Saturday, March 2, 2013

Prompt: Driving to Oblivion

Leslie heard the siren and glanced at her speedometer before looking behind her. She usually kept it around 75 on the freeways. She watched the police cruiser wail closer in her rear-view mirror and speed on past. Now she had lost her place in the audio book, though, so she decided it was time for a break.

Looking at the road signs and billboards, she decided a Bojangles biscuit and sweet tea were the ticket for an afternoon pick-me-up. She gave a mental nod to that American Idol singer-turned-Bojangles-advertiser, who said he missed them when he was on tour. The memory of a smile crossed her lips. She was on her own kind of tour, in a way. Would it ever end? The smile faded. The question led to a line of thinking she steadfastly avoided.

Leslie climbed out of her Highlander and stretched. The car had proved a good one. It had almost 70,000 miles on it when she bought it early last year. It was close to 200,000 now, and she knew she’d have to start looking for another trade-in. Living on the road was surprisingly hard on cars. As she headed into the Bojangles, she noticed Christmas decorations. Really? Already? Had she not been noticing them? Or had they suddenly appeared today? What day was it, anyway? She remembered that Christmas promotions started earlier every year. It was probably still October, she thought. Might be time to pay attention long enough to figure out what month it was. How long since she had called her dad, anyway?

They weren’t close. Her mom had died before the accident, before Leslie took to the road. Her dad never understood and always pressed her to come back home. But out of the 49 continental United States, that was the one that Leslie avoided at all costs. She wasn’t ready to be back in the same state where Jack and Billy had died.

She had still been in the hospital when they had the funeral. Still overwhelmed with pain and shock and grief. The pain had faded, and the relentless PTs had gotten her walking again. The shock never really went away, just morphed into a numbness that wrapped around her every waking minute. The grief. Ah, well.

During her hospital stay, she’d hired an estate expert to sell their house and everything in it. The lady had been nice enough, but she kept trying to get Leslie to think about keeping some things. Leslie refused to look at anything. When she got out of the hospital, her dad thought she should stay with him, but she knew that wouldn’t work. She checked into one of the freeway-exit hotels with real breakfasts, worked out a good deal for two weeks, and the month after that. One day, she had the urge to go out and drive around, get some fresh air, and she just kept driving. She drove straight west out of Baltimore to Columbus, Ohio, before she stopped to pee and get something to eat. She never made a conscious decision to leave. She just felt a little better while she was on the road. Moving away from Baltimore.

Maybe if she stayed on the road long enough, the grief would fade. Maybe she’d be able to think about what she’d had, what she’d lost, and what her future held. Maybe the day would come when those types of thoughts didn’t threaten to sweep over her like a tidal wave.

Until then, driving brought a kind of tenuous peace. The rhythm of the roads soothed her, and although she never planned her route, she enjoyed the ever-changing views and all the things she had seen across America and Canada. There was a story on NPR about a couple who drove from Alaska all the way to the southern tip of South America, and she was thinking about that. It seemed like too much planning though. Making plans meant thinking about the future. And Leslie couldn’t think about her empty future yet. Driving had a forward motion that was enough. And so for now, for as long as it took, Leslie would continue to drive to oblivion.

Dogs in house:

Polka tuba and drums from the neighborhood garage band

March word count:

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