Fiction by Kerry Cullen

Country

On the eve of certain disaster, we decided to leave.
The four of us–Alaina, Trek, Matty, and me, chose to
gather our lives and move away. We packed all the
necessary belongings into Trek’s latest unexplained
possession, a dingy white van with a tattered “My kid beat
up your honor student” declaration barely hanging on to
the bumper. We stopped at an equally questionable
convenience store for chips and green tea, and we left the
city, eyes ahead and full of light.
The next five hours were boring as we squabbled like
five year olds, the hope we began with wearing at the
edges, fraying into threads like static electricity.
Alaina likes country music. Trek mentions incest and
turns the dial to a screaming punk rock anthem, a
laugh like a bray sounding hoarse as it escapes
his open mouth. Alaina stares out the window,
her gaze glued to the rearview mirror. Matty and
I hold hands carefully while she seethes. She
notices and her face softens. Thankfully, she
says nothing, but rubs Trek’s grown out buzz
cut affectionately and changes the station back to
her twangy guitars and open-sky dreams.
As the houses begin to settle farther and farther
away from each other, the sun dips past the tree line
softly. I imagine a woman curled into a ball of hunched
back and reddish curls, sliding into sleep. I want to tell
Matty, but he’s rereading his favorite book with a
flashlight, and his mouth is moving along with the words.
I press my forehead against the window, wondering if I,
too, could slip through something solid, unnoticed.
Alaina and Trek are quietly satisfied as the radio
hums the blues.
Trek drives through the night – he tells us that
somehow, the chocolate covered espresso beans he tucks in
odd pockets keep him both awake and relatively calm. We
fall asleep. We wake up, stir, and fall back. Every so
often, this uncomfortable ritual is synchronized between
two of us, and we grin sheepishly, as if we have been
caught at something mildly embarrassing, like daydreaming
or shoplifting. Trek doesn’t notice; he keeps the window
open, the night in his face and hair.
Eventually, the sun rises. We wake and see each other
with new eyes. We let the empty land pass by us, as we
lose ourselves in the eternity of grass and sky. We smile
to ourselves, ready to stay. We have forgotten that the
news is based on true stories.

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