When she opens my eyes, the wind gives shape to golden waves endlessly lapping grey asphalt that separates fields of bearded barley from canola. Divides golden wheat from stubble field from pastures peppered with sage. A gentle roll, occasional tree. A subtle change of hue in the sky that stretches in every direction, the whistle of wind rushing past.
There is too much space, too much horizon to pin us down.
We—she and I and perhaps John—have time for second thoughts. Perhaps my body has numbed from the rumble traveling up from my soles. She glances at her phone. My case is sparkly blue and newly cracked. Hers is the yellow of canola fields.
I dreamed of John before we met. Dreamed of open prairie, the crunch of grasshoppers splatting against the windshield. Once, on the Metro, yellow blurred in my peripheral. But, even in my sleep, I’ve never sailed toward the horizon in a blue Honda. This is how I know I’ve woken in another woman’s dream.
John glances toward us. We catch the twitch in his right eyelid. Wonder if he too questions his resolve. Whether he senses that the woman next to him—I/she—is a fraud. That, before I went to sleep, I lied about my excitement. My commitment to finding his daughter. He must sense the disconnect between the body sitting in my spot and my soul hovering in the background.
John rubs the back of his right hand raw. If I could, I’d reach out and lace my fingers through his. She settles back against the seat, closes her eyes.
In Winnipeg at the adjacent booth in a truck stop diner, a woman sits across from a hooded girl and says, “At least take out your earphones, so we can have a conversation.”
The girl glares. Responds, “You’re not my fucking mother. Don’t tell me what the fuck to do. You’re nothing but the cunt my father fucks.” The man blends into the vinyl bench. Saws at his steak. Says nothing.
The woman excuses herself. Rises. Heads towards the washroom.
John and the father, mirror images, take a swig, their coffee cups clinking against the table in unison. My stomach heaves. They have similar posture, expressionless faces, lightly stubbled doughy faces and sports jackets.
Too-sweet maple syrup and salty breakfast sausages churn in my stomach. When I excuse myself, John nods his head but doesn’t look up from the steak he’s cutting.
Again, we light up the phone, notice the battery is at 31%, plug it into the charger.
She—perhaps both of us—asks, “How far to the next town?” Sense the vibration in my nose. A tender pressure in her bladder.
John shrugs. “Not sure, but we’re almost empty.” He sprays washer fluid, tries to coax a decapitated grasshopper from the wiper blade.
Déjà vu. She must be me.
There’s no denying these hands—puffy from salty snacks, fast food—are mine. The lack of fluids I’ve consumed so I won’t have to pee in the ditch. I clench and unclench my hands. Try to force them into fists. Note the irritation of the skin around my wedding band. I tug at the ring I committed to wearing months ago, but it hardly budges. Despite the air conditioning blasting through the vents, beads of sweat break across my nose and brow.
I close my eyes and drift away from the sensation of blood pounding against the ring. Drift away from the tight cage of the blue Honda Civic. We took the Metro to the dealership. John talked about driving west as he held my hand. My false smile convinced him I was on-board.
In the dingy truck stop washroom, I gargled mouthwash as the woman leaned against the counter, reapplying her mascara. Our eyes caught in the mirror.
I asked what the kerfuffle had really been about. She must have sensed the urgency in my voice.
“At first, we tried,” she confided, “but Cassie doesn’t want my input, and I deserve respect. Bob just says, ‘Cassie’s like her mother, and there’s nothing we can do about it.’ It wasn’t so bad at first, just every other weekend. The in-betweens reminded me why we’d married. Now that Cassie’s mother’s gone off to God-Knows-Where, I’m stuck in this nightmare. I’m starting to line up my ducks, you know. They’re getting restless…”
The hood, the hatred—a snapshot of my teens. I hated my stepmother. Like Cassie, I froze my stepmother out. Forced her to leave because I wanted my mom to come home. I’m still waiting.
I’ve never wanted children. What if I decide to leave someday?
In the gap between asleep and awake, sunlight streams through a bedroom window, but my eyes open to endless sky. Trapped in this small blue car, hurtling toward the unknown—toward the teenaged daughter John’s never met.
He kneads his hand. A hand to unplug my fully charged phone in the yellow case. I’m relieved to remember it’s mine. That, when I’d returned from the washroom, John had paid the check and surprised me with the new case because he’d noticed mine was cracked.
I take John’s hand in mine, kiss the reddened spot, and the blue space between us shrinks.
Rachel Laverdiere writes, pots and teaches in her little house on the Canadian prairies. She is CNF editor at Barren Magazine and the creator of Hone & Polish Your Writing. Find Rachel’s words in journals such as Atlas and Alice, Lunch Ticket, Anti-Heroin Chic and Pithead Chapel. In 2020, her CNF made The Wigleaf Top 50 and was nominated for Best of the Net. For more, visit www.rachellaverdiere.com.