Long Hot Drive

Submitted into Contest #53 in response to: Write a story about another day in a heatwave. ... view prompt

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General

The car was roasting me like a turkey. Sweat basting every crease of my body. I had the window rolled down of my 82 black Pontiac Firebird but the air was scorching. It did nothing to cool down the inside of the car. I wish I had the air conditioning fixed before the summer but I never thought I would be trekking across Ontario. The urgency in my girl’s voice told me that I just needed to jump in my car. Giving me no time to remove the T-Top of the Bird. That is what a father does for their child. When they tell you to jump. You ask how high. Or in this instance how long of a drive. Earlier this morning I received a call from her. Her voice stuttered as she told me she was ok. I did not believe her; there was something wrong. This is the first time she has called me in over two years. Something was very wrong. Even though it would be a six-hour drive to Ottawa to make sure she was alright. I did not feel I had a choice. I needed to do it.  

“The time is now 10:15pm and welcome back to the third day of our record-breaking heatwave. We should be breaking 43 degrees today. Topping yesterday's high of 42. I hope you all are trying to keep cool. Now to kick off our commercial-free hour. Tragically Hip...Twist my heart on 91.7 Rock FM…”

It has been three years since I have seen her since my divorce. Two years since we talked. I continued to text her every day in the beginning. Sometimes I would get a text back, sometimes just a happy face emoji. A year passed and she was getting older. Her texts back became more infrequent. Likely a mixture of her mother telling her what a deadbeat Dad I was or just the fact she became a teen. She likely had better things to do. I continued texting her every day knowing that it would get a swift swipe to the right. I know our divorce had taken a toll on her mental health. It did not help that her mother made her involved in every aspect of our divorce. My kid became her mother’s lawyer, counsellor and financial advisor at only ten years old. Hardly fair to put a kid through a divorce than to put all the responsibilities of an adult on their shoulders. Although my ex was not exactly the picture of health herself. I had loved her but it was difficult living with someone who did not want to help themselves. So when I asked for a divorce she did not take it well. Vowing to take everything I ever loved. She almost did. She took the house, most of our savings and worse of all obtained full custody of our daughter. The only thing I was able to keep was my car. She tried, lord knows that she tried. It was protected as inheritance since it was left to me by my uncle.

Man, this car was getting hot. My bare legs were beginning to weld themselves to the leather seat. Every time I shifted it tore a layer of skin. Two hours in and I need to stop for some kind of drink or I was not going to make it. My tongue scratched the insides of my cheeks like sandpaper. Where was I? It seemed like everything was blurring together. The Maps app on my phone had been quiet for a while since I had not needed to make a turn. I flicked at the screen to bring it back to life. Only to find that the app had error notification, no signal available. Of course, this was not the first time that this had happened. Now, what was I going to do? It had been a while since I had even seen a town. The stones snapping and popping under my tires as I pulled to the side of the road and stopped. Looking at my phone a little closer I discovered I had absolutely no signal. Must have hit a dead spot. 

“Look at the time! It is now 11:18 and I am feeling the heat! Now before we continue on with our commercial-free radio. We do need to pay some bills. So a few words from our sponsor Jenna Spencer…”

“Daddy? Please where are you?”

Did I accidentally dial a number? I shook my phone as if that would produce the signal it needed. Must be my thirst and the heat. Starting to hear things. I reached up and out of the window. Just hoping for just one bar. Nothing. Might as well just head straight. There was no use going back to the last town that must have been at least an hour back. Will try travelling for a few kilometres before turning around. Got to hit something other than a random field soon. 

“...and now let's start off our next hour commercial-free listening with Show me the way…by Mr. Peter Frampton”

The smooth wheels spun a moment on the shoulder before then took off down the rough patched road. Was it insane that I just jumped on a hunch that my kid was in trouble? A kid that I was denied access to. God, I miss her. Every dimpled smile and butterfly giggle. She had definitely taken after her mother when it came to her looks. The only thing that she seemed to have inherited from me was her thick dark brown hair which gently contrasted with the grey eyes she had received from her mother. I wonder if I would even recognize her if I saw her again? Or if she would even recognize me? The last time I saw her face, I stood on the porch of what was once our home. My ex told me she was taking my daughter to Ottawa. She had a job offer she could not say no to. We argued on that porch, while my daughter peered out the window. Tears drained from her eyes. Any last ounce of strength I had depleted from me that day. I could no longer protect her. 

“She doesn’t even want to see you anymore.” those words scratched deep within my heart. Did not seem to matter what my daughter or myself really wanted. All that mattered to my ex was to break me. As I gazed upon my daughter. Studying every last freckle on her face. I knew that she did not want this. I mouthed the words I love you as she pressed her palm to the window before she turned away towards the yells of her mother. 

  The heat evaporated my tears as soon as they hit my cheeks. It was a good twenty minutes of driving before the landscape began to change around me. Farm fields disappeared and I found myself surrounded by the road etching itself in the surrounding golden rocks. Still, no stops in sight. The Highway mirage waving back and forth pulling me forward. I was torn about continuing on or taking a moment and seeing if I could get a signal. A dull repetitive throb had developed at the back of my eyes. I needed water. I was also getting low on gas. I knew I may have another 20 kilometres at most. So I resisted my urge to stop. 

“12:21 and we should be reaching our peak for this blistering hot day. 43 degrees and we are smoking. Now let's see if we can cool it down a little with the Byrds and Turn, Turn, Turn…”

“Daddy turn…”

Huh? What? I jolted back to awareness. Making my arm-twist causing the rear end of my bird into doing a complete doughnut before I slammed on the breaks. I am so hot I am starting to hear things. I blinked rapidly trying to readjust my eyes. The highway mirage continued to sweep across the road. I rubbed my eyes trying to shake the illusion of a child, a girl that rocked along with the flickering mirage. Where did she come from? She stood still with her arm raised pointing to the right. Inching the Bird forward with care towards the girl. The highway mirage pushed back further and further. The girl faded away as I inched closer. To the right, in the direction she pointed toward was a road. A road I would have missed in my dried mouth haze. 

Just a short way down the road I could see a building with what looked to be a gas station. I am saved! Turning the car towards the station I pulled through to the farthest pump and turned off the Bird. Grabbing my phone I stretched out of the car. Taking a moment to peel my damp clothes from my body. The station looked like it came straight from the 60s. The building housed what seemed like a small garage and a convenient store. I almost felt that at any minute men in white uniforms would come charging out to pump the gas. My mouth was hotter and drier than hell and I raced to the store to see what they had. At this point, any kind of liquid would be welcome. 

“How are you doing young man?” I was greeted by a peppered haired woman behind the counter. The smell of sweat invading my nose as the only fan in the store was angled towards her. She smiled like I was the only soul he had seen in weeks. Her white shirt had a name stitched on to it stating that her name was Glen. 

“I’m good. Hot. I have no air in my car so I am dying of thirst. Do you have anything cold?” glancing around the small area trying to figure out where they were hiding the cooler.  

“Just in the back corner you will find some bottled water and pop.” her friendly grin remained unadjusted as he spoke. 

“Thanks.” strolling to the back of the store I peered among the shelves. Nothing much of nutritious value but at this point, the grumblings in my stomach did not care. I grab a few chips and cupcakes in addition to the few glasses of water and pop from the cooler. Keeping her eyes on me the entire time. I suppose with my soaked bed ridden hair and second day worn clothing I kind of looked like someone who might give him trouble or maybe it was the smell I was now likely encased in. Stacking the goods on the counter I gave a nod to opening up one of the bottles. Drinking it down without stopping for a breath. 

“Could I also pay for $30 at the pump?” wiping the dribble from my lips. 

“Sure. No problem. So where are you headed?”

“Ottawa, going to see my daughter. Actually, do you have a map? Seems like my phone has not been all that reliable out here. I think I might have taken a wrong turn.”

“Those cellphones are useless out here.” she pulled out and dusted off a ragged map from a magazine rack beside her. Spreading it over top of my purchases. “You’re about here.”

Studying where she was pointing I soon realized how far north I had gone off course. It looked like I was at least an hour from where I needed to be. I cursed under my breath.

“Can I grab this too?” I raised the corner of the map.

“Absolutely, in a hurry to see her I see.”

“I don’t know. Kind of.”

“I had a son once. As a parent, you kind of have that innate feeling when there is a problem. That will be $45.32.”

“You had a son?”

“Ya, I haven’t seen him in a while. Must have been fourteen since I last saw time....he will be 43 next month. His father thought it was best I didn’t see him anymore. I miss him terribly,” she glanced down at the ground with a weak smile. 

“I’m so sorry to hear that,” the image of him alone forever waiting for that phone call, email or visit from your child. I didn’t know her full story but it really didn’t matter. Being torn away from a child you watched grow and blossom can be the most traumatic pain a parent can experience. When this is over. When I am assured that my kid is ok. I really need to call my Mom. 

“Have a good day.” 

“Thank you again,” Grabbing my bag and giving a quick wave as I headed out the door. 

“You know Jenna will be ok. Just need to hurry,” she seemed to mumble. How did she know my daughter's name? I do not remember saying it. I was not even entirely sure if she had actually said that since my back was to her. I heard the door bang behind me and I shook it off as a strange day of the hearing and seeing things because of the heat. I poured the remainder of the water over my head as I pumped the Bird with gas. 

All set and with a new sense of direction, I was confident that I could make it there in an hour if I really pushed it. Checking my phone one last time before I peeled it out of here. I still had no signal. I could feel the heat and tension rising from the back of my head as I threw the phone into the backseat. Worthless piece of junk. 

“Where has the time gone? It’s now 1:30 and the heat will just not die down. Now for a little Whitesnake and Here I go again…”

Following my new route. I was able to make it onto the main highway. This would cut my time in half. Cars swept past me and I received some friend honk for my Firebird. It was good to see some life again. At this point, I did not really know exactly where Jenna was. I reached back trying to feel around for the good for nothing phone. My fingers glided over the various textures of bumps and jagged rips of the leather until they found a sleek smooth surface. Almost have it. A vicious honk pierced my ears as I swerved. The phone slipped a little further down the seat. Inhaling I stretched my arm as far as it could go. Pinching the phone between two fingers and with care bringing it back to the front. I did not hesitate to find my girl’s name and dial. 

“Hello?” her voice was harsh.

“Jenna? Hey baby.” 

“May I ask who this is?” 

“Jenna. It’s Dad.”

“Mr. Spencer? This isn’t Jenna. I am one of the nurses at The Ottawa Hospital. Would you be able to come and meet? We have not been successful in contacting her Mom.”

“Absolutely, is she alright? I am about 20 minutes away.”

“I will have a doctor explain when you get here. You will find her in an emergency.”

I didn’t even thank her as I hung up. All I could do was focus on getting to where I needed to be. With my baby girl. I floored it! Hoping beyond hope that there was not a speed trap along this strip. 

“This heat is just not letting up. I hope you all have had the opportunity to stay cool. The clock is claiming it is 2:50 and my day is about done. It has been a pleasure but I will leave you with the End of the line…by the Travelling Wilburys”

I did not even allow my car to roll to a stop before putting it into the park. I bolted from the car. Bouncing as I waited for the slow-moving automatic doors not wanting to slow down for anything. The nurse behind the counter had a blank tired expression. She directed me to where I would be able to find Jenna. Not allowing her to completely finish her sentence.

“Jenna? Can you hear me? Jenna?” whispering so as not to disturb the other patients.

“Mr. Spencer? Hi, I believe we spoke on the phone," A nurse peeked from behind a curtain. “She is just over here. I will see if I can locate the doctor for you.”

She directed me over to her. There was Jenna in a comfortable sleep likely with the help of pain medication. Tiptoeing over to her; I scanned her face to see if there was any resemblance to the kid I once knew. Same thick brown hair but now she had a rebellious streak of purple in it. She still possessed all the freckles that I had memorized so long ago and some added new ones. A little more grown-up but she was my Jenna.

“Mr. Spencer? Hi, I’m Dr. Benton,” inhaling deeply he continued after I gave a nod of acknowledgement. “I have been overseeing Jenna here. I am afraid the police had found her at a local park. She had been badly beaten and stabbed. We have been able to control the bleeding and now just monitor her at the moment. From what we understand it looks like she was asked to leave her mother’s residence. She had been on the street for a few days now. She was robbed…

The words blended together as I gazed upon my lost child. No matter how long it takes I will set things right again. I squeezed her hand, never wanting to let go again. 

“Dad is that you?” Jenna’s eyes fluttered.

“Shhh...just rest. I’m here now.”


August 06, 2020 18:16

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4 comments

Lily Kingston
01:27 Aug 12, 2020

Nice story. I like how you created an almost physic connection between the dad and his daughter. Reminds me of the ‘sixth sense’ some parents seem to have! Keep up the good work and keep writing!

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Bookmark Here
01:53 Aug 12, 2020

Thank you. :)

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Heather Gardner
14:40 Aug 13, 2020

Good job with your setting descriptions, I really felt the heat of the drive as I was reading!

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Bookmark Here
18:55 Aug 13, 2020

Thank you!

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