Fifty Yards Off the Freeway

The silhouette of the rolling Blue Ridge Mountains against the sky at twilight soothes her.

Through her tinted windows, she tries to distinguish when the blue fades to light purple, to peach and to rose. When cool colors warm.
She’d said yes to his invitation, yes to life together, yes to one flesh, and now he wouldn’t go away, so he promised. Now there was only more to know about each other and all the time in the world.
It has been six weeks since the wedding.
The near darkness eases her eyes. It’s easier than blaring taillights.  If she focuses hard enough, she can make out the dense mass of full treetops that rend the mountain peaks less jagged, not so toothed, threatening, uninviting. But smooth, rolling, rising and descending. That’s what he had said about her early the next morning after everyone had gone home, dressed-down, relieved their sitters, sobered-up, returned to their lives, and egged them on to start the newest phase of theirs.
That’s what he had said about her in the early morning, two days ago, before she left to visit her mother three states away, by car, alone.  She had pretended she was deep asleep.
The windows are down and a damp draft is coming in where she has sprawled herself on the backseat, the breeze only catching her long bohemian skirt at the hem, failing to have enough power to cool her sweating legs beneath the fabric. She shifts herself lower and lower into the seat, squirming from moment to moment, just a little more wedged into the crease between the seat and the back. She tries to show herself that in solitude one can still know a sort of embrace.
The rigid lump of an armrest balances her aching head, her migrained brain. His arm would be much more comfortable, a voice tells her. If you hurried home and took his arm and curled into his side… No, it’s not a voice she’ll claim as her own tonight.
The cool shades are overtaking the warm and she stiffens her neck, holding it in place on the armrest; she tries to see the stars.
She looks. In her peripheral vision she notices a few and her eye turns to drink them in full-on.
But suddenly they’re not so clear anymore, and more appear encircling the deep-blue empty space where the previous bunch has vanished.
Fifty yards off the freeway, she’s not ready to go home yet. The wind escaping the chiseled tires of car after car after car sounds like the exhaling of a giant’s lungs from the direction of the interstate. She fingers the bands on her left hand with her left thumb. The stone she picked out with him months ago. Yes, it’s been weeks since the wedding, months since the engagement, but that doesn’t mean she’s used to wearing them. Water from the only-working sink of the last rest stop is caught between her skin and the metal, a bother. Her right hand clasps her flip-phone, gently massaging the smooth plastic frame, and she can envision his face like film between her line of sight and the brightening stars. And his deep brown eyes, almost black. And his lashes.  And his lips. And how they have come so close to hers so much more frequently recently. How she sees them—him every day, every single day now.
The phone vibrates. She strokes the keys of her opened flip-phone with the tips of her fingers; the illuminated screen lights up the car and floods out the stars she’s been straining her eyes to see. And she reads.

A car has merged onto the interstate from the darkness beyond the shoulder. Its driver is on her way home to her husband, her best friend, between Saturday-cleaned sheets of a queen-sized bed in a second-floor studio apartment. He says no rush. There is only more to know about each other and all the time in the world.


Copyright © 2018 Audrey McElrath

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