Everything Rumbles When the Thunder Falls Too Near


It was just something that he had always kind of wanted to do. By no means was it the only thing that he could think about, nor did his life bare scars of regret in its absence. It came into his head, this thing that he wanted to do, every so often between more pressing thoughts, and he would half-smile and imagine how neat it might be if one day without warning this thing were to actually happen. There was a girl in his life, and he waited to ask her until they had been together for a while, until she really knew what sort of person he was and that this small thing that he had always kind of wanted to do was just a peripheral quirk, some odd take-it-or-leave-it itch that was maybe oddly endearing or even a little bit sexy. He wasn’t crazy or perverted or a freak. She would need to understand that first. So he waited, weeks and then months, before he ever brought it up.

“Let’s make love in the carwash,” he finally said one day while they were sitting on the roof watching the sun dip over the top of another roof.

She turned her head slowly and snorted.

“In the carwash?”

“Yes. I think we should make love in the carwash maybe.”

He reclined on his elbow, the words hanging there. She wrapped her arms around her knees.

“Like on the ground, in the spot where the cars go, where all the dirt from the cars is washed off?”

“No silly, in a car in the carwash. You know, either yours or mine, while it’s being washed we can stay in the car. We can stay there and make love in the carwash.”

She laughed a single laugh in that high-pitched way that means a million things and you have to choose just one. Then she turned back toward where the sun had set over shingles. Silence followed until the sky was purple and the chill drove them inside. When conversation resumed, the topic was dinner. He suggested Thai and put the carwash thing out of his mind.

This was not a disappointing outcome. It had never been his expectation that she would agree right away. That might have seemed slutty after all, which was really not what this was about. He thought of toes in the water and reminded himself of the importance of perspective. This first attempt had landed somewhere between acceptance and rejection. It was not a yes, but it was not a no either. Silence was a promising response.

They dated for a little while longer with things being quite pleasant. Each found the other to be entertaining, and there were some sweet times when they just wanted to sleep all day in the same bed with their legs touching. After an extended period of things being pleasant and the two really getting along, they decided to get engaged. She was very happy, and so he asked her again soon after.

“Let’s just make love in the carwash,” he said.

She kissed him, which he thought was a yes, but then she never brought it up again, and it sort of went away. They got married in a garden that you could rent for weddings. He was happy to say things like, I’ll have to run that by the Mrs., and she felt better after they fought and made up when she could call him my darling husband. They lived in a little house with a lamp post in the yard and felt very much like real people living real lives. Sometimes they laughed just because being that way made them both feel like laughing. It was nice, but then there was this question that surfaced from time to time — not often, just every once in a while — when they had finished raking leaves or when she found out she might be pregnant:

“Why don’t you and I take the car down the street to the carwash and, you know.”

It kept coming up, here and there, after a good movie, before a dentist appointment. The subject usually changed quickly or just melted away into chuckles and kissing. Their lives progressed in standard ways. Insurance was purchased. Important decisions were made, but then there it was again, this question at random moments, after a long night when the baby didn’t sleep or the time the cable company accidentally gave them some premium channels that they didn’t watch that often but it was nice to have for free anyway.

“No, I don’t think so.”

She started answering him outright instead of dodging, which made him feel uneasy, like maybe this was really something that was not going to happen for a very long time.

“I don’t think that’s such a great idea, husband.”

She still smiled when she said it though, a sliver of chance, a fading possible maybe perhaps.

He changed his approach several times, which was really just a matter of semantics. Why don’t we do it in the carwash? Let’s get something going, carwash style. I’m up for some carwash intimacy, how about you? She continued to deny him in as many different ways as he knew how to ask. It slowly became clear after many varied attempts, when their lives were getting very busy with things that had to be done and her patience was beginning to crumble, that there was a distinct possibility that this thing that he had always kind of wanted to do might never happen even once in his entire life.

A thinly-veiled desperation became audible.

“I’m feeling the carwash, and it’s now or never.”

His asking became a wedge. She would leave the room and then he would be there alone with his thought for too long.

He asked less frequently, but still it came up, and when it did she acted like he asked all the time. So he asked even less, almost never, and only when she was in a really good mood and the kids had been well-behaved and the laundry basket was empty. She stopped cushioning her reply and just started saying no. It was an angry no at first, but then over a period of weeks and months, the no grew softer. Exasperation became resignation, and the sound of her refusals slowly waned and wilted into silent contemplation. Finally one day, after he had swept the porch and located the toenail clippers that had been missing for weeks, he asked one last time.


“Fine, she said.

The nearest carwash was a brown brick building with three slots in it for cars to drive through. There was no one that worked there, only a machine that counted coins and asked credit or debit? It wasn’t used very often except on days when the oil change place gave out coupons for free car washes with any premium oil change. It was crowded when that happened, so they called to make sure this wasn’t one of those days,

It was empty on the Sunday that they went, just brown bricks and pools of soapy water. He put in six crisp bills and pressed the Superwash button. A green light beckoned Enter, and he angled the car onto the track. The red light said Stop, and he shifted into park, checked the mirrors, released the seatbelt. She took off her shoes and crawled across him, placing her knees carefully on either side of his thighs, wrapping her arms around his neck, leaning her head against his so their eyes made blurry versions of each other in the idling hum. The car began to move, and everything became very dark.

There were sounds all around in every direction, and they could hear the driving blast of the water jets running cold fierce torrents across every inch of outside. The windows buzzed and glazed over, blunting hard edges, carving whistling rivers into glass. The car began to shake, and suddenly the whole wet world was pressed flat by spinning churning things with tongues and tails that make rubbery sounds in the dark. And there was gravity confused and visions of drowning and the pulling of shy things away from comfortable places, and for the two of them inside together there was nothing to do but be present and feel for the lean rift of each aching second that passed without promise of another to follow. The muffled roar expanded and absorbed every tin rattle until there existed only one broad sonic thrust. It raged on for longer than they imagined that it possibly could, too long, and for a moment they felt that they might be trapped in a systematic malfunction that would slowly erode their car, their clothes, their bodies into nothing with graceless automaticity. It grew louder still, the sound of everything at once, booming, savage, unhinged, vibration until they couldn’t hear anything else, and they couldn’t see through the glass, and they felt very small and far too brittle to be saved from angry sopping metal set spinning in the black.

But it was warm inside, and they were safe because it was both of them in there and not just one or the other. The sounds melted back into slender wet breaths and then there was just dripping and movement toward a lighter place where the sun fell on the pavement and the water rushed off into sewers they could not see.

“That was pretty okay” she said.

“Yes, it was.”

“It reminded me of something else.”

“Watching a storm.”

“At night through a window in bed.”

“And everything rumbles when the thunder falls too near.”

James Bartels is a writer of fiction. His work has been published in Flatmancrooked and Takahe Magazine. Additionally, he has been been nominated for The Pushcart Prize and recognized as a finalist in the Glimmer Train Award for New Writers.

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