“How long have we been driving?”
“Since we got off the highway? Almost ten minutes.”
“How much further does the map say?”
“It’s been re-routing since we took that exit.”
“Try your phone.”
“It says eight more minutes.” I answer too quick and she knows it.
“I thought it was right off the highway. How many more miles does it say?”
“From where? We’ve been going in a straight line for ten minutes.”
Had it only been ten minutes? Corn stalks stood parallel to the car, long rows running on either side. Golden yellow growing on green. All so even. Wispy wheat tips catching the same wind as my hand, palm open against a baleful breeze. What was that? There was something odd in the air.
“We’ll see it, right?”
“If it’s along this road, we’ll see it.”
“It is along this road.”
“So then we’ll see it.”
“We’ll see it.”
“Keep your eyes peeled.”
Eyes peeled, eyes peeled. A strange thing to say, I thought, strange also that for the first time just now I am hearing the words for what they are. Eyes peeled, peeled, peeled, I repeat the word in my mind until it loses its meaning, until all the gruesome is drained out of it. Except it doesn’t drain, not really. It stays and shadows me. Eyes peeled. I think of Luis Buñuel and that straight razor splitting open an eyeball. I take a cigarette from my pack and light the stick, blowing a stream of smoke out the window, out into the same air that is making something in my stomach lurch and leap.
“Can I have one of those?”
She only smoked with me when we were driving, or when she was drunk. She looks nice smoking a cigarette, I’ve thought many times from my passenger’s perch, legs curled up under me, she looks nice with one hand out the window and the other on the wheel and I feel nice sitting beside her telling her ‘yes, we’ll see it- it was on the map, so we’ll see it.’ My role as co-pilot coaxes the calm out of me and gives me some reason to breathe.
“But the map’s gone.”
“It’s not gone, it’s just rerouting.”
“We can’t see it, we can’t hear it, it’s not helping us, so it’s gone.”
“Do you want to turn around?”
“We can go somewhere else.”
“We’ve come this far already. Just keep an eye out.”
Eye out. A popping sound bangs at my brain, a popping-out-of-socket sound. Eyes out. Eyes peeled. I wonder if there is a cord I can cut so that I stop seeing all the said. She flicks her smoke out the window.
“Did you put that out?”
“Yeah I threw it out.”
“But did you put it out?”
I wish I could project the insides of my mind onto the windshield so that she could see the cornfield going up in flames like I do.
“Stop the car.”
“I need to make sure it’s out. If it’s still burning it could start a fire.”
“It’s not still burning.”
“How do you know?”
She stopped the car, abruptly so that my sternum met the seatbelt with unfriendly force. She checked the rearview mirror and threw us into reverse, screeching tires screaming into the silence. I find it funny that she checked her mirror because we haven’t seen a single car in hours and she knows that. No, not hours. Minutes. It had been minutes since they had gotten off the highway. Hadn’t it? Felt like hours though, something about this road, relentless in its rhythm and rows, the rubble of it sending a steady hum through the car, the reverberations settling into my bones so subtly I don’t even notice them until she hits the brakes and the sensation stops. The feeling isn’t just physical though, I realize, the humming has hardened something in my mind, it runs through me with a chaotic kind of buzz that starts in my head and sizzles its way through my skin. I wonder if she feels it too. I think about asking her but the moment I do we will start to scare ourselves and our minds will run loose with useless, ugly ideas. The sort of ideas that drive you off the road.
“Get out and look.”
And I am about to do just that when I remember it, right as my hand reaches for the handle, that whining whir growing louder around us, something I’d said a few days back- had it been days? Something I said when I thought nothing else was listening, when I thought it was just the two of us, her eyes on the road and mine out the window, I remember it as my hand pulls at the handle because I know, very suddenly, that it will not open. But I think I’ve known that for a long time and a lot of miles. Known it, maybe, since the words left my mouth.
“I could spend forever in a car with you.”
Elizabeth Lerman is a creative writer based in New York City. A graduate from the University of Vermont, where she earned her B.A in Film Studies and English Literature, Elizabeth uses her writing to focus on the significance of small moments and the space they hold. Her work has been published by Curlew Quarterly, Sad Girls Club Lit, Train River Poetry, and Quillkeepers Press. Elizabeth currently lives in Brooklyn where she is working, slowly but surely, on her first novel. To read more of her work visit Elizabeth’s website, www.elizabethlermanwriting.com.