Break down on the I-10

Submitted into Contest #110 in response to: Write about a couple who fall out on the road.... view prompt

1 comment

American Fiction Contemporary

Ed had to take a leak so he stuck his arm out the window to try to wave to cars behind him that he needed to pass. His blinker was busted and he was hoping to get it fixed once he and Sherri made it to California.

“Can you help me?” he asked Sherri who was flipping through a magazine. 


“I need you to wave the cars in the right lane so I can move over.” Sherri sighed and cranked her window down. 

Ed waved his arm like he was swirling a t-shirt above his head, while Sherri’s gesture resembled more like a composer encouraging her orchestra to pick up the pace to get to the crescendo. 

Slowly, Ed edged the quaint Nissan into the right lane, then into the shoulder where he parked. 

“What are you doing?”

“Gotta pee.” Sherri sighed again and threw her magazine on to the dash. She flipped down the visor to check out her makeup. Her mascara was bunching in the inner corner of her eye again. She used a long acrylic pinky nail slick with fresh red lacquer to collect the residue and flicked it through the window. 

“I wish we had a nicer car. We deserve a nicer car,” Sherri called out to Ed who was doing a poor job of concealing his business behind a dry, spiky tree somewhere in the middle of the Arizona desert. 

“You’re right, baby,” Ed called out. He shook a bit, zipped up and stretched his arms above his head. He walked up to Sherri’s window and stuck his head in to give her a kiss on her cheek. 

“Don promises that my first job out in Sacramento is going to be a big pay day,” Ed shouted as he walked around the car to get back in. 

“Well I hope he’s right because we are uprooting our life to go out there.” Ed looked at her before turning the car back on.

“What?” Sherri asked.

“Oh, nothing. It’s just that you have probably said that same thing about half a dozen times since we left Phoenix.” The car roared to life and Ed started looking to see when it was safe to start back on to the I-10. 

“Oh, I’m sorry. But it’s true and you kind of made the decision without asking me first, so I feel entitled -“

“Oh, you feel entitled? There’s a first!” Ed said and slammed his foot on the peddle. 

Sherri gave him a look to his side profile, knowing he could feel her glares in the side of his eye. 

They were quiet for about twenty minutes. The wind streaking in through the cracked window sounded like a tea kettle. Sherri was reading the same paragraph in her magazine for the third time because the words haven’t stuck. Every time she starts a sentence, her mind wanders around like a lost kid in the mall. 

Ed was whistling a folk song he just heard a few days ago, but only knew the chorus. He reached for her hand and started stroking her calloused hands. She quit gymnastics decades ago but her hands never fully recovered. Chalk can do some serious damage. 

He was circling a raised part of the inside of her hand and was brought back to a similar time in his car, an old Camaro his dad gave to him after he turned 16. 

“Doesn’t it hurt, spinning around on those bars,” Ed asked a 15-year-old Sherri from the backseat. She smelled like the strong perfume she stole from her mom. The smell choked Ed when he hugged her at the beginning of the night. 

“No, not when you do it enough and your hands get all calloused. My hands are so gross,” Sherri pulled her hands back into her lap. “All the other girls have such pretty hands but mine look like they belong to a lumberjack.”

“No they don’t, you freak! They are a gymnast’s hands. That’s super cool. You’re like, on the way to the Olympics practically,” Ed laughed and took her hand and put it to his lips. Sherri flashed a large smile, showing braces as large as train tracks. He leaned in and kissed her. 

Even now, at 38, Ed can’t believe that night was the first glimpse into what the rest of his life would be like. 

“What’s that face you’re pulling?” Sherri asked, putting her magazine back on the dash. Ed blinked and looked at her. 

“I was just randomly thinking about the first night we did it,” Ed said, plainly. Sherri sighed and pulled her legs into her chest. 

“What made you think of that?” 

“I don’t even know.” 

Sherri found herself get pulled into the exact same memory.

“Do you have a condom?” Sherri asked pulling away from Ed’s eager teenage hands. Their shirts were already off and he was about to take off his pants. 

“Uh, yeah I think I do in my pocket.” 

“Can you get it?” Ed nodded and they went back to kissing. He was fumbling with the condom his older sister threw on his dresser before he left to pick up Sherri. 

“Babes are cool, babies are not. Be smart, Ed,” his sister had said and saluted him. 

While kissing Sherri’s neck, dodging frizzy blonde hair held in place by hairspray like cement, Ed attempted to put the condom on. Then the two teenagers, drunk on youth and hormones, made love in the back of Ed’s Camaro. It wasn’t either of their first times, but they were still knew to the idea. So they didn’t think much to the slight popping feeling that came halfway through. 

This is the part that Sherri hated to think about. 

The vomiting was violent and it took her to her knees. Her entire body shook as all of dinner and breakfast left her body with a forceful heave. 

“Sherri?” her mom’s concerned call came through the bathroom door. Sherri was lying with her face on the floor, letting the tile cool her cheek. 

“Mom, I feel like crap,” Sherri said back. Her mom opened the door and sat putting her daughter’s head in her lap. She felt her forehead. 

“I don’t think you have a fever. This is the second day of this vomiting in the morning before school.” She paused. 

“Sherri, when was the last time you had your period?” Sherri sat up.

“I never get it. No gymnasts do, Mom.” 

“Put some clothes on, you’re not going to school today,” her mom responded, jumping up to get her car keys. 

“Where are we going?”

Ed slammed on his brakes, inches away from the car ahead of them. 

“Whoa!” Ed said, sticking his arm out to brace Sherri. 

“What are you doing?”

“This asshole is just stopped in the middle of the damn lane!” Ed craned his head out the window. 

“Oh man, it’s all backed up ahead of us. Looks like a bad crash.” Sherri sighed and sunk into her seat. It was just past 6 and the sun was sinking behind the mountains. The sky looked like cotton candy. Sherri turned up the radio. A pop song she liked was just getting started. 

“Oh turn that crap off,” Ed said, turned the dial down. 

“What? I like it,” Sherri said, swiping at his hand.

“It’s going to melt your brain.”

“It’s already melted, just give me this.” Ed succumbed and leaned back looking out the window. A kid in the car next to them was squishing his nose against the window. Ed chuckled as he watched. 

“Again, it’s positive, Mrs. Wallace,” the nurse said. Sherri’s mom closed her eyes. 

“You’re absolutely sure?”

“That’s four tests done. All of them positive. If I had to guess, she is about 14 weeks.” The nurse cleaned up and left Sherri alone with her mom. She sat in the corner and put her head in her hands. About 5 minutes went by without a word from either of them. Sherri shook with fear. 

“Mom? Are you mad at me?” Her mom looked up at her. 

“How could you do this?” she answered. Her face was pale and she had white spit in the corners of her mouth. 

“I didn’t do this on purpose! I didn’t even know.”

“I don’t understand how you didn’t know. Who did this to you?”

“No one ‘did this to me’ Mom.”

“Tell me.”

“Ed Hampton.”

“How long have you been fucking him?” Sherri was taken aback by the strong language. Her mother, a church going woman, never used words like fuck. 

“Well he is my boyfriend so we have been together for two months.” Sherri’s mother stood up. 

“Let’s go.” 

“Should we play a game while we wait,” Ed asked, his feet up on the steering wheel. Traffic has only moved an inch in the last fifteen minutes.  

“Sure, what should we play?”

“Twenty questions?”

“That sounds like a can of worms asking to be opened,” Sherri laughed. 

“Why? If anything, it should be hard because I know everything about you, right?” Ed said. 

“Why don’t you go first.”

“Ok,” Ed said, straightening up. “What’s your dirtiest fantasy?”

“Oh no, we’re not going to play it like that.”

“Why not? It’s only fun when it’s sexy!”

“Ask me a real question,” Sherri demanded. Ed pushed his greasy, unwashed hair behind his ears and looked up to think. 

“What do you want to be when you grow up?”

“Baby, we’re grown.”

“Ok well what did you want to be?”

“You’re a fucking idiot.”


“You’re asking me what I wanted to be when I grew up. How do you not know that?”

“Oh, a gymnast?”

“Yes a fucking gymnast. What is wrong with you?”

“Geez, sorry. I didn’t know it was such a touchy subject.” The car ahead of them inched forward and Ed put his foot lightly on the gas to move them up, then parked them again. 

“I can’t believe you asked me that.”

“That was a long time ago, Sher. I didn’t know if you had any other dreams when you decided to stop gymnastics.”

“Excuse me, I did not decide to stop. It was decided for me when I carried your baby into this world!” Sherri was as red as the polish on her nails. Ed put his hands up.

“My baby? I told you I thought we should have gotten rid of it!”

“‘It!’ Listen to you. As if we didn’t have a baby boy together for 13 years.” Sherri turned to look out the window. The sky was the color of an eggplant. 

“That is not something I forgot, Sherri. It was just a different circumstance when you talk about when you got pregnant in the first place.”

“The way you say that makes it sound like it was my fault.”

“It was both of our fault.”

“Well I don’t even look at it that way. We had Paul for 13 beautiful years. We are incredibly lucky to have had those years.”

“Lucky? What part of our lives is lucky, exactly? What part of this shit has been ‘lucky?’”

“We were lucky when Paul was born. Before he died.” The tension in the car felt flammable. They went back to being quiet. Ed rested his head on the back of the seat and reminisced. 

“Whoa, really?”

“Yeah, is that ok?”

“Well, that’s not really something I can answer. It’s not ok but also, it has to be.” Sherri was surprised by Ed’s mature answer to her telling him she was pregnant with his baby. She asked him to meet her at the football game and they found a quiet part of the bleachers on the visiting team’s side. 

“So, you’re fine with this whole thing.”

“Well, yeah. I mean, I can go with you to the doctor’s appointment.”

“Well there will be several,” Sherri laughed.

“Shouldn’t it just be the one? To take care of it? Or do you have a check up afterwards and stuff?” Sherri blinked at him. 

“Are you implying I’m getting an abortion?”

“Well, yeah.” Sherri sat up. 

“I’m not doing that.”

“What? Why not?”

“My mom won’t let me. And I don’t know if I want to.”

“Why wouldn’t you want to? This is a baby we’re talking about.”

“I know and I decided I want to keep him.” Ed looked at her. 

“You already know it’s a boy?”

“Yeah.” She sat back down and watched as their high school secured the team’s victory against the best team in their division. Cheerleaders flipped skinny girls through the air and the mascot, Jane the Jaguar, gave out high fives. 

“Are you going to break up with me?” Sherri asked, sitting on her hands. Ed got closer to her and pulled her head on to his shoulder.

“No, I think we should do this.” She looked at him. 

“You think we can do this?” Ed smiled and pulled her into a hug. 

“I got you, you got me, we got this,” Ed said. 

Sherri sighed out and cracked open a lukewarm Coke. The ice in their cooler melted once they got through Palm Springs. 

“Wow, would you look at that?” Ed said, looking up at the sky. Traffic picked back up and the road was dark and open. Sherri looked up and saw a dusting of stars poking out from the indigo sky. 

“It’s like freckles,” Sherri said, sipping her Coke. Ed chuckled.

“Like Paul. He had so many freckles.”

“Yeah. He did.”

They were silent as they made it through San Bernardino into Los Angeles overnight. Sherri took over driving and Ed slept. Sherri liked to drive. She didn’t do it much. Ed always dropped her off at the cafe and picked her back up after her shift. She felt free gliding along the highway, reading billboards. 

“Jesus Saves!” read one. She thought of her mom. 

“Best Bette Midler impersonation at the casino in the valley!” read another with a toothy Bette lookalike smiling out at the passing traffic. Sherri laughed. 

Then there was the one for UCLA. 

“UCLA is calling all gymnasts to join the best team in the country.” Four girls were mid-way through a front aerial flip wearing their signature light blue and yellow leotards. The school’s mascot cheering next to them. Sherri gripped the wheel and her knuckles turned white.

When Ed woke up, he realized they weren’t moving. The car was parked in a lot and Sherri wasn’t in the driver’s seat. He sat up and looked out to a long stretch of sand. They were at the beach. He jumped out of the car and ran up to the sand. 

There was Sherri, shoes next to her, sitting in the sand looking at the crashing waves. The sun was coming up and the sky was a rich turquoise. 

“What are you doing? We planned to go past the beach. Are you fucking crazy?” Ed blocked her view of the water and she looked up at him through mascara-streaked eyes. 

“I wanted to see the water.”

“We agreed to go past the beach. This is going to add so many time, I’m probably going to miss my first job! What were you thinking?”

“I wasn’t.”


“No, Ed. You don’t get it. For the first time, I wasn’t thinking because I didn’t have to. I just went. I just let my instincts take me. For the first time I didn’t have a mother or a husband or a boss or a coach screaming at me, telling me what to do. I just let go and did what felt right.” Ed sat down next to her. 

“What are you saying?”

“I’m saying what I think I’ve wanted to say for a long time. So much has been taken from me. I’m ready to be my own person.” She was smiling through such a devastating confession. 

“Your own person.” She nodded. 

“When Paul left us. When Paul decided, at such a depressingly young age, that he didn’t want to be here, I think a part of me left with him.” Tears were leaking out of Ed’s eyes like a busted faucet. 

“And you know, you and I have never been the same since he left,” she said, wiping tears off his cheek. 

“I know,” he admitted. 

“I gave Beth a call.” 

“My sister?” 

“Yeah, she lives not far from here. Next town over I think.”

“What do you want to do at Beth’s?”

“I gave her a call before we left. She said if I needed anything, I could stop by.”

“Stop by. But it sounds to me like you’re trying to stay with her.”

“Maybe I am. I will work it out.” 

Sherri stuck her hand out the window and waved to cars behind them that they wanted to merge. Ed turned and pulled into Karen’s driveway in Laguna Beach. Sherri started to collect her trash from the front seat when Ed grabbed her hand. 

“Is this really happening?” he asked. The tears welling up in his eyes felt like lemon juice. 

“Yeah, it is,” Sherri said through a defeated sigh. They stared at each other.

“I’ll give you a call when I figure out what’s next. Just to keep you updated.” 

“I love you, Sherri.” Sherri kissed her husband for the last time then put her forehead on his. 

“I got you, you got me, we got this,” she said, then walked out. 

September 08, 2021 04:53

You must sign up or log in to submit a comment.

1 comment

Boutat Driss
10:27 Oct 18, 2021

well done!


Show 0 replies

Bring your short stories to life

Fuse character, story, and conflict with tools in the Reedsy Book Editor. 100% free.