He strides out the door with his briefcase and his keys and his cell phone, another disappearance for a week or a month or a lifetime and without a glance back, though you may be wrong. You know this is the view of the one who is left behind.
Among the travel books there is a tome of sonnets where you take refuge in ten thousand words that sing. Tucked in its pages are photographs of children as babies and two crisp bills – one a fifty and the other a twenty. How odd that seventy dollars is reassuring in case of emergency.
On top of a nearby stack of folders you find a glossy map that reduces navigation to the simplicity of following lines. You sprawl bare-legged on the floor with the country between your thighs and imagine what is forbidden: the ease of an exit for yourself, turning the ignition key for yourself, the road with no plan, for yourself.
Darkness drains into day and you are alone. Day drags into another night and you are alone. Night yields to morning and you pray for the pleasure of a downpour, your tongue perpetually parched, stilled for so long you yearn for the stinging rain, your face turned up to a white sky.
You are presumed young enough to obey your own will, strong enough to take the wheel between your hands, hardy enough for temperatures that rise each day dependent on direction, determined enough to pack a bag in a hurry, lucid enough to include Frost and Rich and Neruda, paper and pens, your stash of currency, two bottles of Sprite and a box of crackers. You are rebellious enough to climb into the driver’s seat of a small sedan.
You grab the map. You adjust the rear-view mirror. You put your foot to the pedal. You clear the local stops and starts, the neighborhoods you know too well, the familiar interchange. You fiddle with the AM dial and then opt for silence, humming a little and glancing at wildflowers appearing along an uneven shoulder, picking up speed and reveling in the rush of the air with the windows down, miles accumulating faster than you realize as now you are passing into a new state and that in itself is a measure of insurrection.
The bright blue interstates open like a system of veins: You are ambling for poetry, poetry in the wake of a nation mourning, poetry in the stranger’s connection, poetry in the form of pink walls because pink walls are unexpected, poetry in cities that cling to their noisy trolleys, poetry in fireworks exploding over the stars and stripes draped from a ghostly building in a shell-shocked community of ghostly buildings. There is poetry in the rundown roadside inn, poetry in every word you can pronounce before it is too late, poetry in remembering that you are alive.
Fatigue forces you to pull over, switch on a light, check the map, read your palm for a truer indication of the future, surrender to the inky sky. Maybe this is a Motel 6. Maybe this is Mississippi.
You take to the highway again at dawn as the air-conditioning cuts in and out. You accumulate miles and feel them dropping away. You pull into an Exxon and fill the tank, you snack on peanuts, you purchase a shot glass at three ninety-five plus tax. You stop more often as your legs tire and the staccato rhythms of the road become as pleasurable as the beauty of the departure itself. You begin to understand: there is freedom in the getaway, and it is easier to be the one who leaves.
These are your stanzas and couplets as they’re taking form: vacationing families with squabbling children; truckers leaning against their loads enjoying a smoke; bikers in bare arms and tattoos that aren’t frightening after all; a thin man with short blond hair who talks on his phone next to a green pickup; a dark man who downs a Cherry Coke and three Quick-Mart dogs; another who sizes you up and approaches smelling of sweat and tobacco. You make conversation. You laugh at his jokes. You get back on the road.
Now Louisiana swells in the heat and you feel lightened. Now you approach East Texas and you are giddy in your weightlessness. Now you feast on skies streaked in violet and red as you are no longer in a hurry, as you push beyond the square edges of the map you no longer need, as you suddenly sense celebration as if it is a birthday.
You ask yourself how far you will go.
Perhaps to pink walls and fireworks. Perhaps to a city of trolleys and bells. Perhaps to the other side of the desert, where the Pacific becomes its own poetry.
Flash fiction is a very short story of anywhere from 100 to 1,000 words. This is a quick writing exercise using the prompt of “road trip,” and letting the words flow in a 60-minute period.
© D. A. Wolf