Road Trip – a short story
The tires made thumping sounds as they rode over the reflectors on the street. The noise was constant and soothing. I sat up from my slumped position in the back seat and stretched out my neck. It was dark out and I had no idea how long I had been sleeping. Mommy and daddy were awake and watching the road in the front seat. I flushed with embarrassment at the thought of them as mommy and daddy. I am not a baby. I’m not even a kid, really. I’m almost a teenager and they are just mom and dad now. Mom and dad. Mom and dad.
As usual neither of them were speaking. The car was thick with silence. The radio wasn’t even on (they could never agree on what to listen to, so they usually drove in silence). From the new vantage point of sitting up I was able to look out the window into the other lanes next to me as we drove through the night in the oppressive silence. I probably could have put on my head phones and played my own music off of my cell phone (which was not loud, tuneless, or garbage, thank you very much) without attracting much attention, but it hardly seemed worth the effort of getting sucked into a forced conversation about whatever topic my mom latched onto tonight. Moss was what we talked about on the drive out. Moss.
While hosting this internal monologue I noticed the car in the lane next to ours was driving the same exact speed. It only struck me as noticeable because my daddy (dad, dad, dad!) always said that the left lane was for being an asshole and the right lane was for people that actually had sense. Rubbing the sleepers out of my eyes and letting out a long, but ever so soundless, yawn I took in everything around me. We were probably still an hour from home. We had spent most of the day and some of the night at my aunt’s house dealing with all of her drama. What drama we were there dealing with, well, nobody would tell me. My dad always said that his sister just needed the right combination of love and whiskey. My mom said that she just needed the right woman and she wouldn’t need the love or the whiskey. I happen to know that my aunt has a very good friend name Susan that is a woman and she is very smart and right most of the time. However, I do not know her preferences on whiskey. Since my mom and dad usually only say these things after a few glasses of wine and when they forget that I’m still within ear shot, I’m assuming that mean something else that they think I’m too young for.
There were only two people in that car next to us. A boy driving and a girl in the passenger seat. They mirrored our car in that they weren’t talking either, just like my parents. The girl looked out the window at my dad, probably thinking the same thing about us. I gave another flush of embarrassment at the thought that she was thinking we thought they were assholes, and that we were all high and mighty thinking that we had so much sense. Her eyes made their way to the back seat where she noticed me. She was pretty, far prettier than I was and almost as pretty as my mom, just a lot younger.
There was a moment where I could see a sadness flicker across her face, and then everything brightened and she smiled at me. Suddenly, she was sticking her tongue out. I giggled, then I looked cautiously at the front seat to see if my parents had noticed. I didn’t want them to look back and yell at me for associating with strangers. Again. You have one conversation with an old man in the mall food court and suddenly you have no idea what it’s like out in the world. Seriously, it was like they couldn’t accept the fact that I was almost a teenager.
It was safe, they were both still very absorbed in the road. Both sitting ramrod straight in their seats, looking out toward where the headlights pointed. Daring to look back at her I almost laughed out loud. Now she was making fish lips at me. I giggled again, but softly this time, and she continued to make faces at me. We went on this way for a little while.
Without warning she turned around to look at the boy. He was saying something to her, something angry. I strained my eyes to see what it was but she had moved her head in front of his. I knew from TV that boys could be awfully pissy. Which was a word that they could say on TV but that I couldn’t say, which was stupid.
Their car began to speed up. She turned to look back at our car but now her face was sad for a moment and then it was far enough ahead that I was having trouble catching her expression in the dark. As they began to accelerate further she put her hand on the window. Dew formed all around the outline of it. I could just make out that she was sticking her tongue out as they pulled away from us for good.
“Always got somewhere to be right now.” The silence in the car was broken by my father’s soft voice. “Assholes.”
Quickly, I faced forward again and slouched back down, pretending to still be asleep. I was thinking that she probably didn’t have to go anywhere, she probably just wanted to stay and make faces at me. Her boyfriend was probably just being pissy with her. From under my partially veiled eyelids I could see the tail end of their car. It was blue, or maybe black, and I could see the headlights sinking into the hill. She was gone and I was alone again.
I must have fallen back asleep because we were stopped and the last thing I remembered we were moving right along. I sat up as we slowly began to move. My neck was stiff again and it was hard to look out the window.
There was an accident. We were stuck in a stop and go pattern because the police officers were still walking around putting flares out. Actually it was more like a stop and slow pattern. Which is something my mom said quietly to my dad, but I didn’t catch his response. The only interesting things they ever had to say were said very loud and clear. Since neither one of them had bothered to look into the back seat at me, I assume they thought I was still asleep anyway.
Pressing my face up against the window, I got a better look at the accident. There was only one car. From the looks of it, it had gone off the road and hit one of the trees in median of the interstate. The police had blocked off the left (asshole) lane with flares and were working on getting everyone merged into the right (sense) lane. One was even standing out in our car’s lane a few feet ahead of the accident. He looked into the back seat and directly at me. Smiling he waved a bright orange flare at me in a tantalizing fashion. He was waving it away from the accident, and it almost distracted me enough to look away from the wreck. That orange flare had a very convincing argument, but I was drawn to the mangled car. Another police officer stood close to it. I pulled my legs under myself to boost up high enough to see what he was standing over. Just as I got up high enough to see what it was he placed a sheet down.
There was already a sheet down on the hood of the car. A large lump under it. I couldn’t make too much more out because it was further from the flashing lights of the cars and more hidden in the darkness of the trees. The closer sheet was over the passenger side. It was almost twenty feet away but I could still make out some of the details.
While I could see so many things, I couldn’t really see them. My brain was working extra hard, like my legs when I would run through the waves at the beach in the summer.
We were stopped again. The orange flared police officer had walked all the way in front of us. There was something in the road that he was slowly approaching. I didn’t give him, or the object of his attention, too much more thought because there was something else. Something that my brain was still trying to wade through under the passenger’s sheet.
Mommy and daddy had finally begun speaking in those perfectly clear voices from the front seat, but I continued to focus on the girl and the sheet. The girl and the sheet. Now I noticed that her door wasn’t just open, it was gone. The wind had picked up and the sheet was rippling over her. We started to move again. The police officer with the flare was now carrying a blue car door. The glass was all busted out of it and pieces glittered on the asphalt.
Slowly we started to move past the blue car and I had turn around to be able to see it. “You aren’t angry at her anymore.” I whispered, my breath fogging up the window. “She’s not making faces and you’re not angry at her anymore.” I stared out the rear window until I could no longer see the blue and red flashing lights. Until the orange glow of the flares had settled into the road like the sun setting down on the ocean.
My heart had been racing but it was slowly returning to normal. Turning around I settled back into my seat and looked out onto the road ahead of us again. The yellow stripes seemed to be getting sucked under our car as we drove. Watching them, mesmerized, my eyelids once more became veiled. Trying to ignore that deafening sound of silence, I let only the rumbling of the road in. Closing my eyes, I just listened to the sound the tires made as they rode over the reflectors on the street. The noise was constant and soothing.