We smoked cigarettes all through the night, and when we ran out, we pulled off the
two-lane highway to purchase more. We went through towns with names such as: Bixby, Allegra, and Church Falls; small towns with faded clapboard homes and churches, lots of churches, and trees that stood tall with brilliant colors like fireworks that had burst and froze in time. We sang along to the music on the radio, George and me, until our throats went raw, or the static kicked in, whichever came first, and I thought no one names their children George anymore, or Scott or Harold or Gary.
We stopped at a roadside diner and ordered coffee. George took his black, “Like my
soul,” he liked to joke, and the line never failed to make me smile.
I missed the days of being able to smoke in diners. They took that away too. No more
Harry’s and Linda’s and Betty’s or smoking inside diners. What did we do to deserve that?
On the television behind the counter, the President was speaking at yet another fucking press conference because—God knows—we need yet another fucking press conference, and he’s going on and on and on about something, but the sound was off, so it didn’t matter either way.
The server with the sad eyes brought our coffees and before she walked away, her eyes lingered on me for what seemed like a second or two longer than was necessary, and I suddenly felt uneasy. Was she passing a message to me? Was this a cry for help? Don’t be ridiculous, I thought to myself. You always had a habit of reading too much into things, the product of an overactive mind.
“Earth to Debra,” George said, and I can’t help but think, there’s another name long
gone. It made me feel old. But I’m not old. Twenty-eight wasn’t old, right? Depends on who you asked.
George looked at me. He was handsome and kind, the sort of boyfriend I hadn’t
deserved. We smoked in the parking lot, leaning against the car. The night air felt cool against my skin. I watched the ghostly-white light of the moon sliver its way down through the treetops on the wooded lot behind the diner.
“You ready?” George said, flicking his cigarette away. I watched him climb back behind the wheel as I took my last drag, and slowly exhaled the smoke.
We drove the next eighteen miles in silence. I thought about the world I’d left behind, my baby, Erin—no one named their children Erin anymore, except me—and I knew she was in good hands with the family I’d left her with. I’d observed them for weeks, this nice, wholesome family, who lived in a one-story ranch with a dog named Bandit. How surprised they must have seemed when they discovered baby Erin on their doorstep with a note pinned to her blanket.
“What are you thinking about?” George asked, and I wanted to tell him, what do you
think I’m thinking about? But I don’t. I glanced at him with a half-smile and said, “Nothing.”
We drove another six miles in silence.
“We’re running low on cash,” he said.
“Ok.” We’re always running low on cash.
We pulled into the parking lot of a convenience store two miles from the highway. We were the only vehicle except for an old Honda, that I’d imagined belonged to the older clerk I saw through the storefront glass.
George kept the engine running. He placed a hand on my knee. “It’s all going to be fine,” he said, and I watched him get out and touch the spot beneath his coat where he kept his gun.
It’s all going to be fine, I thought, his words, not mine. We’ve done this a million times, also his words.
There was that familiar rush feeling that surged through me as he passed into the store, and I can’t help but hold my breath and close my eyes.
(c) Michael Lacare