I have a story in the second issue of this wee, start-up literary magazine called Zeugma, out of Newfoundland. A bit about the launch is here.
It is morning and they are moving. Still moving. He opens his eyes to windshield-flattened light, to Saskatchewan in spring, on the horizon all around is a colossus of sky, pressing down, seconds awake and he already feels it, hates it, this Biblical immensity without a puff of cloud, where trees stand strangled, twisted into the ground and telephone poles lean guilty like crosses in the ditches.
His wife, Rachel, is driving. It makes him sore to think that thought, to see the words in his head. Sore and suddenly sharpened. “Do you know where you’re going?” he asks, looking out on the highway, to its diminishing point of oblivion. On the seat between them is a hand-drawn map, a crooked red star marked Auntie Della’s.
“And good morning to you,” she sings back.
Most unconvincingly. Trying to bluff him out, he knows her in an instant. Still, he clears his throat, waits for a few seconds, keeps his voice low and casual. “You know where you’re going, eh?”
She is picking her words, pushing her chin. “I think so,” she says. Tries to smile but it’s all little quivers.
He leans over to see the gas gauge. “Oh, that’s comforting,” he says. “You think so and we’re on a secondary highway in the middle of nowhere with only half a tank. I knew this trip would be a disaster.”
“You’re the one who fell asleep,” she tries to say firmly. “I’ve been driving all night.”
“You should have pinched me, then. That would’ve been a hell of lot better than trusting in one of your I think so’s.” His thoughts stop at the sight of a broken fox on the shoulder, a paw bent in the air. He listens to tires droning on pavement, buzzing in currents, zippering up and down his skin. A smirk spreads across his face. “You know what I want to do someday?” he starts. “I want to write a book called She Thinks So: All the Times That Rachel Has Been Wrong. Would you like to hear some chapter titles? I’ve got: Bad Movies That Rachel Thought Might Be Good from Looking at the Box; Television Shows Inexplicably Moved From Their Regular Time Slot Because Rachel Says So; Famous People Prematurely Declared Dead by Rachel; Rachel’s Corrected World History; Rachel vs Revenue Canada; That Looks Easy To Make and Other Furniture Ideas ...”
“Well, if I’m so bad then why don’t you just leave me?” Rachel blurts, leaning in with both hands tight on the wheel, when she turns to face him it is with full tears and fluttering eyes. Hurt leaks out of her in slipping beads, crooked lines of mascara. “Well? Why don’t you just leave me then?”
He sits and stares. Well, he thinks, well, there are a couple of reasons. Like this girl named Laura, she’s one reason, one of those reasons that eventually stands for everything, you’d never guess to look at her, this young girl like a pop song in his head, so small and shy and peeky-cute, short bangs bookish glasses, nineteen or twenty at the most, reminded him of a teacher he had way back in elementary, this teacher this beautiful young teacher in her Nana Mouskouri glasses she used to love sneaking up on you – boo! gotchya! – could catch you scared in the middle of playground sunshine, grab you quick by both shoulders so you’d shriek and spin away. She smelled so good so like youth like the fresh morning air. And this girl named Laura smelled like that, too. Like sweaters and fall leaves. She was a student working in the front office for the summer, a nice girl, the kind of girl who carries around a sketchbook, it stuck out from the bag beside her desk, hey let’s have a look he said, as her supervisor it was only natural that he took an interest, try to open her up a little, promote some social interaction, he only asked her the usual questions about school and family, at the end that remark about the way families drive us crazy, okay that one was calculated but that was also the point where they connected, where he saw her face change like a chemical reaction. So it was okay. She had her own small stories, all the usual examples of bad and exotic fruit in the family tree, cartoonish sketches to prove it. It was a laugh. Nothing weird about it. He told her that everyone thinks their family is crazy, really they’re normal compared to what’s out there, so what if her uncle used super glue to fill his cavities or her little brother slept in a Halloween costume, my dad liked to sleep in the back seat of an old car that was on blocks in the backyard he said, all year round, I’m not kidding, he ran a chord out for a space heater and whiskey did the rest. They were sharing things, he and Laura, he talked to her like an equal, why shouldn’t he? They were something like friends. So he started offering her a ride home, and they had these great talks, she was really quite mature, and yeah, sure, there was some kind of pressure building inside him, deep pressure, but it took a dozen trips before it all spilled out, before he told her where he really wanted to take her but the issue of trust was a dead-end in the back alley that day, his hands were clean good breath too but she looked at him like something with its guts torn out, big crashing eyes he didn’t really understand, maybe she was just overwhelmed, believe me I feel the same way he said, sometimes he wanted things from life so badly as to rend his heart like gushing fruit. But she wasn’t listening. She was afraid. And then screaming, Don’t ever try that again I mean it I mean it!, if she hadn’t jumped out he didn’t know what he would have done to shut her up. And all the next morning he waited in his office for the police to come and beat him with night sticks, kick him in the nuts put guns to his head but they never came, this girl named Laura just showed up and sat at her desk, hunched silent and not looking, continued sitting there all summer long silent so silent with her power to destroy him. So that was one reason, this girl named Laura, named TERROR right at the front of his brain. You could also call her THE END OF EVERYTHING. Never mind the rest of them, the way they parted as he passed them in the halls, weak and wandering smiles. One day in particular he swore he heard something vicious with laughter but when he walked into the lunchroom they all went quiet, like his face was cancer, looking at the walls. So there was reason number two. Among others. Too many others. And there was no need to tell Rachel about these reasons, no reason to dredge them up, those gaping jaws of discovered skeletons fresh from the black earth. No one needed to see that, not now, not ever.
Keep moving, his mother always told him. You have to keep moving. Good advice. Women were the most incredible, fantastic, optimistic creatures, but you had to learn to navigate, to move around them.
He places a hand on the back of Rachel’s neck, rubs a thumb over fine blonde hair, feels her move every so slightly. He is slow and careful when he finally speaks: “I could never leave you, Rachel. I could never do that. I love you.”