Driving down a highway in the rain always reminded me of you. Not because of the yellow lights and silver tire tracks that stained the roads like burns but because of the uncertainty of it all. The rain would smudge the scene behind your windshield until it resembled a van Gogh painting. People would bark in foreign languages and hold up a finger when necessary. It was a chaotic life but it was ours.
Nowadays it only seems like yours. You’ve written in pen over the neon signs and convinced me to do stupid things that my relatives would never approve of. Don’t you remember when we showed them the photograph of us? The black and white one where we both smiled and touched hands and thought shallow thoughts? They said we’d be married in a month. It’s been a year since then.
Perhaps the reason behind that are your commands. Last night you woke me up. You’d started sleeping on the couch but you shattered my lamp with black monkeys and told me to rob a bank. I looked at you and wanted to cut a lock of your hair but agreed wordlessly.
That’s why I’m here. In front of the faint, gray outline of a bank, asking myself questions that don’t own answers. In my pocket there’s the too-green counterfeit bills. I know the rain is laughing at me with its rasping voice but I open the doors anyway.
Inside the bank it’s icy. There are pillars, elegant Latin sentences, and polished frames that circle the frowning faces of men. You’d frown along with them if you were here, muttering something about a matriarchy.
Do you know that feeling, of not belonging? I don’t think you do. It’s a twisting feeling that can only be done with furry socks and pilling sweaters that smell like your ex-boyfriend’s car. Too bad I put on a suit today. One to impress the stone people at the bank. One with a striped tie. I don’t have the materials for feeling ignored but I guess it’ll happen despite that.
There are two tellers. One is a woman. Just being in the same large, whitewashed room as her can tell me that if she took an online spirit animal quiz the results would be a mix between a fox and a tiger. Don’t ask me how I know that. You’ll ask. I’ll tell you you’re a snake. My stomach will squeeze.
The other one is a man. He is short and muscular and looks like he’d only fall in love overthinking it. It’s not a bad thing. I choose him instead of the fox-tiger woman.
The greetings are next. “Hello sir, how can I help you?” His voice is deep.
I wish you were here. “Hi. I have some smaller bills I’d like to trade in for larger ones. Worth in all about two hundred dollars?” There’s a question in my tone and I have no idea why. Derek, the man, purses his lips into a heart shape and snaps his fingers under the table. It seems like he doesn’t believe me so I blurt, “It’s for my kid. Got birthday money.”
Derek’s eyebrows raise and he nods like he’s got little rats at home too. He talks about how much money kids have these days. “What it is, is absurd.”
Our unprofessional small talk ends when I take out the money from my pocket. It’s wrinkled and papery under my touch. There are mostly five’s and one’s. Derek glances at them with tired eyes and shuffles them into a pile.
“Wait here,” he says.
I know what he’s thinking. I think of you, probably waiting outside in the car right now, catching raindrops on your fingertips and allowing them to tangle in your eyelashes. I can’t believe that worked. He barely even peeked at them.
Derek returns with four fifty dollar bills. They’re soft and crisp and when you hold them up to the light, there’ll be a watermark. There’s a dull look in his eye. “You never told me what you wanted so I just got fifty’s.”
“That’s fine.” The words leak from my mouth. Derek hands them to me in a small, white envelope. “Thank you.”
He shows off his dashing half-smile and turns his back to me. I wonder how a teller can be that ignorant but I don’t want to ask questions. You’re outside and I don’t think I can get out fast enough.
People’s eyes trail over me and create lines on my body. The rain will wash them off, I know, but there’s a hint of doubt when I feel the cold doorknob.
Outside, the rain comes in buckets and pastes my hair to my face. The bank lights are ghostly and glowing white behind me. There’s a red Ford Escort in front of me. The engine is on but I don’t think the person in the passenger seat cares about the environment.
I wave to you and you smile from the warm car. I prepare myself for the stinging rain but it still hurts. You laugh when I slide into the driver’s seat, handing me a tortilla chip.
“Eat,” you order, shoving one down your own throat.
There’s a whine from the background. I glanced over my shoulder, only to become face to face with your stray dog from the side of a highway. Its fur is knotted with blood and filth and clear drool is pooling on my cloth seat.
You should’ve laughed then. I love the sound of your laugh, tickling like water but forced like a cough. Cloth seats have stains from twenty years ago. Kind of like our relationship. All you need to do is sit on the seats to find out who’s kissed or eaten or sweat there.
“Start us up,” you say, clapping off the salt from your hands. “Let’s get this show on the road.”
“You brought Buddy?” I ask, focusing my gaze on the road, and clicking the keys into place.
You blink a few times and trace the water tracks on the window. They’re unpredictable and change directions every few seconds. “Did you get the money?” you counter. I nod once. The envelope is in my pocket. “Alright, then there’s no problem. Let’s go.”
I step on the gas.
The highway is near and we enter it. Red lights are reflected on the slick road and white lettering stands out from afar. I wonder absentmindedly if you’ve got a map with little sticker labels but immediately that thought is thrown away. We’re escaping to Kansas City, Missouri. It’s 525 miles and is going to take about eight hours.
I don’t think you know that. I think what you know is that you’ll fall asleep and wake up in Missouri. It seems real enough for paper maps and up-tight boyfriends.
You rustle the bag of chips and shove it back into the grocery bag. To replace it, you reveal a large container of Nutella.
Do I look at you weirdly? I was just wondering if I’d ever thought about being in this situation. Us, driving to Missouri, after having robbed a bank, and eating Nutella from our fingers. We’re crazy and always will be. People honk their horn and you stain your tongue a sweet brown.
“I still can’t believe our plan worked. Do you think we’ll get caught?” I asked, gripping the steering wheel.
“My plan was foolproof. Probably, they’ll find out. At least eventually.” You stick your fingers into the jar again without looking up. “But we’ll be long gone by then.” There’s a moment of silence before you shift your feet. “Remember when we slept on the beach that night, the day before your father was going to be married to his third wife?” you inquire, eyelids slowly lowering.
“Yeah,” I recount. “It was beautiful.”
“It was,” you agree.
The sun had already set. The only bits of light come from the streetlights with their circular glow and the car lights that always remind me of blinking eyes.
You turn the knob for the radio and roll down your window, letting rain grab playfully at your nose. It’s the middle of December and freezing but we do it. We roll all the windows down, letting the winds tug at our hair, chanting to a song, laughing one last time. Buddy barks along with us.
“Good things fall apart,” you sing, your voice barely making it past the last word.
“Good night, my highway girl,” I whisper, leaning over to kiss you on the cheek.
You don’t say anything back.