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Four Stops

Story by Anne Elliott (Read author interview) December 15, 2006

In Newark, There Was a Fork in the Road

My husband looked over his shoulder at the tiny sign. “Goddamn New Jersey. We miss that turn every time.”

“Maybe if you didn’t drive so fast.”

“Honey? Please?”

“Sorry.” But I wasn’t sorry. Had a map, but I wasn’t helping. My brain already took that turn, the 1/9 Trucks, so labeled far too late. I looked out at broken row houses, rows of weeds, reeds and marsh. A new freeway. I had no clue where we were. The dog turned circles in the back seat, then settled. The dog had no clue either.

North of Binghamton, the snow began. Flakes melted on the windows, then froze. My breath fogged the pane at my cheek. Flakes flew by like stars, and we were a spaceship. Our tires found tracks of the driver ahead; my husband held the steering wheel firm, stooped to see through the porthole of clean glass. Snow didn’t scare him. Me, I was another story. Salt frosted patterns, like paper blinds, and the whole precious world was inside this car: this man, this dog, this quiet day.

“I’m sorry,” I said again. We stopped to pour hot water on the windshield, to pour wiper fluid in the tank. I took the dog to pee. He sniffed the frigid air, then buried his snout in a drift. Lifted his head, sneezed, looked up at me. He likes it here. Wherever here is.

On the Solo Drive Back From Wisconsin, I Stopped

I found a replica Mennonite village in Ohio. Retired people in bonnets and aprons explained the traditional crafts. Here’s how we used to forge tin, said one. Here’s how we kept the house warm, said another.

One woman sat in a cabin, home to a family of four. “See that tub over there? Well, your job would have been to bring water from the well, in that bucket, then heat it over the fire. Then everyone in the family would take a bath in the same water. Now, you wouldn’t like that very much, would you?”

A young thing in flip-flops shook her head no.

“And look at this bed.” The woman turned the mattress corner, revealed a crisscross of jute rope. “They didn’t have a box spring. Just rope and some straw. You wouldn’t like that, would you?”

I wasn’t so sure. The night before I dropped $35 for a Motel 6 in Gary, Indiana. A trucker followed me to my room and watched in shadows while I unlocked the door. The remote control bolted to the wall, the thin square of white towel, the bleach and bugspray bed. I closed my eyes and heard nothing but freeway. I dreamed of nothing but road. Nothing but blacktop and horizon. Don’t wreck the car, don’t fall asleep. Nothing but white lines, green signs: New York, 750 miles.

I Drove Through the Desert Once

It was nothing but rocks and sand. Not much.

Got out of the truck and stepped on flowers. Tiny snowflake blooms, everywhere, a desert carpet, invisible from inside that metal box. Arid aroma of sage. Wind. I pulled off my shoe, rubbed my bare foot in the soft sand of a flood wash. Against cerulean sky, a red-tailed hawk circled something on the ground. Something alive, his dinner.

Always just passing through someplace on the way to dinner. My toes dug deep into the hot, pale earth, trying to take root.

We Buckled Mom’s Remains into the Back Seat

She was in a small, heavy box, but we couldn’t bear to put her in the trunk. “If there’s an accident, the ashes might go flying,” I said.

“That’s what seat belts are for,” Dad said. All the way to Seattle we tossed comments back at her:

“Hey, Jane, did you see the Castle Crags?”

“Hey, Mom, will you look at Mount Shasta!”

Crossing the Washington border, we sang, Roll On, Columbia, Roll On. Used to embarrass me, how she sang it every time we crossed the river—”What? Why can’t I sing? What’s wrong with singing? It’s just us!” she would say.

She would say, that is, if she were here. The back of the car was no chorus. Because we were tired, we found this funny.

Later, we drove onto the Bremerton ferry, and got out of the car, holding the box. Walked to the edge of the auto deck to pitch her into Puget Sound. It’s what she wanted. But neither of us could let go of the box. My biceps liked the surprise of its weight—like a baby who grew heavy overnight. I hugged the cool box against my chest. When we docked on the other side, I buckled her back into the car.

The ride back to California was quiet. Over the river, we didn’t sing. I kept looking over my shoulder, to make sure she was still there.

About the Author

Anne Elliott is a poet/ukulelist living in Brooklyn, New York. Her fiction has appeared most recently in Hobart. She blogs on writing life and feral cat management at http://assbackwords.blogspot.com.

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

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