Can't AND Won't / by Cyle Talley

Ryan is driving his son to school and they are late. It's the boy's fault. He slept in. Teenagers. They either can't or won't admit to themselves that they need a solid eight hours of sleep. Maybe it's both: can't and won't. Ryan might've shouted at his son. Okay, he did. "Why in the  hell can't you kick it into second gear? Let's go!" He had taken his son's phone, seeing it as the culprit of another late night.  

It's a seventeen minute drive to the high school. The car has been like a tomb, and it's minute fifteen. Ryan decides that if they aren't going to talk, he may as well get to enjoy some music.  

"Is this Bowie?" his son asks.  

"Yeah! How do you know Bowie?" 

"Guardians of the Galaxy." 

"Is that a band?" 

The boy just sighs; he puts his forehead on the window.  

"Is it code for 'Screw you, Dad?' Help me out here." The boy's impotent and indiscriminate rage is oppressive. It fills the car like a rancid fart. That might even be preferable, Ryan thinks. 

"The first time I heard this album was with a girlfriend. She moved down here from Seattle. Everyone in school figured she'd be into Nirvana, Soundgarden, but she really only listened to Bowie. Cool girl. We liked to turn it way up and drive down the 101 with the top down. I had a little Miata convertible then, and she had really great long hair.  

Ryan pulls up to the curb of the school. It doesn't look all that different from when he had gone here, except that even the kids hanging out in clusters and groups are staring at their phones rather than at each other. His son opens the door. 

"Cool story, Dad. And now you listen to Bowie too loud in a fucking Prius. Does the top come down on this thing, too?"

The boy gets out, runs a hand through his hair. "Are you gonna give me back my phone?" 

"It's my phone. I pay for it. And no." 

"Whatever Dad," the door slams and the boy walks away.  

Ryan turns it up a bit more and pulls away from the curb thinking of the other things he'd like to say to his son, but either can't or won't. Maybe both.