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American Drama Fiction

Reaching the interchange on the interstate, she pulled off at the exit then loosely held the steering wheel as the car rolled into a filling station at the end of the ramp. She didn’t pull into the pumps, but instead pulled along the curb behind the station by the trash dumpsters. She silently sat there in the car, the engine running smoothly patiently waiting for instructions on what to do next.

         She reached into her purse which had been thrown haphazardly at the foot of the passenger seat. She had grabbed it by its resting spot by the door, having always kept it there in preparation for a hasty escape. Hopefully, she had remembered to stock a few extra cigarette packs, and sighed with relief as her fingers touched the hard plastic of a new carton.

         Pulling it out, she shakily unwound the thin plastic, tapped the carton down to pack the cigarettes and popped the top to reach the first one. As she lit the end, she inhaled deeply and closed her eyes to let the nicotine calm her need and lower her stress level. After a few puffs, she lowered the driver’s side window and leaned her arm out, with the cigarette between her fingers to let the summer wind blow the ash away.

         The August humidity quickly filled the car, but she didn’t mind. In fact, she felt safer, as if a warm hand was holding her. Sensing the heat, the air conditioning kicked up higher, but she reached over to the unit and shut it off letting the open windows fill the cab with the intensity of the summer.

         She always parked here whenever she needed to get away. She felt hidden away as there was the passing indifference from travelers that just wanted to get what they wanted and leave, which was a shield in itself. But what she wanted was the view from this vantage point. As she inhaled, she could see the large green interstate sign in the distance that said; OHIO, 1 MILE AHEAD.

         That was always the door. In her mind to go through it was to never go back and although it was just a directional sign, she looked at it being an invitation that was always open. She inhaled again, then chuckled at her clothes. In her hurry to get away, she was wearing only her pajama bottoms, and one of his concert t-shirts as a top. It was huge on her, covering her more like a furniture blanket than as a shirt, but it was his favorite and she smiled slightly now that she had at least one possession he would want back. During his rages he had little use for her, but the shirt from a band that had disbanded decades ago was something important. Something he would definitely want back.

         She winced a little as she returned her purse to the floor of the car. Her wrist was sore from where he had grabbed it, but it was only red, not bruised, at least not yet. His volatility was par for the course and she was used to it. It was the ‘type’ in her family. Good days were great, bad days were endless. She remembered her father and her older brother being this way. Both were the reasons she left home. Her mother was defeated and could only nod and cry. She thought there was honesty there as her mother used to say “It’s all fun and games…” yet never finished the sentence. It was the title of a history book, yet it seemed like her mother never wanted to turn the pages. As if her mother didn’t want to know how this was going to end.

         But this was her boyfriend and with no kids, there was no attachment. The highs were addicting, it was lows there were getting unmanageable and unlike the predecessors in her family who had no resolve in dealing with them, she felt hers growing. Glancing back at the rear seat, she could see the small duffel bag she had begun to assemble. It was open and she could see the clothes she needed folded up along with the shoes she would change into. A burner phone was on top with an additional card for more minutes and in an interior pocket she had saved two hundred dollars and slipped the bills into a white envelope.

         In the past every time she left, she added something else, saying ‘this time’ and ‘now’, but as she would sit here in her car smoking, she would remember something else she would need and it would give her the reason to go back. She would then return, hoping that something would change with him and it would get better. There would be no need to leave and the ‘highs’ they would have would begin with him apologizing and she accepting and the party would just roll on until once again he would fall into a rage and push her away with the yelling and the throwing and the stomping and the threatening. And she would leave again and, in her mind, add another item to her list.

         She jumped a little, as a back door to the gas station opened abruptly. A skinny kid with a rough, shadowy beard, looking to be about eighteen, exited the building carrying a garbage bag. He walked dumbly towards a dumpster just a few yards away. He didn’t seem to notice her at first, but when he tossed the bag into the dumpster, he looked over to where she was parked and he hesitated for a moment. He gave her a thumbs up, then took a step forward like he wanted to approach. She flipped him the middle finger and, getting the hint, he then turned and walked back into the building, the steel door slamming roughly behind him.

         After a few moments, her phone which was on the seat next to here, began to buzz. She glanced at the screen and noticed it was from him. “Where are you?’ it employed. It was the first request. There would be two more and she decided to wait until those arrived. Years before, when this started happening and she would escape, she would jump at the first text hoping it was the end. He would be back to where he was with the joy and love and the intensity. But as the years passed, and this continued, she learned to wait.

         The second text came quickly, quicker than before. “Please come home. I’m not mad anymore.”

         She left the phone on the seat, then looked up at the interstate sign. “He must have realized I got his shirt.” She said aloud, then chuckled, staring at the green sign ahead.

It was neither welcoming or jubilant. Just stating the fact that Ohio was just up ahead. She inhaled once more on the cigarette, flipped the butt out of her fingers, then started another. She turned off the car as she was tired of hearing it. Leaning her head towards the window, she closed her eyes and listened to the sounds of the cars on the interstate rushing past.  

Each time she ran away, she looked to the past to resolve what was happening today. This time however, she began to realize the past lies to you. It only reflects what someone wants it to be. If you look hard enough, really hard, you can see the truth lying beneath it all. She wondered if her mother ever saw the truth in the world around her. Perhaps she had been beaten down too far, her spirit crushed. Her mother’s only resolve being that one day she would out live her husband, although by that time her life was basically over. Perhaps it was the satisfaction of knowing he was gone and she was still here. For her that may be enough, even if it was only just breathing.

She heard the buzz of the third text come in about ten minutes after the last one. Opening her eyes, she scanned it. “I miss you.” It said. ‘You always do’ she said to herself. There it was, the third one. Before, she viewed this a request for her to go home. Now, she saw it as an option. The option to keep repeating this never-ending cycle of love, then abuse, or to figure out something different. Hence, the plan that she had been developing. Talking to him was not one of the options of this plan. She already tried and that’s why she is here now with a slightly swollen wrist and a pack of cigarettes. It was why she was looking at a green sign with white lettering which was leading her away.

When the cigarette was half burned, she flicked it away. The wind picked it up easily and carried it a few feet where it struck the ground and rolled away towards the curb, the smoke trailing away like the contrail of an airplane going somewhere, anywhere. It tumbled towards the gutter, where it rested still smoking, unfinished. She closed her window and turned around to look once more at the packed duffel on the back seat. This time there was no more items to add to her list. Her mind was clear. Everything was ready and she felt complacent. She turned the car back on, hesitating.

“It’s all fun and games ….. until it hurts too much.” She said aloud, finishing her mother’s statement. Saying the truth her mother couldn’t say.

She shifted the engine into gear, then slowly eased out from the behind the filling station and headed out onto the road.  

April 18, 2024 17:26

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