Charlie sat in the back seat of The Big Turd, feeling positive that her allergies were worse every time that she got in it.
The 1972 Chevrolet Kingswood Estate Wagon, a two-toned brown boat on wheels, in her opinion, was her dads’ newest pride and joy even though it was over a decade old. Charlie and her siblings did not feel the same enthusiasm as dad did about The Big Turd, having to listen to snide remarks from the kids in the neighborhood when driving by, hence how Charlie came up with her own name for the car. The fact that the car had air conditioning that dad would never use made her resent even more what she felt to be the ugliest, longest car ever. Charlie imagined what The Big Turd must look like to the traffic passing them on the highway, especially those driving in their sleek, sporty cars. It would be a long drive from where they lived in Ohio, traveling to Florida for their family road trip, and so far, she hadn’t seen another car like theirs on the road.
It was hard to hear anything with all the windows down in The Big Turd. Conversations seemed to be more like yelling contests, so there wasn’t much talking on the trip, making time pass ever so slowly. During one of her sneezing fits, Charlie’s dad spoke, which was the first time anyone had talked for about an hour.
“Don’t want to use her all up in one summer,” dad practically shouted, regarding the air conditioner, holding his index finger up so everyone in the car would see and pay attention to him. The sweat dripped from his face and he kept his navy-blue handkerchief in his lap, wiping his forehead every so often. Sweat spots were developing on their clothes, under their armpits and down their backs, and this was still not even enough to change his mind. Neither were their ruby red cheeks, nor Charlie’s constant sneezing. None of these things were a valid reason, to her father anyway, for turning the air on. They were seven hours in to a thirteen-hour drive and Charlie could tell he was not going to give in and turn the air on.
“Running the air is also bad on gas,” he went on, practically shouting as he re-positioned his hands back on to the steering wheel, watching the road ahead with reverence. “And the best way to fight them allergies, Charlie, is to just be out in it. Fight it head on,” he bellowed, looking at me quickly in the rear view mirror as I sneezed uncontrollably, opening my second box of tissues since being on the road that morning.
Charlie never understood why they had nice things but were never allowed to use them. Plastic on the furniture, not taking the good car out except for Sunday and not using the air conditioning when it was ninety-five degrees outside seemed foolish and senseless to her. But when you’re fifteen years old and it’s 1985, you don’t ask questions. Asking questions such as, “How come?”, “Do I have to?” or “Why?” would get the car stopped immediately. Sometimes this meant a good ‘whopping’ on the rear for talking back and sometimes it was a quick pullover off to the side of the road to give you the look of death.
With Charlie’s parents seated in the front, her nine-year-old sister, Wendy, played with her Barbie dolls in the ‘clear back’ of The Big Turd, the area behind the three rows of seats of the enormous car. Her older brother, Lee, who had just turned eighteen, sat in the third row of seats behind her, just to her right, making sure he did not get any of her cooties, as he would always say, during her sneezing fits. Charlie sat behind dad and hoped that the her newly formed habit of eye rolling would not be detected at dad’s latest insight about her allergies. However, she doubted he would be able to tell anything about her eyes as swelled as they were.
This would be their first family vacation that included all five of them, Charlie’s first vacation ever. Charlie’s parents had gone on trips a couple of times before, but usually left Charlie and her siblings with mom’s parents. Although Charlie wasn’t looking forward to the long car drive to Florida from Ohio, she was anxious to see new things.
Charlie knew her allergies would play a role in the family trip, always sneezing and rubbing her itching eyes during the summer months. Her allergies always seemed to be the center of her life in the summer months since she was five years old. Now crossing into North Carolina, they seemed to be getting worse the farther they drove. Her mother said it was probably something in the air down South.
Within twenty minutes of crossing into North Carolina, dad decided to take the more scenic route rather than the freeway, ultimately getting them lost, and decided to stop for the day at a place off the beaten path called ‘The Cool Creek Motel.’ The place was in no way a five-star hotel, but approaching the motel from the rugged, pothole filled highway, Charlie was able to see the motel sign that advertised an outside swimming pool and air conditioning. Other than the motels run-down appearance, the first thing Charlie noticed about the place was the beautiful yellow flowers growing along the highway in front of the motel. Something about those yellow flowers made her want to pick them. More importantly, when dad parked the car and shut off the engine, she could hear the humming of the air conditioning in the windows, which she hoped would relieve her allergies at least while she slept that night.
After helping unload the car and getting their luggage into their motel room, she decided the first thing she would do is check out the pool. She wouldn’t swim, for fear of how she looked to others in her bathing suit and, of course, the slow development of her fifteen-year-old body, but this was her first vacation and she wanted to see a pool in a hotel, like in the movies.
“Always go in pairs,” mom said to Charlie and her younger sister when they asked to go see the pool. “We are in a strange place and I don’t want you kids running around alone. Especially you girls. Never know what sickos are lurking in places like this.” She looked over to my brother who just finished in the bathroom and continued, “Matter of fact, Lee, you keep an eye on your sister’s.”
Lee stood in the bathroom doorway, letting his body slouch and rolled his eyes. “But mom, I don’t want to hang out with them.”
Mom gave Lee ‘the look’ and he knew he was defeated. When mom was sure that Lee had understood her look, she added, “You kids have fifteen minutes while your father and I call around for the nearest place to eat.” Then she whispered as she hid her mouth with her hand, “And to find directions.”
Charlie and her sister, with big brother trudging behind, set off to see the pool located behind the motel. To their dismay, the pool had been drained and what was left at the bottom looked to be some type of impenetrable, green gooey ooze with leaves and dead bugs floating on top. The closer they got, the worse the smell became. So much for that, thought Charlie.
Charlie and her siblings all looked at each other at the same time and Charlie said, “I’m gonna go pick some flowers,” as she sneezed wildly three times in a row.
“Yeah ‘cause that’s smart in your condition,” said Lee, rolling his eyes.
Charlie shrugged her shoulders to show him she didn’t care what he said, or thought, turned on her feet and headed around to the front of the motel. Lee and Wendy followed, all three of them walking a few feet apart from one another. Lee stopped in front of the room they were staying in and sat down on the concrete entryway where he could watch his sisters. He put his Walkman on so at least he didn’t have to hear them. Wendy pulled her favorite Barbie doll out of the back pocket of her jean shorts and played in the gravel of the unkept flowerbeds not far from Lee. Charlie looked back at the two of them before she went on about thirty feet to the edge of the highway, where the yellow flowers were, and thought to herself that this road trip was not at all as exciting as she had hoped.
Charlie picked one flower at a time, sniffing each one as she went. She couldn’t believe that as beautiful as they were, they barely had any scent to them. After she had five flowers in hand, she started to feel itchy all over her body. She was hoping that her allergies would get better now that she was out of the car, but instead, they seemed to be getting worse. She picked a few more flowers but her palms were itching with fury and she noticed a few welts on her bare legs and arms. The welts seemed to grow every time she blinked.
Charlie dropped the flowers she just picked and thought about calling to her brother for help, or to at least head back to the room to tell her parents something was wrong. But her body was now out of her control. She buzzed all over with anticipation, but for what, she did not know. Her head spun with thoughts that didn’t make sense to her. She felt the need to run to her family now, her arms and legs feeling like they were wildly moving about with static charge, yet she couldn’t move at all. She unwillingly fell to her knees, feeling faint and sleepy, yet her mind was spinning and wide awake. Her belly roared with stinging and itching. The way she was positioned allowed her to see her shirt had risen up. The pink welts had inched their way from her legs and arms to her torso, wrapping around her like a whirlwind. The palms of her hands began to itch with such fierceness that she thought if she could move them, she would rub them in the grass to relieve the itching. She knew this wasn’t a rational thought, but she was desperate. When she thought the itching could get no worse, it did. She felt as if a thousand bugs were biting, stinging and sucking the life out of her. Even her most private areas were itching like crazy, a feeling she never had before, and this made her feel very nervous. However, the palms of her hands were still the worst and the first part of her body to lose all feeling. Charlie’s vision started to darken in her peripheral range. Rage, from confusion and fear, like she had never felt, began to consume her and she started to drift into a tunnel of darkness as her throat started to close in on itself. She tried taking a few breaths, but couldn’t seem to get air into her lungs, making her panic and shake uncontrollably. She slowly fell further, down onto her side, her body rolling on its own until she was lying on the flat of her back, shaking. Her vision was completely gone, her eyes swelled shut, but she could still see the bright sunlight piercing through her closed eyes. Charlie felt like the sun was roasting her alive. When she could no longer see the light of the sun through her eyelids or feel its heat on her body, the tunnel of darkness spread out around her until she was completely engulfed by it. She turned to look behind her, seeing nothing different there either. When she turned back around, she was standing in front of a wooden wall, much like the wooden paneling she saw in mobile homes. The grains of the wood streamed horizontally at magnificent speed. Every so often, the grains seemed to move up and down, reminding her of a heart monitor like she had seen in the hospital when her grandpa had been admitted for a heart attack. After staring at the wall for some time, she woke up.
When Charlie opened her eyes again, everything had changed. She didn’t know how long she had been out, but she was still lying down, in the same position as when she had passed out. She could see gray clouds passing overhead and the sun was not shining anymore. The motel still stood but looked more run down than before, creepily dark. There were no more yellow flowers, or anything of beauty for that matter. The grass that had been green before, was now tall, yellowed with weeds and overgrown. Her brother no longer sat in the entryway of the sidewalk and her sister was no longer playing in the gravel with her Barbie. There was one car parked at the far end of the motel, but The Big Turd was not parked in the lot anymore. Everything that had previously been wrong with Charlie was gone. No more itching, sneezing or welts and she was no longer choking for air. It was so easy to breathe that it felt as if she wasn’t breathing at all.
“Hello?” Charlie called out. “Lee? Wendy? Mom? Dad?”
But no answer came from anywhere. Charlie could hear a slight rustling of the wind and could see an old weathered United States Flag, rippling on a rusted pole. Other than that, there was no sign of movement anywhere. There weren’t any cars on the highway either. A feeling of eeriness began to wash over her. She decided to head their room, where she would be safe with her family.
Charlie turned the doorknob of their room, but the door was jarred against something from the inside. She couldn’t push hard enough or kick the door to get it open, so she squeezed through the tiny opening. Once she squeezed past the door, she was able to see an old chair was the culprit for the door jam. To her surprise, her family wasn’t there, and it looked like no one had even used the room for quite some time.
“Mom? Dad?” she said softly, but she knew they were not there, and things were not making sense. Everyone was just here, she thought to herself. Where did they go?
Charlie squeezed back through the door of the room dad had just purchased for the night not even an hour ago and started at one end of the motel, beginning at Room 1, banging on the door and checking inside each one for her family, or anyone really. She continued the same thing with each room until she made it to the last, Room 15. When there was no one to be found, she began to panic. The managers office was right beside Room 1, so she ran back down to the other end and saw the Closed sign. She peered into the office window and saw a newspaper that was dated for August 1985. That was three months after their family trip, a date that shouldn’t have happened yet. Charlie looked out to the old sign of the motel on the highway, the one that advertised the pool and air conditioning on their way in. The sign now read that it was closed and had no vacancy. From the corner of her eye, she noticed something else different than before, not far from the sign. The same place she had been picking those yellow flowers. The object was small and white, but Charlie was unable to see clearly what it was with the weeds blowing around it. She also thought it was odd that she did not see it before, where she had just woken up, but with the tall weeds surrounding it, it would be easy to miss.
Charlie walked slowly toward the white object, an eerie feeling growing inside of her again. The closer she got; she was able to make out that it was a small white, wooden cross. She knelt on one knee beside of it, pushing the weeds away to see it more clearly. The cross seemed to be placed there not long ago because the paint was fresh, and it wasn’t weathered. Charlie stood up and went to the other side. She could not believe her eyes.
Etched into the cross were the words, In Memory of Charlie. Charlie immediately knew she had died but would never know her reason for dying three months ago, was from anaphylaxis from the yellow flowers. No one could have known that she would have a reaction such as she did. She also did not know how or what she would do now and imagined herself roaming the hotel eternally, wishing that she had been more thankful for her family and even The Big Turd.