She asleep back there?
Des tilts the rearview mirror to get a better look. I turn around. Egypt, his girlfriend, lies still in the back seat, curled in on herself. Her head leans against the window and her feet are on the seat. Soft purple eyeshadow covers her closed eyes, which flutter whenever we hit a bump. A cloud of pink sits where her cheekbones jut out and I can see the one-half Ethiopian she never lets us forget.
She asleep, I say.
I turn to Desmond. In the blue-gray tint of this late spring night, his plum-like skin is dark, tinged with purple. Lines collect on his forehead like waves on the sea. Brown streaks of dirt cake the thin straps of his white tank. The moonlight reaches through the trees and catches his face. I’ve been watching him for a while, but he doesn’t look back at me. I want to tell Des what’s on my mind now that Egypt is asleep, but anxiety makes my stomach light and shaky.
That girl falls asleep so easy, boy. I’m telling you, Des says. She be falling asleep head bobbing in the car or in her chair. Swear to God, we was at this club in Daytona and she fell asleep standing up.
How I’m lying?
She ain’t never fall asleep standing up in no club.
Swear to God, bro. On my mom.
Out the window, Spanish moss hangs low from branches overhead. The bases of the trees beside the road are obscured by muck. In late summer, when the thunderstorms roll in daily, this is all swamp. After a heavy rain, its waters lap against the road like the ocean storming A1A in a hurricane. My stomach shifts when I think too long about the image of the water beneath our wheels, carrying us away.
This my favorite drive in all Florida, I say.
Who you telling? asks Des. Been known this was your favorite drive.
We turn left on Old Dixie. Down here, it is a small patch of road connecting US-1, I-95, John Anderson, and A1A. It is a short detour connecting better traveled highways for those racing north or south, hoping to escape Flagler County, a scenic route between scenic routes in this suburb of a suburb. We ease to a stop behind a line of cars whose taillights blare red. The waters of the Intracoastal splash against the dirt-sand shore in the distance, like a dog lapping up water.
Always got to wait for this goddamn drawbridge, says Des. He rolls down his window, lights a cigarette. The quiet makes my stomach light with nervousness. I exhale deeply and it’s still there. I look out the window and inhale the swamp. Finally, I turn to Des and say, You believe in an afterlife?
Des looks up at the rearview mirror again.
She’s asleep, I say. You ain’t got to censor yourself.
You think I speak different when she’s around? says Des. You must not know me.
The cars in front of us lurch forward. Des flicks his butt out the window.
Do I believe in an afterlife? asks Des. I go to church with Egypt every now and then.
The metal-grate bridge rattles beneath us. The Intracoastal smells like a river approximating a swamp. Its steady-churning brackish waters shine gray. But do you believe in life after death? I ask.
I don’t believe in heaven, he says. Don’t get me wrong. It’d be cool with me if I opened my eyes and was draped in some soft-ass white robes, but there ain’t never no niggas in them pictures. You telling me you can’t get into heaven if you got melanin?