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BENJAMIN ORR IS SINGING ON THE CORNER OF THOMAS & MCCLINTOCK by Ashley Naftule

Pennies are spilling down my throat. I can feel the copper pieces smelting as they pass through my lungs, pooling at the bottom of my guts. Something cold and sharp is waiting there to greet them.

It takes some effort to peel my head off this hot pillow. I’ve never slept on a pillow this big before: it’s as big as the bean bag I had back in my dorm room days. My cheeks are burning and a strange scent has hooked its fingers into my nostrils, like the way a cooling pie on a window sill can hoist cartoon hobos into the air. That smell must have shaken me awake: the smell of burning popcorn.

The light around me is liquid, flowing and congealing and dissolving into shapes. I see a gas dial, a key, a tree with a cherry at its heart. They disappear in the swirling light, replaced by stars and flickers of arrows. The click-click-click of a turn signal. And a familiar voice floating above it all: Ric Ocasek.

An unfamiliar voice, out of the frame, asks if I’m okay. I say no, of course not. I’ve mistaken Ric Ocasek for Benjamin Orr. This is his song, the best Cars song. I show the voice I know what I’m talking about by singing:

“Who’s gonna tell you when/it’s too late.”

Orr is far ahead of this part of the song, but it feels wrong for me to not start at the beginning. I try to sing the next line but there are pennies in my mouth and that sharp coldness in my gut feels like it’s spreading.

“Who’s gonna tell you things/aren’t so great,” the invisible voice sings to me. A hand, soft and gentle on my shoulder.

I can’t hear Orr anymore. All I hear is sirens and small metal wheels spinning and a door wrenching open and panicked voices and calm voices and a sound that throbs like the whole world is being squeezed and released squeezed and released and it’s my heart I know it’s my heart beating but it’s in my ears now and that can’t be right it doesn’t belong there I don’t belong here.

“Oh, you know you can’t go on, thinkin’/nothing’s wrong.”

I don’t know if I’m singing those lines or if it’s Benjamin or the hand on my shoulder. All I know is that I love this song. I love this song so goddamn much. And I hope I’ll get to hear it again soon.

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