Fall2009

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In Cars

Fiction

The Plains

By Neil Bhandari

She pushes her black bangs back across her forehead and stares out the window at the flat, featureless land, all grass and nothing. Miles pass and sleep nearly comes.

"There's a rest stop coming up, the last one for a while- let's just stop here to at least get some coffee, and if you have to go, you can go, and if you don't, you can just wait while I go."

"Fine."

"What?"

"Nothing. I said fine. It's fine."

"Why do you have to act like that? Like you're mad at me for stopping in case you need to use the bathroom. We've been driving in a straight line for three hours- is it ok if I need to take a piss?"

"You're already on the ramp, why are we even still talking about it?"

He puts the car in park and approaches the door to the small brick structure before she has her shoes on. The parking lot is half-full, and on her slow way in she peeks into the window of a maroon car- the backseat a mess of soiled linens and towels, sticky looking toys. There is a dog-walking area fenced in on the side of the building.

By the time she enters, he is already out of the bathroom- at the counter ordering coffee, holding up two fingers and laughing with the girl taking his order. It frustrates her, the way he can leave his stubbornness, his surliness, behind- an old, stained shirt he'd only wear in the car with her- and talk to this girl, anyone really, as if he hadn't been silent and stone-faced for the past hundred and ninety miles.

By the time she gets out of the bathroom, he is in the car waiting.

"I got you a coffee."

"Yeah. Thanks."

"Welcome. So?"

"So what?"

"So do you want to talk now, or do you want to go silent for the next four hours too?"

From the front seat of their tiny egg-shaped car, in this rest stop parking lot, she can see the parallel stripes of highway stretching to infinity in both directions. Massive trucks adorned with the names of shipping and distribution companies she's never heard of lumber past.

"I don't want... " she reconsiders... "you said we'd go to France. Paris, the countryside- all that. You remember?"

"Yeah... "

"And?"

"And what?"

"What do you mean 'and what?' And what happens now? What about Paris?"

"What about Paris? Paris isn't going anywhere."

"What about the countryside and Brazil and all our golden youth that you used to go on and on about- you remember what you said? It wasn't so long ago, you know, none of it."

He takes a sip, letting her have her say while silently reminding her that yes, once again he's the one who's managed to keep his composure. She wishes she could hate him.

"I can do this- I could do it on my own if you wanted- you wouldn't even have to be there. I know plenty of people... there was a girl back at-"

"Yeah, we all know plenty of people... "

"Oh come on, don't act like you want it this way. Don't act like you're the noble prince all of a sudden, 'cause you were just as angry as I was... "

Her words rattle around the car and linger in heavy silence for minutes after, until he finally reaches forward to turn the key. The low rumble of the engine comforts him.

"Would you even be able to? Would you be able to go to France or Brazil or whereverthefuck? Knowing? How and why and what we had to do to get there? Would we kiss and act like we'd just met and talk for hours and ignore the strangers at the bar? Would it be a grand time?"

"Yes. Yes, I would- I wouldn't care... well, of course, I'd care at first but then I'd just be there with you taking buses and reading strange newspapers and drinking cafe au lait and we would be so happy. You know we would."

"I wouldn't."

"Yes, yes we would- because there's still plenty of time and we're young and beautiful and... "

"No!.... No."

He shifts into drive and crawls up the ramp, merging onto the highway, nestling behind a brown semi-truck with Indiana license plates. She pushes her black bangs back across her forehead and stares out the window, hard, at the flat, featureless land, all grass and nothing.

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