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The Drive

Story by Gabrielle Sierra (Read author interview) June 24, 2014

art by Carrie Wells

They were on the road for two hours before the rain came.

Emma had changed her clothes in the back seat as they exited Manhattan, folding her bloody dress tightly before shoving it into a Wendy’s take-out bag. When they stopped for gas, Roman got her the bathroom key, and she rinsed the blood from her hair.

“It wasn’t so bad in there, actually,” she said when she got back into the car. “Gas station bathrooms are never that bad. I mean I wouldn’t eat sushi off the floor. But I think they make it worse in the movies, you know? They make it look worse than it really is.”

Roman did most of the driving since it was his car, and he kept it steady. But every so often, when Emma would look out the window or close her eyes, he would unclench his hands and allow them to shake.

By midnight the rain was pouring down, making it hard to see the dark road ahead. Passing trucks with rattling wheels gave Roman anxiety. Driving in the rain used to calm him. With his father at the wheel, Roman would imagine that the car was underwater. That at any moment a barracuda would swim past the window. Roman never could figure out why he always imagined a Barracuda—growing up in Poughkeepsie it was more likely he’d see a smallmouth bass or an eel.

“Let’s pull over up here,” Emma said. “I’m tired and my legs hurt.”

Roman turned at the next exit, rolling down a small dark road. He pulled over onto the shoulder and turned off the car.

Emma sighed, pushing her chair back. She unbuckled her belt and lay on her side looking at Roman.

“I can drive in the morning,” she said. “After we get some breakfast somewhere. Maybe pancakes or something? I bet diners up here are good. I could eat bacon right now.”

Emma tucked her arms between her knees and closed her eyes. It only took a few minutes before her breath fell into an even rhythm. Her ability to sleep anywhere at any time always surprised Roman.

He leaned back in his chair and studied her. A smear of crusted blood remained above her collarbone, and as he noticed it he felt his stomach churn. He turned his eyes back to the windshield, refusing to let his mind wander back to the last day, the last few hours, that last moment in the apartment.

He closed his eyes and fell into a feverish sleep, a dark stretch of dreams where he was in Central Park and the sun was shining and he saw the spot his mother used to take him when they came into the city. Except instead of the bench where they used to sit across from the carousel, there was a bucket, a bucket with what looked like old yellow paint sloshed over the sides.

“Where is the bench?” he asked park passersby. “Where has it gone?”

The yellow paint turned red and bubbled up into a big egg that floated above the bucket and began to crack with a hard thumping sound. He felt his panic rise just as he woke up in the car. Emma was knocking on the window.

“You were dreaming,” she yelled through the glass. She stood outside the car, examining him through the closed window, a cigarette in one hand. “It was a dream. Probably a bad one considering how much you are sweating. Although it is super hot in there.”

She was right; it was hot and wet in the car. Claustrophobic. Roman opened the door and stepped out onto the road, gasping for air. His shirt was plastered to his back. He stretched his arms above his head and leaned against the hood. His hands shook.

The day was beautiful, the sun shining through the trees on either side of the road. Fields of corn stretched behind the car, leading on to red barns. Roman rubbed his face with his hands. He had a migraine.

“Come on,” Emma said.

She stood in front of him holding the Wendy’s take out bag. Grease stains lined the bottom. She turned and walked through the trees and into the field, disappearing behind a row.

Roman followed, pushing the tall plants aside. Corn knocked his legs and the silk tickled his face as he trailed her.

“Here,” he heard her shout.

Roman came upon a small clearing where a tractor and set of tools had been left out. Emma grabbed a shovel and started to dig a hole, tossing the loose dirt behind her carelessly. Roman gently took the shovel from her hands and continued the process, this time placing the dirt in a careful pile.

“Corn fields are cool, you know,” she said, taking a seat on the ground nearby. “I remember when my camp friends and I watched Children Of The Corn during a sleepover. It was crazy because we were terrified; it’s scary for twelve-year-olds! And then the next day we go around the corner to get pizza, and what is sticking out of the garbage can?”

She paused.

“Corn stalks,” she said. “Just sticking out of this garbage right in the middle of Brooklyn. I mean, come on, that’s just too weird right?”

Roman stopped digging and set the shovel aside. Emma remained seated as she grabbed the Wendy’s bag and tossed it into the hole.

“Whoosh,” she said. “Hole in one.”

Roman nudged it deeper with his foot, turning his eyes away from the dark red that soaked one side, forming a Phantom of the Opera-style mask over Wendy’s cartoon face. He picked the shovel back up and replaced the dirt.

He stood above the hole and studied it. The dirt was dark, wet. He realized he was still grasping the shovel and tossed it aside. His hand shook.

Emma rose and stood next to him, linking her fingers with his, touching him for the first time since they got into the car. Roman felt his hand steady, the warmth from her skin melting into his.

“I never thanked you,” she said.

Emma turned to him and kissed him on the cheek. Her lips were dry. It felt like a moth brushing his face.

“Let’s go find pancakes,” she said. She began walking. “And bacon, oh and maybe a runny egg on top. I’m starved, freaking starved.”

Roman took one last look at the ground and turned to follow her. On the way he stepped on the spot he had dug, his footprint left in the dirt.

About the Author

Gabrielle Sierra is an arts and culture journalist based out of Brooklyn, NY. Her work can be seen in publications such as Billboard, Gothamist, The New York Daily News, Brooklyn Based and Brooklyn Exposed. For more information on Gabrielle follow her on Twitter @gabsierrarocks.

About the Artist

Carrie Wells is an artist working in the mediums of photography and sculpture. She earned her BFA in Studio Art from The University of Texas at Austin and continues to live and work in Austin, Texas.

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

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