Red’s a Good Color for You

| Jay Ditzer |

Image of Matthew McConaughey in the role of David Wooderson playing pool.

“Hey man, you wanna shoot a little stick? Dollar a ball? Alright, alright, alright.”

Dazed and Confused plays at the Trylon Cinema from Sunday, June 25 through Tuesday, June 27. Visit for tickets and more information.

1. Let Me Tell You What Melba Toast Is Packin’ Right Here

David pulled up to Jan’s house 45 minutes later than he had said he would and beeped the horn. His car stereo was audible inside the house.

“He’s here,” Jan said while peeking through the blinds. She had fantasized that he might come inside and introduce himself to her parents but it looked like he was just going to wait in his car. He revved the engine a couple of times.

“Bye, mom, dad. I’ll be home by 11.” She wanted to run but contained herself and walked toward the black 1970 Chevelle SS 454 at a casual pace.

As a middle child in a large, blended family, Jan already felt unappreciated, but now that three of her older siblings had left for college and she would be the high school senior, she had believed that it would be her turn in the spotlight. And then her stepdad had uprooted the family from California and relocated them to stupid Texas. The timing couldn’t have been worse, as far as Jan was concerned. She was trying to make new friends, but all the kids at her new school were awfully cliquey.

She hated herself for trying so desperately to fit in, which made her feel even more self-conscious. She avoided wearing her glasses whenever possible, which made her feel fake and superficial and also gave her headaches that she hoped were just eyestrain, but sometimes she still got headaches even when she did wear her glasses.

Last week she had borrowed mom’s station wagon—a perk of being “the responsible one”—to go to the library, stopping afterward at Top Notch for a Coke when David had pulled up next to her in his Chevelle and started cheerfully flirting with her. He was older than the boys at her high school and she was flattered and intrigued. They exchanged phone numbers and when she had finally managed to reach him, they made tentative plans to hang out.  

Image of Top Notch hamburger stand in Austin, Texas.

Austin’s original hot rod hangout since 1971.

David tossed a half-smoked, still-lit cigarette out his window into the front yard and acknowledged her with a slight nod of his head. She had hoped that he would get out and open the passenger door for her but he only revved the engine again, smirking at her through the windshield. She let herself into the car.

“Hi,” she said. “How are you?”

“Yeah, fine, babe, fine. You ready to rock ‘n roll?” he said in a tone that suggested she really didn’t have a say in the matter.

“Yeah, let’s go,” she said, hoping she didn’t sound too eager or excited.

“Alright, alright, alright,” he said.

He backed the Chevelle out of the driveway and into the street, put it in drive and chirped the tires.

“Hey listen, babe, you don’t need to call me so much. Y’know, I’m a busy guy and everything, y’know. I’ll get back to you,” he said. His eyes didn’t leave the road.

“Oh, gosh, I’m sorry about that,” she said, feeling chastened. Her cheeks were heating up. She looked out the passenger window and tried to think of how to recover.

He waited a minute or two before responding.

“Well, that’s OK, babe. Shows me you’re innerested.”

He put his hand on her thigh and gave her a wink. This time he turned his head toward her.

She blushed again.

“Alright, alright, alright. You need a beer there, babe?”

“Umm … no, thank you,” she said. “Maybe later?”

“More for me,” he said. He belched, let go of her thigh, and expertly retrieved a can from somewhere behind him. They drove without talking for a bit.

“You hungry? Wanna get a burger or somethin’?” he said.

She had been too excited to eat any dinner and wondered if a little food might be a good idea.

“I don’t know if I’m in the mood for a hamburger but I read about a new place that has …”

“Just a sec, babe,” he said. He turned the volume up on the radio. “Man, this is a great tune. Fantastic tune. You like music, right?”

“Um, sure,” she said, speaking up to be heard over the now-blaring radio. She thought she recognized the song but didn’t know what band it was. Kansas? Nazareth? Boston? Chicago? “You won’t believe this, but one time Davey Jones actually came to our house before we …”

“Wait, Davey Jones? That little twerp from the fucking Monkees?” David laughed and laughed.

Somehow, even his laughter was a slow, lazy drawl. His derisive scorn humiliated her and, now that she thought about it, irritated her too. She was noticing several things about David that were irritating. She felt the beginnings of another headache.

“Holy shit, Davey Jones,” he cackled. “Darlin’, I ain’t nine, I listen to real music. You like the Nuge, right? Lemme pop a 8-track in for ya …”

2.  Who Put the Keg All the Way Out Here in the Woods?

They got hamburgers at Top Notch, David’s collection of hard rock 8-tracks making conversation a losing battle. They ate while he drove. David talked about people she didn’t know, he talked about parties she would never be invited to, and he told her all about his car and its various upgrades. He seemed to be driving away from town.

After 20-odd minutes of driving further away from paved roads and stoplights, he finally eased the Chevelle next to a small lake. Or was it a pond? It might have been on private property but Jan was unfamiliar with all the back roads and shortcuts in this area. 

He turned the engine off. She didn’t know a lot about cars but she thought David might need to have his muffler looked at or something; his car was pretty loud even without any music playing, but the sudden absence of noise helped her headache. Her window was down and she could hear crickets and the occasional splash from whatever critters lived in the water.

“This is really nice, David. It’s peaceful.”

She felt an illicit little tingle. She knew he hadn’t driven them here to listen to crickets.

Jan’s breath was mostly forced out of her as David made his move. He was pressing on top of her awkwardly due to the positioning of the car seats and the center console, but he was surprisingly assured in his attempts to maneuver himself on top of her. He held her left shoulder down with his right hand and used his left hand to brace himself against the passenger door.

“Oh, hey David,” she blurted. “Why don’t you maybe please slMLLPHMM …”

He shoved his tongue into her mouth. He tasted of cheap beer, pickles and onions, and stale cigarettes. He relaxed his grip on her shoulder and fondled her breast. He made loud slurping noises as he shoved his tongue back in her mouth. Her headache came roaring back.

“How’s that, babe?” he whispered, coming up for air. “Feels nice, don’t it? Yeah, real nice … hey, what say I tilt your seat back and we see what happens? Me ’n Melba Toast here gonna treat you real nice …”

He reached under the passenger seat. 

“Some people call me the space cowboy,” he sang tunelessly to himself as he reached for the lever. 

Jan felt uneasy as the seat shifted. This wasn’t how she had hoped their evening would unfold. She wiped her lips with her hand to get his face away from hers and to get his taste out of her mouth. It felt like her brain was encircled with hot steel wires that were steadily tightening. It was her worst headache yet. Things got a little hazy.

Jan’s right hand found a Phillips head screwdriver between her seat and the passenger door. She held it in her hand, assessing its suitability. It was lightweight and thin but also long and the tip was reasonably pointy. Clutching it tightly in her fist, she raised her arm and thrust the screwdriver into the meat of David’s back between his spine and right shoulder blade. He yelped and pulled away. She yanked the screwdriver from his back and he yelped again.

“OW! What the …”

She jabbed the screwdriver between his ribs repeatedly, her arm swinging through the open window for momentum. Five, six, seven, 11 times, she counted. One more thrust to make an even number.

David’s breathing grew labored as his lung deflated. His t-shirt was warm and sticky. This wasn’t the type of penetration he had expected this evening.

She rammed the screwdriver into him 18 more times before leaving it protruding from his flank. That made 29; not an even number but a prime number, so even better.

“Well … alright … uh …” he wheezed. He looked puzzled, like a three-year-old who’s just seen his first magic trick. His head grew heavy on his neck.

Jan liked the way his weight felt pressing on her now. It was almost like being held. It made her feel protected and safe. She also liked that he wasn’t talking any more. They lay like that for a while until she felt blood soaking through her clothing and onto her skin. She awkwardly shoved his body off of hers, opened the passenger door, and got out. She could see in the moonlight that her shirt was a real mess. The stains looked permanent. She sighed; she really liked the top and hated the thought of throwing it out. 

She reached back into the car and tugged the screwdriver out of David’s ribcage and threw it into the water, where it made a satisfying, final-sounding plop. On a whim, she threw one of his Ted Nugent 8-tracks into the pond, too.

Image of Ted Nugent taken from the album "Cat Scratch Fever.”

“It’s nothin’ dangerous / I feel no pain / I got to ch-ch-change.”

She looked back at the Chevelle. David was splayed halfway in the driver’s seat, halfway crumpled over the center console. She thought about driving or pushing it into the lake or pond or “crick” or whatever it was but it didn’t look very deep. Besides, her clothes were already wet and she didn’t want her shoes ruined, too.

“Now he can stay the same age and I’ll keep getting older,” she thought to herself, staring off into the middle distance. “That will be nice for him.”

She noticed that her headache was gone, even though her glasses were on the nightstand where she had left them. She hadn’t felt this good since her brothers had almost broken her older sister’s nose with a football. She went back to the Chevelle one last time and retrieved her purse. She took a couple steps back from the car and looked around.

“Where are we?” she said. 

She walked in the direction she thought was best.

3. You Just Gotta Keep Livin’, Man: L-I-V-I-N

Jan soon found a road with a street sign and was able to orient herself. She hummed “Silly Love Songs” softly while walking home. She avoided main roads. Her dirty blonde hair looked kind of reddish under the street lights but nobody had seen her as far as she could tell. It was a pleasant night and she enjoyed her walk.

She made it back to her house before curfew. Of course, they had forgotten to leave the porch light on, but that didn’t bother her. It looked like everybody was either out or in bed. 

She entered the house and turned on a lamp in the foyer to see if her clothing was salvageable but it didn’t look good. Her shoes were fine, though.

She headed toward the laundry room behind the kitchen to ditch the stained clothing and try to clean herself up in the utility sink. She didn’t hear her mother coming down the stairs. The kitchen light and her mother’s cheerful greeting startled her. She froze as her mother got a good look at her.

“Not again!” her mother wailed.

Edited by Olga Tchepikova-Treon

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