Driven

 

A short story about life, death, and road kill.

“God’s in an Art Deco mood today.” The sky was a perfect split between pink and blue. Airplane trails had streaked across the sky, and light sprayed over the earth as the sun rose to reveal its full shape. Every day has its own smell; today it was particularly overpowering. The morning air filled one’s lungs and scraped the old air from the inside. It was not a typical springy morning with birds and fresh creek water flowing against age and towards romance. It was more. But not in the car. The car air was stale despite the dawn. It had become difficult to move as the two drove throughout the night only to have more hours of driving ahead. They had fallen into silence for a few minutes until now.

“Shut up.” The intimacy of the car had annoyed her long before now. Yellow lines passed them at a constant beat. Buh-bum. Rest. Buh-bum. Rest. Buh-bum. They had become hypnotic to her as if the yellow lines acted as a baby mobile. She had a good mind to crash the car. At least that was she could get some sleep. She turned on the radio.

He kept talking about life and goals and fluff over the music. She gave up trying to drown him out and turned the radio off. Shaking her head, she rolled down the window to wake up. The fresh air rolled over her body and achieved its desired effects. Except now he started talking about how wonderful the morning wind was and gifts and such. She was losing her patience fast.

“I love long car rides. They’re so intimate. I always feel as if I know the people inside and out when they’re over. But I feel like I’ve been talking the entire trip. What about you?”

With that, she lost her temper. “Do you have to simplify everything like a two year old?” The car ride had suddenly become much more uncomfortable as the sun rose high enough to annoy. It was low enough not to be affected by visors. Where were her damn sunglasses? She continued her rant. “Name one thing that is beyond your understanding. Everything always turns out just joyfully in your mind, doesn’t it? Listen, in eighty years you’ll be gone, and nothing you have done will matter. That is the only thing that’s simple, predictable, and universal.” She stopped and tried to catch her breath. Her lungs pushed out until they touched her ribs and then collapsed to the motion of the lines on the road.

She almost regretted her explosion. Seeing him with his head rested on the back of the seat, his eyes closed, and his face beaming in the sun made her feel abandoned. The drive had gotten longer and her words hung in the air like a burlap curtain. She wasn’t even sure that he had heard her sine he just sat and stared at the sky. She gritted her teeth and clutched the wheel to straighten her spine. The stillness was deafening as they drove, and time sulked in between the cup holders. She wished he hadn’t told him the truth. He opened his mouth, thought, and then closed his lips again.

“Death.”

“What?” she snapped.

“Death isn’t simple.”

“Death is the simplest thing humanity knows. You simply stop breathing. It’s the end.” She had found her sunglasses and opened them with her teeth. They rode again in silence towards the end of the horizon. He pursed his lips in thought. Looking out the window, he could see her expression in the reflection. Her brown were knitted, and her neck was out stretched like a bird’s. He leaned his head against the glass. The sky now had wisps of clouds stroked across its canvas as if the bristles of a paintbrush had just barely tickled its edge. There was no other car in sight as she hit the gas and the engine roared.

“When I die I want someone to year bright yellow to my funeral. As a celebration.”

“This is depressing,” she shot back, flipping her head so hard to look at him that her sunglasses nearly fell off. She had meant to signify that the conversation was over, but that never stopped him.

“It really is so much bigger than us. I think that is why we think death is so frightening. The fact that at any moment we can be gone is humbling.” She didn’t want to answer him. The silence made the moments lag as the yellow lines spurred past with increasing intensity.

“Kind of a shitty grand finale, don’t you think?” she found herself saying. It was the fact that she even answered that annoyed her. The last thing she wanted on this car trip was to get on a carousel ride the same argument up and down. Turning around and heading away from their destination wasn’t an option. Here they were, in the middle of their trip, where it would take just as long to go home as it would take to get there. Well, one thing was for sure, she was not going to allow him to make this drive into some sort of triumphant conversion experience where she came out with some balanced new attitude. It was either because she was so tired and her eyelids throbbed or because she was so irritated with her company, but she really wanted to crash the car. She could grab the wheel and fling it so the small car would flip so easily. There were wire coat hangers, cigarette lighters, tools, glass windows. At that very second the vehicle became a suicide machine.

“Well, I guess death is never considered as a possibility,” she blandly stated.

“Everyone thinks the sun will rise tomorrow. Nobody can prove it.”

He looked back up to the painted sky and began with his own wide expanse of thoughts. He curled up to the side of the car and squashed his cheek against the window. His thoughts and opportunities made the blue sea above them seem like wading in a tear drop. A hawk flew over the car and into his sight. It spread its enormous wings and floated, suspended in the sky. It glided just over his head so he could see the mouse struggling in its mouth. He could practically hear the small creature struggle in the sky. If freedom came it would only result in a plunge. The hawk tilted, turned away from the car, and soared away from the road.

She squinted from the glare on the road. Putting down the visor to shade here eyes, she took a deep breath and relaxed. The lines had begun skipping playfully along the road. She slowed the car as another came over the horizon. The lines ahead shifted from the heat. Her eyes rested on a lump in the middle of the road. As the car edged closer to the lump, she could make out where the fur had turned gray and the scrawny rat tail had flattened against the pavement. Flies had begun to collect on its rankling intestines. The festering eyes were staring at the sky. Sometimes she wished she weren’t so observant. The car sped past, and it was gone as soon as the intensity was at its maximum. The road was clear and now touched the end of the sky.