An original story by Blast writer Roger Gude
I was eating hot air when mom told me we were out of gas. I didn’t like that she included me, I wasn’t out of gas. She neglected to buy gas in the last town we had passed through, that’s why our car came to a sputter halt on U.S. Historic Route 66. Hell, I was downright pissed that we were here. It was hot, I wanted to be somewhere else, and mom had been regurgitating her failing relationship with my father for the past two days so much so that I couldn’t stand sitting in this beat up station wagon anymore.
“So?” I said.
“So. . . we’re stranded in the middle of nowhere, it’s hot, I’m grouchy, and-”
“Just shut up Mom, you put us here.”
“Don’t talk to me like that. You wouldn’t be anywhere without me. Now help me find my phone, I should be able to call someone to help us out.”
I crossed my arms as she got out of the car. This 1987 station wagon was a joke. It’s the year 2005 and she’s still driving her dad’s car. It was two years ago today that she got the keys to it. Her father passed away hiking up Mt. Pilatus in Switzerland, he slipped on a rock, and when she met with the rest of her family to receive his will all he left her was a set of car keys and some memories. This thing has over 100,000 miles on it and guzzles gas like a champ. The engine coughed like someone with emphysema every time we started it up and the metal surrounding the radio kept me from tampering with it. It heated up fast in the sunlight. The tires reeked of use and as nice as wood paneling goes for the color of a car, it’s time had passed.
I watched mom shuffle through her purse in the backseat, her expression of desperation faded when her fingers rubbed against the familiar grooves of her cell phone. The leather on the seat had started to boil my skin. I was used to the heat by now, even the way the leather grabbed onto my skin, but the metal on my seatbelt made me hiss as I feigned interest at her. We couldn’t get reception out here. Satellites don’t care about us.
“Found it!” she exclaimed.
“Great. . .”
After about fifteen minutes of fidgeting with her phone she gave up. I’d begun to watch the road through the passenger’s side rearview mirror. I watched the wavering heat rise from the pavement and listened to the wind tickle my ears. She said something about her phone not working. She decided that our only plan of action was to hitchhike to a gas station. My tennis shoes hadn’t seen a good walk in a while and I was glad to get away from this old, four-wheeled cocoon, plastered with images of my father and mother’s failure.
I got out of the wagon, opened the backseat door, it took two pulls of the handle to get the door open, and grabbed my duffle bag. It was a heavy log with a strap attached. Mom was struggling with her three suitcases and oversized purse when I walked around the back of the car and grabbed one of them for her. They all matched, had jewel encrusted initials on the top, S.K.O., and shined like wasted money. But the worst part about them was the fact that they weren’t even very big. The suitcases were small and cute and matched and that negated the idea of a suitcase in the first place. A suitcase should be practical and carry as much as possible without breaking bones instead of being cute and impressive to people who don’t travel.
It took us a couple hours of walking through the heat before we took a break. I finally agreed with her when I couldn’t take her whining anymore. She’d been telling me to take a break every fifteen minutes with excuses ranging from, “My feet hurt,” to “I feel like I’m about to die,” and my nerves were bound to concede. That and the fact that my clothes were plastered to my skin, my hair was drenched, and this damn suitcase was killing my arm were about all I could handle. We found a few large boulders off to the right of the highway and sat near them, flirting with shade.
“What’s in those suitcases, anyways?”
“Nothing really,” she tugs at her shirt and straightens her shorts out, “just some clothes and stuff.,,” She lights the cigarette. “It’s important to me. You wouldn’t want me to throw away all of you comic books because they were too heavy would you?”
“No, but I didn’t bring all of my comic books on a trip across the country, now did I?”
She didn’t respond.
I watched the cigarette smoke leave her lungs and wondered how that could offer her any relief. She’s filling her body up with something from outside for just a couple seconds and for what? Satisfaction? You can’t be satisfied this way. Relief is nice, but temporary relief should not be a goal. We human beings should try and obtain permanent relief and as much as we want to take a drag from a cigarette permanently that just can’t happen, well it could I guess, but those people would smell horrible and die in a couple years.
Watching her sit there with her cigarette in her mouth made me feel the heat even more. It was a stupid idea to travel across the country in the middle of the summer. It made sense to vacation to the south in the winter time; cold hurts because the spring and summer make use forget about it, but huffing across the country when I should be back at home playing video games and smoking pot made me boil.
Her oversized glasses, her obviously dyed brown hair lightly framing her sweat profile, and her consciously slumped posture under the shade of the rocks made me despise her. I don’t know why she got to me so much when we first took a break; I think it was my arm. The muscles in my arm were fighting each other and it felt like both sides were losing. The pain from carrying the largest of the cute suitcases for a couple hours was catching up to me and venting on her was the best I could do to alleviate myself. But who was she feeling? I was the only one around for the next 20 miles or so and she was acting like at any moment some mechanic with broad shoulders would appear out of thin air and whisk her off her feet.