Backseat Driver

Mark Joseph Kevlock

Photo Credit: Thomas Hawk/Flickr (CC-by-nc)

I worked at the car wash. She worked at the Acme supermarket next door. It was 1975. We were probably in love.

I saw a kid hanging around more and more in the background. I thought maybe he was our son, from the future, come back to ensure his own birth by monitoring us closely. I read a lot of science fiction in those days.

I followed the kid when he wasn’t looking. After he left the car wash he went straight to the supermarket and lingered in the produce aisle, where Cathy worked.

“Do you have any long-lost brothers or sisters?” I asked her, walking home up the hill together.

“No. Do you?”

I told Cathy no. She asked why I asked.

“That kid. Haven’t you seen him?”

“Which one?” Cathy said.

“The one with the ragged jeans and the black windbreaker. Bangs in his eyes. Tennis shoes.”

“Un-uh,” Cathy said.

“How could you not see him? He was standing in your aisle for twenty minutes, staring right at you.”

“I didn’t see him,” Cathy said.

The next day at the car wash I chased him into the back seat of a Volkswagen Beetle. He’d been leaning against the cinder blocks, nonchalant, when I circled around and snuck up behind him. At the last second, he spotted me and scrambled through the open door of the car I’d been washing, a VW Bug. The windows were still all soapy, so I lost sight of him for just a second until I got there. Guess what? He was gone. Vanished like a magic act. Neither door had opened on the opposite side. I was positive I saw him climb in. So where did he go?

A time-traveling ghost was looking better and better, as explanations go.

I ate lunch out on the curb with Cathy.

“Why don’t you ask someone else at the car wash if they see him?” Cathy suggested.

“And if they don’t?”

“Then you’re bonkers,” Cathy said.

I didn’t give her a bite of my cupcake.

The kid wore the same clothes every time. But a lot of kids do. Pretty flimsy evidence of a supernatural origin—that was all I had so far.

I did ask a couple of customers, next time he appeared. They didn’t see him. Maybe he’s a psycho-projection of my unconscious mind, I reasoned. I tried to recognize the kid, but I didn’t. I just didn’t know him from anywhere at all. I followed him again to the supermarket. The automatic door opened for him like it did for anybody else. He must’ve been real. Right?

Cathy was getting close to marriage, and I was the only guy around.

“What if we have a kid and this is him?” I said.

“I don’t want our son hanging out at car washes and supermarkets,” Cathy said.

“We’ll raise him better than that,” I said.

“Maybe you should invite him to the wedding,” Cathy said.

She laughed but I didn’t.

Maybe I had a little brother who died, then my parents had me hypnotized to remove the trauma. You’d think I’d recognize his face, though.

I tried shouting at him. He didn’t answer. He didn’t ever look directly at me, either. Just sort of in my direction.

I waited for a revelation. None came. I got married to Cathy, on a car washer’s salary. One day the kid wasn’t there anymore.

“Maybe he’s in my womb, hiding,” Cathy joked.

It took us nine months to find out.

“He’s just a baby,” Cathy said, at first glance. “I can’t tell what he’s going to look like.”

Neither could I.

“Maybe the money got tight and we put him up for adoption. Then he haunted us out of revenge.”

“Haunted you,” Cathy corrected. “I’ve never seen him.”

“I should’ve taken a picture with your Kodak camera,” I said. “Instant developing.”

The kid wasn’t so instant. It took him ten years to get to the right age. I even bought him tennis shoes and a black windbreaker.

“Well?” Cathy said.

“I don’t know,” I said. “It might be him. It might not. Let’s grow those bangs into his eyes.”

“Are you, by chance, working on a time machine in the basement?” Cathy said.

“I guess I forgot that one little detail.”

Winter turned to spring. The car wash was reopened. It was 1985. Cathy and I were probably still in love.

One day a Volkswagen Beetle pulled in. There was a kid asleep on the back seat. He had on a black windbreaker.

I stood there looking at myself in the window reflection. The kid moved a little bit like he was dreaming. Maybe he was. Maybe his dream started back in 1975.

Maybe I only existed because he was dreaming about me. Maybe my whole life was just a story that began at that moment.

I loved Cathy. And my real kid. I didn’t want to lose them.

He kicked a little, like a dog having a bad dream. Maybe I wasn’t supposed to know that I didn’t exist. Maybe I was ruining his imaginary love life. Maybe I represented him in the dream.

All I had to do was wake him up. That would prove, or disprove, all of my theories.

I might cease to exist. Or maybe he would.

I stood there with the sponge in my hand. Then I tossed it back in the bucket.

I couldn’t take the chance.

I just didn’t want my story to end.


Thus far in 2018 Mark Joseph Kevlock’s fiction has appeared in over two dozen magazines, including 365 Tomorrows, Into The Void, The First Line, Ellipsis Zine, Literally Stories, Bewildering Stories, Down in the Dirt, Flash Fiction Magazine, and Friday Flash Fiction. He has also written for DC Comics. Email: DippedinForever[at]

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