A shoe was thrown from a passing car and the boy called the shoe Peter and dragged it by its laces everywhere he went for days. At night the pet shoe slept by his head on a pillow of hamburger wrappers, while the boy dreamed dreams cluttered with the bright blurred colors of passing cars.
The boy had been born and still lived in the center of the turnpike. He had been conceived in ditch water, to parents who constructed his first crib from cattails and wire. They taught him about Godómore specifically, they taught him that God was the green sign for the exit ramp about a mile away. You could not make out any of the numbers or letters on the sign from where they were.
That’s God, they told him and they all prayed nightly toward the exit ramp sign.
They ate one or two or three meals a day, depending; picnics cobbled together from scraps of food thrown from the windows of passing cars. He longed to one day eat ice cream–which he had never tasted but saw once on the side of a truck–but all he ever got was apple cores, packages of vinaigrette, wilted asparagus, the pits of cherries, and the green smears of wasabi left behind at the bottom of empty sushi containers.
His only toy or friend was that single shoe Peter, tossed one day from a white van as it swerved onto the berm, kicked gravel into their home among the weeds as it sped away, someone shouting something unintelligible in a high, thin voice.
It made his mother angry. She said, not for the first time, how people had no respect for the homes or life-choices of others. His father imagined the driver of the offending car to be in middle management. A blob of a middle manager who slumped behind a desk all day, hanging up on ever phone call with a bang and then stapling various pieces of paper together as if any of it mattered.
His father was always imaging with detail the lives in the cars that drove by. That and collecting moldering TV guides were his only hobbies.
On the boys fourteenth year, there was a twelve car pileup culminating in a city bus slamming into the light pole closest to their home. There was debris and bodies everywhere, and the boy saw many things he would never forget and the smell of spilled fuel clung to everything for weeks. On the upside, after the bodies and the bigger bits of wreckage were cleared away, there was enough debris left over to build a whole new room to their home.
The boy was hoping for a bigger bed room but the father opted for a den, something he had seen once on TV and had always wanted. The boy, never having seen TV, had no idea what the new room was for. He only knew it was a private place for his father to sit and think and pretend to smoke a broken pipe he had no tobacco for.
The walls of the father’s den were lined with shelves made from car bumpers and guard rails and filled with all the rotting TV guides he had found over the years. The walls themselves were made of tires, car doors, and a piece of metal torn from the side of an ice cream truck.
This last part seemed especially cruel to the boy, who still longed for the taste of ice cream as if his inevitable enjoyment of it was a matter of instinct more than conditioning. Meanwhile, his father sat on an overturned milk crate, pretending to smoke his pipe while telling a completely made up story about wearing jodhpurs while hunting on horseback when he was a child in the country, a better country than this.
The boy could stand no more. He packed his few belongings, grabbed his pet shoe Pete by the laces, and headed out into the night, down the center of the highway toward the green exit sign of God.
He walked slowly, being unused to taking more than ten steps in a row in one direction. And by small degrees, he began to see the letters and numbers of the sign more clearly.