SmokeLong Quarterly

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Story by Pia Z. Ehrhardt (Read author interview) June 15, 2004

The car was small, red, a rented Honda Civic with unlimited mileage. It was November in the Midwest and my husband and I were going to drive through Oklahoma, cross the Texas panhandle, turn around and go back to St. Louis.

I liked looking at the side of Dean’s face, his unhappiness, halved. We’d been fighting about everything, the kind of fighting, like siblings, where it’s all pick and nag. We’d talked about separating, but the word spoken out loud in the room, presented like a packed suitcase, was its own kind of separation. We’d decided to travel.

There was a fence streaming by on his side, and acres of farmland. Mother horses grazed while their colts pressed against them. We’d lost another baby, my third miscarriage, and I didn’t want to try again with Dean but I didn’t want anyone else either. I hated his disappointment and didn’t know what to do with mine. Our seed was good enough to spark a life, but not enough to sustain one. We fucked, waited, succeeded. We knew it was just a lima bean, but our hearts were cartwheeling. Carnivale from our necks down. Until I bled, called him at the office and told him we’d lost the baby. “Not again,” he’d said the last time, and I thought, that’s my again, not yours.

I needed air, but it was too chilly to roll down our windows. Dry heat blew around my chest and legs. Dean kept his eyes on the road and I read a Jean Rhys novel, enjoyed her misery, held the book up near the dash so I wouldn’t get car sick.

The road stretched ahead for three hundred miles, but we had patience. The truckers didn’t. Dean would stay too long in the left lane, forgetting to get out of the way, until some professional roared right up on our asses and blew us over to the right. It was mostly eighteen-wheelers that far up in Texas, and I helped Dean find a good truck to stay behind, quilted silver, clean, carrying what, we wondered? We drove up on the side so we could read the decal: Dole Pineapples. He kept it legal at 75 mph and we tucked in behind him, passed only when he passed. Dean called the 1-800 # printed on the back to tell the guy’s company what a great job he was doing, what a credit he was to the open road.

When he turned into a truck stop in Abilene we followed him in for coffee and pie. Coconut cream for Dean, apple for me because I loved the crust more than the filling.

The trucker walked over, said, “I’m leaving. You two ready?”

Dean paid up and we followed him out. He wore dark jeans, a Tennessee Volunteers T-shirt under an unbuttoned flannel shirt, no hat, cowboy boots. He held the door open for us. “Thanks for the call to the home office. They let me know.”

Dean blushed a little and I wanted to touch his hair, cool his face down with my hands. “I think we can take it from here,” he said, “but thanks.”

I spread the map over my legs like a blanket to see what town we’d hit next. There’d be miles of interstate and then three red lights, right through the middle of places that looked like sets from westerns and made you feel good, like you were getting not there, but somewhere.

About the Author

Pia Z. Ehrhardt lives in New Orleans with her husband and son, and their sweet chocolate lab, Eddie. Recent and upcoming print publications include: Bridge Magazine, Gingko Tree Review, Hobart, LitPot, McSweeney’s, Monkeybicycle, Mississippi Review, Night Train, Pindeldyboz, Quick Fiction, Thought Magazine, Wild Strawberries, and Word Riot’s “Best of Web” Anthology.

More of her can be found here: www.piaze.com.

She’s writing a novel called In The Driveway.

About the Artist

A native of Ohio, Marty D. Ison lives with his wife transplanted in the sands of the Gulf of Mexico. He studied fine arts at Saint Petersburg College. In addition to the visual arts, he writes poetry, short stories, and novels. See more of Ison’s work here.

This story appeared in Issue Four of SmokeLong Quarterly.
SmokeLong Quarterly Issue Four

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