Where am I? Really. Somewhere in the country/wilderness, definitely not the city. Too many trees. I check my map. Wait. Why do I have a paper map? I vaguely recall someone telling me there’s a map on my phone and all I need to do is tell it my destination. Who was that again? I pick up the phone to check if there is a map in it.
“Go home.” I command.
“Out of service area.” The phone responds. I toss the phone on the seat beside me and study the paper map again. That must be why I got it, but why can’t I remember? The road stretches in either direction. There are no signs and nothing on the map reminds me why I’m here. A cloud forms on the horizon behind me. Better keep going in the direction I was going and hope to see some kind of a road sign.
I keep my eyes peeled for road signs identifying the road or anything that might indicate my location, but I find nothing. Slowly the darkened sky catches up with me and large drops begin to fall. Before I can register that it has even started raining the downpour has cut my vision down to a few feet ahead of my car.
I cannot continue down the road like this, but with no shoulder to speak of, pulling off the road and waiting it out is too risky. I slow my pace to avoid hydroplaning and to make it easier to stop if something unexpected falls into my path.
Time passes but I have no idea how far I’ve gotten when the outline of a building shows up on my right. I pull in. My phone still isn’t working for calls, but I decide to bring it anyway, for light. I tuck it in the pocket of my leather jacket. Damn. I really shouldn’t let this thing get wet. I don’t even know what this building is, just that it’s here, and it might be a good place to take shelter from the storm. Maybe they even have a phone, since mine seems to be useless at the moment.
The wind whips the door open and yanks so hard on my arm it seems like it might be trying to rip it off. I step out into the storm to be pelted immediately with hundreds of large raindrops that feel like taking a cold shower under a showerhead that has been adjusted to the highest pressure setting. I fight the wind to shut the door and again to make my way towards the building, the door of which is, thankfully, unlocked.
I make my way inside what appears to be a convenience store. The lights are out. Someone is here. “Nasty outside.” A voice pierces the darkness. My eyes have not adjusted to the dim store interior, so I pull out my phone to use as a light. That is when I realize the battery is at five percent. The light lasts a few seconds before the phone shuts itself off and I’m plunged into darkness once more.
“I need a phone. Have you got one?”
“Mine’s in the car. Not allowed to bring it in. Reception’s spotty out here anyway.”
“Where am I?”
“Oh, where are my manners? Welcome to J-stop, the convenience store to meet all your roadside needs.”
“No. Where as in what state am I in?”
“Virginia. How do you get into a state and not know what state you’re in? There are signs you know.”
“I can’t… something happened. I can’t remember. So no phone?”
“We have a landline. But the power’s out so…”
“A landline will work with no power as long as it’s not cordless.”
“Really. Where is it?”
“Back room. Wait there. I’ll get a flashlight.”
I sink back against the door and wait for the familiar glow of a flashlight to illuminate my situation. I can’t see the flashlight’s holder, but he guides me to a back room with the light. I pick up the phone and dial the only number I remember by heart. Lily’s number.
The phone picks up, but it is an unfamiliar voice. “Lily? I need to talk to Lily.”
“Is this a joke?”
“I need to talk to Lily. Please. I’m lost and I… I can’t remember.”
“Lily isn’t here. You don’t call this number ever again, do you understand?”
Not there, didn’t I just talk to her at this number? What was it, a few days ago at most. Why is everything so muddled? The phone starts to make that complaining noise that’s halfway between a beep and a buzz that means you’ve left it off the hook for too long. I set it back down into its cradle and break down in tears. Nothing makes sense, and now, the person who’s always helped me make sense of things isn’t there.
I feel a hand on my shoulder and, instinctively, I shrink from it.
"Sorry dude." The young man who owns the hand and the voice pulls his hand back into the darkness. "You just looked really upset. I shouldn't have touched you. Sorry."
"I'll wait out the storm here. What's the closest city?"
"Charlottesville. Bout 20 miles that way. Sorry, I mean northeast. I'll point it out when we can see again."
"I don't know how I got here." I confess. "I need to get home. David must be worried sick. I hope he's okay."
"And David is…?"
"My son. He's only ten. I left to go to the grocery store I think. It's so muddled. I need to get home."
"Redwood City. It's in California."
The young man whistles, long and slow. "Long way to go for groceries."
"I'm not a bad mom. I swear. I've never done this before. I just wish I could remember."
The rest of the storm passes in relative silence as I fret inwardly about David and the young man contemplates whatever it is young men consider these days. When the rain lets up, I decide to leave despite the lights still being off. The young man stands in the glow of my headlights to point out the direction I should go and, for the first time, I see the companion I've ridden out the storm with. Dark skin, hair in dreads, about sixteen or seventeen with a medium build. My first thought is that this boy is mature for his age. Just like my David.
I plug my phone into the charger when I get into the car and head for the city. By the time I've arrived, my eyes are starting to droop and I worry I will not be able to continue. I hope you're safe David. I pull into a parking lot and look at my phone contacts. There is not one for Lily. That makes no sense. But there is one for a David. I know David doesn't have a phone. Maybe its home? I try calling it but a man's voice is on the other end…
"Mom?" He says in a voice radiating with concern.
"No. My son is only ten."
"Stay where you are. I am on my way."
The phone goes dead. I consider calling someone else, but I'm so tired. I drop it on the bed of the hotel room I've secured for the night. Why isn't Lily's number in my phone? I let exhaustion overtake me and drop into a fit of restless slumber.
I am awakened by an insistent knock on my door. When I open it… "James?" This makes no sense. James is dead. Gone for almost a year. But this man…
"Mom," he cries, pulling me into an embrace. "It's me, David. Don't you remember?" I push the James-look-a-like back. "My son David is only ten. I have to get home to him. I can't contact Lily, I can't remember how I got here."
The James-look-a-like groans and sits on the bed. He puts his face into his hands. "It's not fair." He says "after Dad died, it's always been you, me and Lily, but now Aunt Lily's gone and you… I'm all alone." He begins to cry. "I just want my mom back."
I begin to see the moment David found out about James. "It's not fair." That's what he said back then. Back then? But it's been less than a year. I run to the mirror and that's when I notice. I'm older. Much older.
I confront the man on the bed. "What did you mean when you said 'Lily's gone'?"
"She lost her battle with cancer. We buried her last week. Don't you remember?"