“You read Keats?” he asked.
I took a swig from my Diet Coke, placed it back between my legs and shook my head. The carbonation burned the back of my throat. “Not really, no.” I said. I turned my body towards him as he drove. His right palm drumming against the steering wheel, his left hand continuously flicking his cigarette ash out the window. I was about to rub the back of his neck with my left hand when he said:
“I don’t know if I can sleep with a girl who hasn’t read Keats.”
My hand retreated back into my lap and my face turned back to glance out of the window. I watched the white dashes loop underneath the tires of the car until I became ill. Then I looked up. There was a normal day ahead of me: Partly sunny, partly warm, partly alive. I propped my right foot up on the dashboard while I leaned forward and grabbed my bag to look for a lighter. Instead I felt a wadded up piece of paper in the bottom corner and pulled it out.
“I mean, when he says ‘My sense with their deliciousness was spell’d: Soft voices had they, that with tender plea Whisper’d of peace, and truth, and friendliness unquell’d.’ It’s … brilliant! Don’t you see?”
Half listening to him yammer on, I had begun to unfold the paper from the bottom of my bag. The crinkled lines read like a disgustingly false treasure map. The words weren’t much help either.
“Seriously, do you read any poets?” He asked this as he flicked his cigarette out the window. I saw the butt fly backwards, slamming into the window. My eyes moved back to my crumpled paper and I scanned the words written in tiny print. “Are you even listening to me? Poets! Do you read them?”
A small smile worked it’s way onto my mouth. First turning up the right side, then the left, before my teeth were forced to show themselves. Smoothing the paper out on my lap, I rubbed both my hands up and down my thighs. I noticed the faster I did this, the hotter the paper felt against my skin. I looked back out the passenger side window, watching billboards fast approach with large images before disappearing behind me.
Without breaking my gaze, I replied, “I do read poets. Plenty of them. We’re all poets, aren’t we? I find it very shallow of you to say that you don’t sleep with girls who don’t read Keats. Not everyone can be enamored with a romantic English poet.”
“I thought you said you didn’t read him?”
“Just because I haven’t read him doesn’t mean I don’t know who he is. Jesus.”
I kept rubbing my hands over the paper, looking out the window. I waited a few more minutes before saying anything. About a mile before the highway divided into East and West I asked him to stop the car. “What? You’re fucking crazy. I’m not stopping the car.”
“If you don’t stop the car, I’ll open the door and jump out.”
“Is this because I won’t sleep with you?”
“I wouldn’t give you the pleasure,” and my right hand gripped the door handle, pulling it towards me. “Stop the car,” I said again.
He slowed, seeing the seriousness on my face. The Chevy merged over two lanes of traffic as we coasted, then coming to a complete stop directly in between the two interstates. “Thank you,” I said as I reached down for my bag. I took the piece of paper that had been warming on my thighs and folded it neatly, placing it in a side pocket. I unbuckled my seat belt, opened the car door.
“Oh my God, you’re really doing this.”
I stepped out. He rolled down the window.
“Get back in the car. Are you trying to prove a point? C’mon. Get back in the car. I’ll buy you some merlot and let you read Sylvia Plath to me or some shit.”
I leaned up against the window and spoke,
“I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.“
A confused look came across his face as I continued, “If you want to be cliche, I figured I’d match you.”
My body leaned in closer, halfway inside the car. He met my gaze, “Get in the car. Quit fucking around.”
I spit in his face. “I’ll take it from here, thanks.”
The tires kicked up rocks into my knees and I saw his hand extend out of the window as he flipped me the bird. I stood there for a moment smiling and then continued on with my partly normal day.