Empty curled up at my feet. On the wall across from us was a framed black-and-white drawing of two stick figures on horseback. The big one carried a long black stick. The short one was round and didn’t seem to have hands. A cartoon sun with spider legs was above them, little windmills in the background. Teresa went to the kitchen.

“Who’s she?"

“An old friend."

Teresa came back with a larger bottle ofred wine and some small glass cups. She made another trip and brought a dish of almonds and a pack of cigarettes.

“So," she poured the glasses nearly full. “You need someplace to stay tonight, no?" Her English was good. My brother nodded and took a gulp of wine.

“Thanks for having us," I said. Teresa smiled but kept her eyes on my brother.

“I hope you’re not planning on doing anything stupid tomorrow," she lit a cigarette and exhaled. My brother slouched further down in his chair and drained all of his wine in one long gulp. I stopped crunching halfway through an almond.

“Teresa," Rob said. “It’s been a long day and I’m tired. Would you excuse me if I went to bed?" He must’ve stayed here before. My brother knew where he was going as he climbed her stairs.

I turned to Teresa. “What did you mean by something stupid tomorrow? Tomorrow’s the wedding."

“Yes. Maria’s wedding. His ex-girlfriend’s wedding." The cherry of Teresa’s cigarette sizzled as she took another pull.

“I see." That explained why we hadn’t met or hung out with anybody from the wedding party. “So my brother and Maria have a history."

“Of Course. They were engaged at one point. You didn’t know this? I’ m surprised he’s even here."

I’m sure she only sent him the invitation to make him jealous."

I thought about that invitation, when it must have arrived relative to the incident with the surgeon. Mr. Empty snoozed at my feet. I didn’t want to know any more about this situation. Knowledge hadn’t been a friend in the last day or two. The more I learned about the nature of this trip, the more ridiculous it became.

“Did you draw that?" I pointed to the picture of the two horsemen on the wall.

She laughed out loud and said, “That was drawn by Pablo Picasso, the greatest artist in the history of Spain, quite possibly of the world. It’s a drawing of the Quixote."

“The what?"

“Don Quixote, from the novel by Cervantes," she laughed more softly, “the greatest writer in the history of Spain, possibly the world. Did you drop out of university like your brother?"

“No, I got my degree. But I never read that book."

“The tall one cares only about immortalizing his legacy and setting right all the wrongs in the world. The fat one, he cares only about eating and sleeping and taking care of his little donkey. For Cervantes, that duality is what summarized all of human nature."

I kept staring at it. Teresa turned to me and said, “Can I touch your fingers?" She was studying the hand I had wrapped around my wine glass.

“You have workingman’s fingers, don’t you?"

“Yes, I do." I put the glass on the table and o fered my hand. One by one, she held my fingers and rubbed her thumb along their dry surfaces, pushing a few times on the thick calluses at their ends.

“They’re like little, how do you say… sausages."

“We’re rod busters," I said, “Iron workers. We tie rebar together all day long."
“But you have an education, no?"

“My degree is useless. This is good money. It’s just easier."

“Easier?" Teresa held my hand straight up and poked at the callus atop my middle finger.
“Breaking the back all day, making your hands hard as leather, this is easy?"

“I get good benefits. My brother and I go surfing on the weekends at Balinas or Salmon Creek. We can afford to take vacations." Everyone seemed convinced that my life was miserable except for me. “Things could be a lot worse."

“Does your brother think so too?"

I took a big gulp of wine. “So, you were friends with Rob and Maria back then?"

“Yes, we were students together."

“Those must’ve been amazing times."

“It was fun, sure. I think your brother remembers them as better than they were. We had troubles back then as well. But some people see only good in the past, and bad in the present."

Mr.Empty yawned and rolled over on his side. “Can I sleep on this couch?" I asked.

“It’s not comfortable." She gave the hard surface a knock with her fist. “You can sleep in my bed."

She was still examining my right hand, so I finished the wine with my left and stood up. Before heading upstairs, I took one last look at the painting of the fat guy and the skinny guy, riding around trying to make things right.

I was wearing the tuxedo jacket over my board-shorts and t-shirt. Mr. Empty followed along behind. She held my hand in the normal way as she led me up the stairs. I heard my brother snore as we walked down the hall. Mr. Empty curled up on a rug inside her bedroom.

I took off my tuxedo jacket, said, “Thanks for letting me stay here," and crawled into bed. To be polite, I turned
my head toward the door, thinking she might want to change or undress or something. The light went out and I felt her slide in beside me on the mattress.

“Your shorts,"she said almost immediately, “they’re wet. You’ll catch cold."

If there was one word which described my role on this entire trip, it would be 'passenger’. My brother was the one driving our disaster; I just helped out with navigation. As Teresa convinced me to take off my barely damp board-shorts and t-shirt, there was no doubt which one of us held the steering wheel.

She took my hand in hers again and returned to its roughest parts. The place where the pliers rubbed against the ridge ofmy index finger she put under the crease ofher breast. She seemed to like feeling my calluses up against her skin--which was all softer than a baby’s. Maybe I was a novelty to her. Maybe, in her world, she didn’t meet too many construction workers who hadn’t a clue about books or paintings and she figured I’d be gone in a few days anyway so what the hell. That didn’t bother me. I wanted to stay here again, if my brother didn’t do something terrible at the wedding. It beat sleeping inside a surfboard bag and a tuxedo at the edge of a construction site. If I was nothing but a passenger, and my role was only to comply with the driver, then this was so far the best part of the job.

Maria was a beautiful bride. Seeing her from our seats in the cathedral, with her German groom and his big grin, I wondered what my brother had been thinking leaving a girl like that, and a place like this. He could have moved here, had they gotten married.

So far, Rob was composed. We watched the ceremony, standing up and sitting down every few minutes, sometimes kneeling on the bench before us. Our tuxedos were wrinkled and smelled of campfire and dog hair, the pockets full ofsand and dirt. Teresa was on one side of Rob in a low-cut green dress. I was on the other. Both of us were ready to pounce if he made any sudden moves. It hurt a little to think of my brother this way--as a liability. I was thankful that Teresa was there to help.

I couldn’t understand a word that the priest said, but I listened to the tone of his voice. There was the happy stuff, the things that brought us together here today. There were words of warning, sentences meant to scare the young couple into fidelity. Then the priest delivered a string of syllables that sounded like little more than a flippant formality. There was a pause, everyone looked around, and I knew that it was the 'speak now or forever hold your peace’ business.

I turned to my brother. Teresa grabbed his hand and squeezed it. To me, that was the most beautiful thing I’d seen her do since meeting her yesterday afternoon. That day in the park in Santa Rosa, I didn’t even go to him. I worried only about the guy on the ground. It never occurred to me that my brother was, in a way, a victim as well.

Now I took his other hand and he turned to me. It didn’t feel like the act of forced physical restraint that I’d imagined. My brother’s eyes no longer had the flat cold-ocean-on-a-cloudy-day look that they’d had on that morning last spring, or driving by those swimming pools yesterday. The priest started up again and I was sure that this bad situation had gotten a little bit better.

At the reception, I filled my stomach to capacity for the first time in several days. The caterers restocked the buffet of Canarian and Spanish dishes faster than I could eat: octopus in butter sauce, pickled red peppers on toasted bread, those tiny delicious potatoes boiled and salted. I filled my pockets full of chorizos and cured ham and took them out to Mr. Empty who waited in the car. Champagne bottles popped open and fat cigars sparked up everywhere. Teresa pulled me onto the dance floor. I didn’t spend much time talking to Rob, but he seemed content to sit on the couch, smoke a Canarian cigar, and watch. I’d seen him give Maria a big hug, and shake the hand of the groom, who I understood was studying to be a gynecologist. No longer worried that he’d do anything stupid, I raised a glass of champagne in his direction, from across the room. He smiled at me and lifted his glass. Now it was he who was happy to see me having a good time.

As the party wound down, a lot of the younger people climbed into cabs. Teresa led me by the hand. She grabbed a bottle of champagne from off the catering table on her way out. We crowded into a taxi with two other couples, all drunk and babbling in Spanish.

“What about my brother?"I asked.

“He’s fine," she said. “He told me he’d meet up with us in an hour or two."

“Where are we going?"

She chuckled at me, “the beach, silly." I felt a half-second of concern. Teresa kissed me on the mouth and I forgot all about my brother.

We pulled up to that imported white-sand beach that I’d passed by so many times. Teresa led me to some planted palms. The sand lit up under the full moon. She popped the cork off her bottle of champagne, took a swig, then handed it to me. As I lifted the fizzing bottle to my lips, she started undoing my cummerbund. This was a relief, as my too-full belly had been bulging against my too-skinny tuxedo for hours.

I twisted the bottle into the sand and suddenly wondered about my brother. Was this his chance to do something awful involving the bride and groom? Was the intermission between his explosions now over? Wasn’t he supposed to avoid alcohol on his medication? I pictured him driving around with Mr. Empty now, our rental car able to putter a bit faster with one less passenger, his face red and puffed like yesterday.

Teresa tossed my cummerbund on the sand and undid the buttons of my pants. We were still connected at the mouth and I did my best to rub the roughest parts of my sausage hands against whatever bare skin her dress allowed.

I pictured my brother driving behind the limousine, following the bride and groom back to their hotel. His eyeballs would have that stormy ocean glaze again. Would he make a move in the parking lot or follow them all the way up to the room? It would be a blunt object. Of that I had no doubt. A hammer or tire iron, even a foot or two of five-bar and my brother would make hamburger of that poor German medical student.

Teresa lifted her green dress up over her head. Her skin shone white as new plaster under the moon. The studs of my borrowed tuxedo shirt dropped onto the sand like dead bugs. I should’ve seen this coming, everyone will say.

My tuxedo shirt was open under my coat. Teresa pulled me by the lapels on top of her and the cool African sand. All I could think of was my insane brother, shedding blood over a girl he barley knew anymore but believed to be the answer to his unhappiness. I thought of the bond that some brothers are supposed to have, to be able to sense when each other is in trouble and communicate telepathically and so on. I tried to send some kind of message to him, as my hardened hands wrapped around Teresa’s baby-soft breast, but I couldn’t feel it working.

And then I heard his voice. Rob called out my name.

I lifted myself off Teresa for a second and listened. He was here, at this beach, looking for me. I heard him call my name again and then the woof, woof of Mr. Empty barking for the first time since I’d met him.

“Don’t go," Teresa whispered.

I grabbed my cummerbund off the sand.

“I have to," I said. “He’s my brother."

“You can stay," she wasn’t arguing, just telling, like this was one among many facts that she knew and I didn’t.

“You don’t have to leave."

I found Rob and we jumped in the car without talking. As we drove under a streetlamp in the beach parking lot, I saw something horrible. In that little upholstered space behind the seats, where our tuxedos had been, there was a sledgehammer and a crow bar, a pair of pliers. I stared at them for minutes on end, even as we left the streetlight and they sat there in darkness. Nothing but bars and clubs were open at this hour on this island; I couldn’t imagine where my brother had gotten these tools.

“You can’t do this," I said to him. “It’s wrong. You’ll regret it."

“I have to do this," he said. “I love this place too much."

He drove faster than I thought our little car was capable of. This seemed like my ultimate hour as passenger: sitting shotgun by my brother, who was determined to do something terrible and violent, and incapable of saying anything that would re-direct his course. Still, I couldn’t help thinking of Teresa’s last words to me, and wondering if she meant I didn’t have to leave her there on the stolen sand, or that I didn’t have to leave this island at all. I wondered if it could work, provided I got through tonight unscathed somehow. Maybe this was something better than busting rod back home.

I stopped racing these thoughts through my mind long enough to look around. Where were we? We weren’t approaching Santa Cruz. We were in the middle of nowhere. Our rental car wound over a few tight curves and crested a hill. Below us, the ocean lit up under the moonlight. My brother was driving us back out to the north of the island, to where we’d spent the night before last. Mr. Empty sat on my lap and stuck his head out the window in anticipation. Rob took out two more local cigars for me to light as he drove. I glanced over at the gas gauge and noticed that the needle was once again almost on R. There’s no way we’d have enough gas to get us back.

Once we arrived at the jobsite, my brother handed me the sledge-hammer. He took the crow-bar and pair of rusty pliers. Piece by piece, we demolished the half-built tourist attraction. A cracked yellow hard-hat was left lying around, and my brother put it on as a joke. I knocked all of the frames down with the sledge, while Rob un-did the rebar skeletons of the soon-to-be swimming pools. As if to do his part, Mr. Empty took a big shit on top of a stack of rough-cut lumber.

Under that full moon, chomping on those big cigars, with our coat-tails blowing around in the breeze, I felt like we were a team of vigilantes out righting the world’s wrongs. That ridiculous helmet wobbled atop my brother’s rueful figure, as he plunged his weapon right through the heart of the giant forces of tourism.

Maybe this was all stupid. Perhaps these pools would only be rebuilt, even stronger and more permanent. It’s possible all we’d accomplish is putting some construction laborers -- people like us out of work for a while. But to be honest, I didn’t look at this act of demolition as a means to an end. It was more about the weight of the tool in my hand, the sound of splintering wood, and the good feeling of doing something alongside my brother. It was more like surfing.

We loosened everything we could on the temporary sea wall, then busted out a couple of the side panels. Salt water filled up our dress shoes and soaked the bottoms of our creased tuxedo pants. We ran to the high ground and then watched for a while as the tide came up and the ocean finished off that awful wall. The sand sucked out around its foundation and its vertical posts leaned. Waves slammed against the outside. Soon, the whole thing was in pieces and slowly drifting out to sea.

I stopped racing these thoughts through my mind long enough to look around. Where were we? We weren’t approaching Santa Cruz. We were in the middle of nowhere. Our rental car wound over a few tight curves and crested a hill. Below us, the ocean lit up under the moonlight. My brother was driving us back out to the north of the island, to where we’d spent the night before last. Mr. Empty sat on my lap and stuck his head out the window in anticipation. Rob took out two more local cigars for me to light as he drove. I glanced over at the gas gauge and noticed that the needle was once again almost on R. There’s no way we’d have enough gas to get us back.

“Rob," I was nervous, but knew it was time to speak. “I’m not leaving. I’m staying in Tenerife.

Teresa said I could.

“That’s good." He kept his eyes on the horizon. “That’s a good idea."

We sat on the hood of our rental car and puffed on cigars. Mr. Empty pounded his tail on the packed dirt of the road and watched just as eagerly. Soon, the sun came up through the distant clouds, and its little spider legs cast an enchanted kind of light over all the things we’d made and unmade.



Tyler McMahon is author of the novel How the Mistakes Were Made, from St. Martin’s Press in 2011 . His work has appeared in The Antioch Review, Three Penny Review, Barrelhouse, and many others. He lives in Honolulu and teaches at Hawaii Pacific University. More info here: http://www.tylermcmahon.net/

Driving with Disaster originally appeared in Hawaii Review

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