A situation like this, a loss like this, would be hard on anybody. She finishes her burrito and throws two quarters and a nickel at the toll basket. Anyone would be a mess.
“Sorry!” she calls back to the honking van behind her. She waves awkwardly, smiles, realizes the driver can’t see her. What is she doing? Exhale. She licks the sauce off her thumb. Fishes out another nickel from the cup holder. Balances the small Dr Pepper, just ice now, in the crook of her arm. A sticky dime, two more nickels, seventy-five, eighty. Jesus, not even close.
She hits the gas, ignores the whooping siren and the even angrier honking of the van. She crumples up the wrapper and throws it in the passenger’s seat. Great, now she’s on camera, and the tank is almost empty and she can’t use their ATM card if she wants to stay off the grid. Well, the post-toll grid. Jesus.
She’ll pull over. Truly, it’s ridiculous how poorly everything is going, but Jeremiah himself would shake his head at her hesitation. Work it out, he’d say.
“Pivot, my dear,” as her AP English teacher once said. That poem she wrote for the senior poetry contest, the one about Susannah, from camp, and the car accident. Oh, how I wished for your eyes and mouth. She couldn’t figure out the middle part at first, couldn’t find her way to the ending. “This is your volta,” Mrs. Rogers said.
“This is my volta,” she says out loud now. The middle part she can’t figure out that takes her to the end. She can’t remember what a volta even is exactly, but it’s something about turning. Working it out. She has no idea if that’s right but she’s going to volta the hell out of this mess and it’ll all be okay. Better than okay. She’ll pull over real quick. Jeremiah always filled the car up for her, whenever it went below half a tank. He’d want her to have a full tank of gas. The flashing light on empty like this would make him lose his shit.
“You never know when disaster will strike,” he’d say, a prepper ‘til the end. The thought makes her smile.
She takes a right onto a bumpy gravel road she’s never heard of. Harmony Lane, the sign says. It’s been months since someone drove here, she can tell, and the trees rise up above her, a canopy blocking the blue sky as she slows the car and stops it right there in the middle of the road. Nobody’s coming, and she’d see if someone did.
She hops out of the driver’s seat, pain shooting through her knees as she lands. Stupid, to jump down like that. She’s no kid and this truck is man-size. She massages her kneecaps briefly, wonders if Jeremiah left any Advil in the glove compartment next to the packets of Diablo he put on everything. Even his eggs. She should have known, of course. A man who needs that much heat? A man with that kind of appetite? A man who once ate an entire party pack, 12 tacos, and then picked her up and laid her on the hood of this truck and-
She slams the door and walks to the back. Grabs the tailgate handle, but it won’t budge. It was fine earlier, easy, but now it’s jammed and her immediate thought is “I should call Jeremiah.” It dominoes in her brain from calling to missing to fear, but she doesn’t believe in ghosts. She doesn’t. She takes a breath. She hasn’t come this far to start crying like a baby.
She tries the handle again, but no dice, then looks closer at the cover—the latch, of course. She moves it to the right and sets the cover free, watching it roll smoothly up on its own.
The back opens easily now, and she climbs up and in.
The squeeze of her heart, even after everything that’s happened.
“Hey, hon.” She gently rolls him on his side, reaches in the back pocket and bingo—his wallet. Fatter than she expected. She lets his body drop back in place and lowers herself, slowly this time, down to the ground.
Four hundred bucks. God, she should have known. How had she not known?
She closes everything up, then hauls herself back into the driver’s seat and pushes the starter button. This truck cost them a fortune, but it was worth it. It practically drives itself.
The lot over in Tinder Creek, she decides. It’ll be weeks before anyone notices, backtracking like that.
And she heads back to the highway. A situation like this, it’s hard but not that hard. A situation like this, you can pivot.
Hannah Grieco is a writer in Washington, DC. Find her online at www.hgrieco.com and on Twitter/IG @writesloud.