The father doesn’t know where he’s going. He tells the mother to pull the map out of the glove compartment.
Two little girls in the back seat. I want ice cream, the smaller one says. She is only three, but already a princess. This is how she will be the rest of her life.
The rest of her life, all of their lives as it turns out, is only ten minutes.
The older girl is looking out the window. Tree, license plate, then dark clouds above. Clouds that are fistfuls of rain about to let go.
The mother unfolds the map. It’s been folded wrong, that is, not following the grooves that are part of the designed pattern. This is just a mess, the mother says. The father thinks she is talking about more than the map.
Outside, the sky above the highway in the middle of wherever is starting to darken. The road is unusually open and empty for an August Tuesday.
The mother looks close at the map and says they missed the exit and they will have to get off at the next one and turn back. She folds the map up properly and puts it back in the glove compartment.
The younger daughter starts to cry again about ice cream and the mother fishes a tootsie roll out of her pocket book. The younger daughter grabs it from the mother’s hand the way she grabbed her own life. Surprise baby that she was. The baby that would fix things, the mother finally hoped.
Instead of what did happen, which was to drive the father even farther into himself, into late nights at the office and strange perfume.
I better get gas, the father says. He looks at the gas gauge, almost on empty. Almost too late.
The older daughter is the one who sees the truck coming wrong way out of nowhere. It is a giant whale smile of grille and headlights. It is huge and holds the entire future for them, seconds really, and she doesn’t even have time to warn her father.
Who was looking down at the radio. Snapping on some music to cheer them up. Elvis or something. Or the mother who was looking for another piece of candy to give to her unwanted daughter, anything to fill her up. Or the unwanted younger daughter herself, whose mouth is open, really open, either waiting to take a bite of tootsie roll or else about to scream.
Francine Witte’s stories have appeared in Best Small Fictions, Best Microfiction, and Flash Fiction America. Her latest book of flash fiction is Just Outside the Tunnel of Love (Blue Light Press.) Her collection RADIO WATER is forthcoming from Roadside Press in 2024. She is the flash fiction editor of FLASH BOULEVARD and South Florida Poetry Journal. She lives in NYC. Please visit her website at francinewitte.com