the museum of americana

a literary review

After — Fiction by Angela Dawe

 
Neither of them has spoken since the gas station near Dead Women Crossing, when he asked her to hold the hood open while he checked again on the oil. He frowned at the dipstick, but then, apparently satisfied, nodded and reached for the pump handle, so she let the hood drop and went silently inside to pee. The bathroom was tiny; it smelled of something beginning to rot, and one of its fluorescent bulbs flickered intermittently, but it was no dirtier than any of the others had been. She noticed it didn’t have a diaper changing station.

Now, she shifts gingerly in her bucket seat and feels him glance at her, but when she turns to look at him, his eyes are on the road, his face expressionless. She wishes for the thousandth time the stereo worked. Everything is beige, dusty and dry and barren. Everywhere she looks, beige, almost unbroken, for miles and miles, as far as the eye can see. They crossed into Texas hours ago, but the scenery has remained unchanged, as if those hours have merely been seconds and they haven’t covered any distance at all.

She stares out the window at all that beige.

She isn’t even aware she’s started humming until he quietly begins to sing along, eyes still on the road, hands still at ten and two. It’s an old Tom Waits song, “Innocent When You Dream,” and she refrains from calling up in her memory the moment they discovered it was their mutual favorite, late one night back before all of this—decades ago, it seems. Centuries.

They will take I-40 all the way to 93 and down to the Shell in Wikieup. Her sister will meet them, collect her and her suitcase full of flowy tops and needlessly stretchy pants, and then drive her to the trailer she grew up in outside Nothing, Arizona. She will stay for awhile. She isn’t sure how long; maybe a month, maybe longer. Maybe a lot longer. And he will drive alone back to I-40 and whatever awaits him in L.A. The weeks will pass, she will improve, the world will continue to rotate on its axis. And one day, she knows, this whole “unfortunate episode,” as his mother so decorously referred to it while refusing to meet her eyes, will be a distant memory. The pain maybe not quite gone, but easier to ignore, its sharp edges blunted by time.

She keeps softly humming, and he keeps quietly singing, and somewhere deep within her, in a place so far beyond thought she will go on to live her whole life without ever noticing it, she is certain of a tender, shattering truth: this moment will never end. Just like he’s always said, time does not work the way people think it does. No matter what happens, no matter where she goes, no matter how old she gets, even after she dies and her body has turned to dust and everything she knows has burned and crumbled and been forgotten, she will still be in this car with him, still on this stretch of highway, gazing out at this endless beige. She will still be sitting motionless while he steadily drives, his eyes on the road, his hands at 10 and 2. She will always be humming their favorite song while he sings quietly as they travel thousands of miles, never moving at all.

 

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Angela Dawe is a writer and performer based in the American Midwest. She has worked in a variety of media, including stage, screen, print, and audio. She also has a degree in Philosophy, so if the writing/performing work ever dries up, she’s got something to fall back on. Ms. Dawe loves jokes, hates carob, and is fascinated by the power, potential, and limitations of language.

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