Safe in Heaven Dead

Justin Taylor

Summer 2018

Twice in my life I have heard God’s voice, made witness to His shattering majesty. The first time—don’t laugh—was spring break of my junior year of high school, on a camping trip I took with a couple of guys who shared my enthusiasm for LSD. Thanks to the South Beach rave scene, you could pretty much always get cheap, decent acid in Miami in the nineties, though most of our classmates preferred what they filched from their parents’ liquor and medicine cabinets. And pot, of course, which even back then we knew wasn’t really a drug.

We were plainclothes burnouts, well-read seekers, self-taught. Prepped to the gills on Kesey, Kerouac, and Thompson, we felt we had outgrown the neighborhood park, with its stagnant pond and surly ducks, patrolled half the time by squadrons of moms out on power walks. We wanted a place to conduct our investigations freely. Somewhere we could go deep.

Paul stood six one, shaved both in the morning and the evening, and was rarely taken for less than thirty-five years old. He had a regular thing going with Dennis’s stepmom, Teresa—who really was thirty-five—but girls our own age slighted him. They thought he was a well-intentioned joke, some oaf in their father’s body cribbing his come-ons from hip-hop skits. He’d chauffeur us and the girls—whichever girls needed rides, wherever they were heading—in his midnight-blue Chevy Suburban. Blue-balls-blue, Dennis called it (he didn’t know about Paul’s thing with his stepmom) while the car itself was known as the Dadmobile.

The girls traveled in pairs and trios, lest any single one of them become the subject of Paul’s full attention. We rolled up—bass thumping, windows down—to the house party or the community pool or the private beach, and the Ashleys and Megans always somehow slipped away, melting into the light and noise of the party or the summer-home dark of the sand, arm in arm with some Corey-looking fuck in a white tank top and Nike sandals.

Dennis was a nastier case. He was what well-meaning moms called “husky,” always sweating through gray T-shirts shapeless as flour sacks, his colorless hair buzzed nearly to his skull. He was a sulker, a reveler in hatreds, the only one of us with the stomach for William S. Burroughs. He regarded his body as a prison, and I have never in my life felt less surprised than when I heard, many years later, that he had driven his car down a public pier, sending fishermen and promenaders diving into the sand and water before breaking through a wooden railing that had weathered three hurricanes only to end its run in the grille of Dennis’s hand-me-down Benz.

Justin Taylor’s most recent book is the story collection Flings. He lives in Portland, Oregon.

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