Driving down highway 3W was when I caught my first and last glance of A.J.
Living out in the country, you see a lot of animals get unlucky on the highway. A.J. wasn’t the first animal, or even the first raccoon I saw taking a forever nap on the side of the road, but he was the only one I ever saw who was spooning with a Dr. Pepper can.
Just that one image stuck with me for the rest of the day, and wouldn’t leave. What happened next was one part alcohol, one part pure dickery on my part, and the rest is just my personality.
The story of A.J.
A.J. ambled across highway 3, just like any other night, watching carefully for cars (and coyotes) and waddled across the fat yellow line that divided lanes. He was on his way to a house he knew well. This particular house A.J. had come to think of as his own personal vending machine.
The bonus part was that this house had a dog, which meant a dog door in A.J.’s furry little mind. As he walked toward the house, sniffing the breeze for scent of the dog that lived inside, A.J. couldn’t smell him at all. When A.J. crawled through the dog door, his black bandit eyes peering into the darkness, slowly, slowly, he walked over to the most beautiful man-made invention he’d ever seen. The refrigerator.
As he pulled on the handle (accidentally hitting one paw on the ice dispenser and getting hit on the head by a solitary ice cube) he noticed something in the refrigerator that he’d had before. Something that was like finding an oasis in the desert. A.J. saw a can of Dr. Pepper.
Now, he’d smelled the deliciousness of this particular carbonated beverage in many trash cans, had tasted it, but never had he seen a full can of this magical and delicious drink.
Heart racing with want, A.J. quickly grabbed one can and ran; his heartbeat racing at the thought of a WHOLE CAN of that deliciousness. As he crossed the threshold from house into the night, Dr. Pepper clutched tightly to him, he planned where he would drink this magic in a can to celebrate.
When the house got far enough away that A.J. could hear the sounds of semis droning by, he stopped on the side of the road, the can of cold soda perspiring beautifully, as if anticipating the possibilities of that moon drenched night.
It took a few tries, but when A.J. finally popped that tab top, heard the hiss of carbonation, his mouth started to water.
The first taste was even better than he imagined. It slid down his throat like cold brown silk. The taste of heaven, the desire of something entirely wanted, a passion totally satisfied. And it was cold.
Before he realized it, he had consumed that entire cold, delicious can. As he sat on the side of the highway, watching the moon sneak down into the tree line, watched the cars with their bright eyes, relentless speed, and endless miles, he felt content.
As he sat on the side of that road, clutching his Dr. Pepper can, he felt himself thinking the most beautiful, wondrous thoughts. Thoughts of brightness, of hot days with the sun in his fur, finding bright shiny things in the grass. The time he found his first mate.
All those lovely, marvelous thoughts.
And then, darkness.
Because A.J. had a secret. Being an animal, it didn’t affect his life much, because animals don’t have commercials with Wilford Brimley discussing ‘diabeetus’. But when A.J. met that can of Dr. Pepper, it came rushing up to meet him.
A.J. drifted away slowly, a smile on his muzzle, Dr. Pepper firmly clenched against him.
If A.J. knew what music was, he would’ve undoubtedly have heard the gorgeous strains of Etta James that night.
…and here we are..in heaven…for you are mine….at last