N.T. McQueen
Lake County, California,  2000

The backseat of the Volvo belonged to me. My older sister always had the front seat while Mom drove. I didn’t mind being relegated to the backseat where my legs would stick to the leather seats in the summer. In a way, it became a sanctuary on the long country highways around Lake County. Kelseyville, Lakeport, Clear Lake, Upper Lake, Middletown. On those roads, it took 30 minutes to get anywhere. With my Mom and sister in charge, the 6 CD changer was female dominated with a leap year’s chance of the stereo playing MxPx, Face to Face, Suicide Machines, or Bouncing Souls. My true saviour in the backseat was my silver Discman and the binder of CDs that rested on the empty seat next to me.

Most of those car rides, I drifted into another world with my spiked haired head resting on the window, feeling the vibrations of the road synchronizing with the blasting rhythms and screeching guitars. My saviour always kept me from the insulting sounds of Manhattan Transfer or Helen Baylor or Lovesong. Would keep me from having to listen to the same Andrae Crouch albums over and over again.

But my saviour had its limits. When the battery image blinked on the display, I knew my freedom and escape had little time remaining. Inevitably, my music vanished and I sat in the backseat, surrounded by the surround sound of the equivalent of my auditory nemesis. Perhaps I disassociated from reality at times, but, I simply had to endure the melodies and harmonies and rhythms, sulking at my reality. In some torture tactics, they play the same song endlessly in order to break down the tortured. Now, it wasn’t that bad, but, this repetition found its way into my subconscious and, at random times in the future, I could recall the lyrics with one sound sample.

On one of those rainy card rides between Ukiah and Lower Lake, among the mountains surrounded by small lakes, my saviour died and I sat staring out the window as a staple in the Volvo, The Carpenters, played in the background. Karen sang flawlessly a sombre melody, both nostalgic and melancholy, about how “rainy days and Mondays always get [her] down.” I remember, hearing my mom and sister singing along in the front seat as we descended a hill toward Blue Lakes, watching and following a single droplet manoeuvre its way across the window, weaving slowly in and out of the static droplets. I followed that droplet as it journeyed in its world, alone and searching, and understood Karen for the first time. How sometimes life can be lonely and difficult, but a sweet melody exists to guide us through. The energy-fueled angst-riddled soundtrack of my teens melted like the drops on the window for a brief moment and I understood Karen Carpenter’s confession for the first time.

In my thirties, I hear Rainy Days And Mondays and think of those raindrops and my mom. Her rainy days and Mondays have ended but I still experience them. However, they carry with them a bittersweet melody of a backseat.

N.T. McQueen is the author of the novel, Between Lions and Lambs, The Disciple, and the children's book, Moses Jones and the Case of the Missing Sneaker. He received his MA in Creative Writing from CSU-Sacramento and his work has appeared in issues of Fiction Southeast, The Kentucky Review, The Grief Diaries, Gold Man Review, Camas: Nature of the West, Transition Magazine, West Trade Review, and others. He lives in Northern California with his wife and three children and teaches writing at American River College.