by Emma Collins
Down I-295 coming up from Rhode Island there’s a stretch of shadowed corridor, a sinister unlit highway. The turn signals wink as people drive along that darkened passage, fireflies dancing in the falling dusk. Carcasses of animals line the shoulder with their broken bones, blank eyes. Somewhere between the blackened blood of a doe and the silvery sinew of a possum I tell you I love you, rattling around in your old Ford pickup. My teeth clatter and you barely hear me as I shout over the rattle and roar.
The sky burns purple, an angry color swollen by a noon-time storm, passed over now. The reds and the yellows vie for a place in the heavens and your eyes as you flick your face my way, glancing quickly, one hand draped over the wheel, the other coddling the gear shift. I see Orion in the matte blue of your irises while your mouth works, a handsome red-lipped fish gasping slowly.
I guess I drew the air out of your lungs with my confession, and we miss our exit and the turn signals wink away and the stars are just peeking out from under evening’s skirt. You curse under your breath and duck your head the way you do when you peek from under the brim of your work Red Sox cap to merge right. The sky flames.
I lock eyes straight ahead. The smell of fresh-born leaves on the chill of an early spring evening caught in the back of my throat. I bite down with teeth that were stained by the last disappointing iced caramel latte you bought me when the day was still sweat-hot. I didn’t know what else to say now that my voice cracks and I’m swallowed up in the rattle and cough of an exhaust manifold you’ve been threatening to replace. The clouds are deepening with rich violet and you find your way back to the stretch of blacktop that will eventually take us home to your apartment with the creaking floor boards and molding bathroom tiles.
I surprise myself as tears start rolling down my face and I’m embarrassed because I’m wearing Dad’s old Army jacket with his name over my heart and Daddy didn’t raise no crybaby. I sit tall in my seat while I watch you out of the corner of my eye. You stumble over your words because the whole thing is so childish, so high school. I’m not even sure if I hear your excuses, not really anyways, because I’m looking up at the first stars winking to life through a windshield splattered with bird shit and bug guts and I almost laugh myself.
Somehow we crossed into Massachusetts, the old Minutemen valleys collapsing slowly inwards. I close my eyes and imagine sinking deep into the dark earth that raised me from Cali roots and Irish blood. By the time I realise you’ve gone quiet again I’m already thousands of miles away. When I open my eyes you’re asking with my name and I don’t hear you right so I have to cock my head and cough a little, shaking out the stardust that’s gathered in my breath.
Not today. Not on this highway. Not now after I looked at the blank eyes of that dead doe and wondered where her fawn had gone. I just smile at you and shake my head. A joke, a funny little thing for a long journey, something to take our minds off of the rattle and clunk and shimmy that’s beaten us to vibrating pulps.
I settle back and hook my heel up on the dash while the radio pops and fizzles back to life. Something country for our New England ignorance crackles to tune and I hum along off-key. I’d look good astride a thick-muscled pinto with a chestnut mane, one bright blue eye, one soul-black. I think about big-sky country even if I’m not into faux cowboy boots and Daisy-Dukes. I’m gone while you dredge up some off-hand topic that will steer us clear of anything too touchy that might make you stop and think awhile. The sky is velvet blue as we pull back into the city and you grind the gears on an uphill. I’m tight in my gut thinking about tonight on the air mattress I re-inflate every night before we go to bed.
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Emma R. Collins of Ashby, Massachusetts, studies English and Psychology at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts, and hopes to become a literary editor.