road test: (n) examining a person’s ability to drive without incident from point A to point B
We take our new love for a test drive. i am your passenger. one hand on the steering wheel; there’s no ten o’clock, two o’clock position for you, you’re not the missionary type. No, you keep your left hand up at high noon with a firm grip of assurance as your right hand travels up my skirt. Vancouver disappears from the rearview mirror and the mileage counter clicks its first 0hhhhhhhh!
I lost my virginity at fifteen on the side of this highway, left it behind with my underwear on a turn-off, somewhere between Hope and Merritt when he promised to drive me with love in a condom. You offer neither and shift into fourth.
(Caution, children at play…)
Rock in hand we took turns. She’d always go first. She was older. She would draw the squares neatly on the road because my lines weren’t straight enough. I’d watch her toss her stone onto number eight and pretend not to notice when her foot landed on the chalk between squares five and six. I would hop carefully as she pointed out my every mistake. She always won.
You drive faster. You say trees at 140 look the same as trees at 90. You say we will spend tomorrow in Banff where there are lots of other trees and much nicer mountains to see.
Let’s walk, I say. We hold hands until summer’s heat makes them clammy and we have to let go. Look I say pointing to the blackberries growing on the side of the exit ramp. Tucked inside thorny branches, the sun-drenched fruit is just waiting for those willing to take the risk. We plunge our hands in between the spiky needles and they are soon stained from this August afternoon.
You kiss me and I feel juice slide down my chin, spurting from the berry you’d hidden, perched on your tongue like a secret gift. A blood-coloured drop leaves a trail down my neck towards my breast like a jet stream. Let’s get some real food, you say.
McDonalds supersized golden arches, A&W’s Root Bear, Subway is always fresh, Colonel Sanders winking or Wendy’s pigtails? You have it your way and order mine your way too. We drive thru.
(why did the chicken cross the road?)
What are you? she said, daring me to cross with my eyes shut. I said, but Mom said…but she said I double dare you. I closed my eyes, listening for the squeal of tires and the sound of Dad’s belt.
I offer to drive for a while so you can roll a joint. My touch on your pedal is softer, smoother. You say it will take us too long at this speed. I say, maybe I want the ride to last.
road kill: (n) carnage left on the side of the road
Why don’t you pass this guy can’t we go faster be careful you’re going over the line don’t rest your foot on the clutch you should be in third gear fourth gear fifth gear fourth gear are you driving with one foot on the brake just put it into third when you want to pass chicks all drive the same I can’t believe they ever gave you a license maybe you should let a man drive pull over and let a man drive…
I don’t drive as fast but I can stop just as fast or faster. I hear your head hit the dashboard and pot goes flying all over the car. I slam the door and start running. I watch for you out of the corner of my eye, my left eye, knowing you’ll follow. I count the things on the side of the road:
one decomposing Tim Horton’s coffee cup
one Nissan hubcap, dented
one shoe (no lace)
the face plate of a cellphone
I hear the fall-out as tires spew gravel when you blast the car back onto the highway. You crank the wheel and pull back into the dirt twenty feet ahead of me, yell for me to get back inside. We sit in the car with our lips power locked shut in a silence growing more infected with each truck that rumbles past. Frozen in this small capsule of a car, I wait for words to slice open this tension wondering which one of us will be the first to crack. Our eyes declare a stalemate and you squeal the tires and plunge us back onto the road.
I watch through the window as night begins to clamp over us, climbing higher and higher as we wind along the TransCanada up into Roger’s Pass. The moon just past full looks swollen and heavy through so many layers of atmosphere. It disappears around corners and peeks back up over different mountains until finally it breaks free, high enough to clear all those sharp jagged edges and suddenly it doesn’t look so big anymore.
She watched out the window. After school it was my job to walk the dog. I brought a plastic bag but looked the other way as he dumped onto the Ferguson’s freshly cut grass. I lied when I got home. But she saw. She told. She laughed as the belt came off. I said I wished she were dead.
Stay n’ Save Super 8 Sandman, we pass them all and end up at Mary’s Motel where peeling wallpaper does not muffle the sounds of the couple banging the headboard into the wall in the next room. Trucks sound like they’re driving between us as you drop the clutch into snoring on your side of the bed.
I first fell in love with your ears, the way they stick out made me want to bite them. I reach out for you but you’re still sore at me from slamming the brakes and making you hit your head.
roadworthy: (adj) fit for use on the road; the ability to be of use on the road
Sunrise and I thankfully stop pretending to be asleep. We climb back into the car and I know how to make things right. Up and down my head goes like a bobbly-headed dog on an old woman’s dashboard. I try not to think of Garp’s mother. Each bump makes our breathing harder.
Wildlife Crossing Ahead
First I notice the ravens. They ebb in and out like the tide every time a car whooshes by, always returning to clean the corpse. You pity the man whose truck must surely be damaged by the dumb dead deer.
Detour: Where do all the hub cabs go? Do they run off with the socks that disappear from dryers, turning into flying saucers to transport all those socks to a place where lint isn’t a four-letter word?
Don’t be stupid you say.
(what are you, chicken?)
It was an eight-hour drive from Prince George to the campground, Dad’s cigar smoke never completely sucked out the cracked open window. But she’d get carsick, mom holding back her hair as Cheez-whiz sandwiches and Oreo cookies reversed onto the asphalt. I didn’t really want her to die.
The ribbon of backed up cars wraps around the mountainside and beyond. We are stopped on the wrong side of the Alberta border. My joke about being outstanding in Field doesn’t fly any better than the one about hubcaps. Nothing moves but your fingers that drum away the seconds, counting down until you’ll lose your temper again. An hour later, we slowly begin to move, eventually getting to the flagger who’d stopped us in our tracks. She wears cut-offs and steel-toed boots to protect her from the pile of cigarette butts rising around her ankles. You wear a smirk and stare at her tanned tits that jut out of her tank. We slowly drive by.
roadie: (n) one who is proficient at quick packing and unpacking while travelling
The roadblock has us delayed by more than two hours. So much for an early breakfast in Banff. Your foot stomps the pedal as you cross the double yellow, swearing at the CanaDream RV we rip past. Like tangled up Christmas lights and lost luggage, this road trip tells me more about you than your Facebook page ever could. There are elk on the road and I beg you to slow down before you hit one. You hit me instead, the kind of fist to the face that tells me to shut up. I refuse to cry. I check my seatbelt and reroute my eyes to the pile of take-out containers gathering around my feet.
She started by just hitching to school when she missed the bus. Or skipped class. She didn’t have extra-long thumbs like Sissy in her favourite Tom Robbins book but she told me that thumbs could take us anywhere— places Dad’s anger could never reach. On the night she left for the last time, she promised she’d come back for me one day. Or maybe she didn’t. Maybe I only wanted to hear her say that.
Breakfast in Banff is not as beautiful as it sounded when we planned this trip playing hacky-sac, stoned on the shores of Kits Beach. It’s cold and damp and not even your eggs are sunny-side up. You complain about the coffee being weak and the toast having too much butter. I tell you my stomach is upset but really it’s gone numb like the rest of me. In the ladies room I look in the mirror at my left eye. It’s swollen and starting to bruise.
You’ll be pissed as you sit there wondering what’s taking me so long. But I figure I have at least fifteen minutes before you realize something’s wrong. I slip past as you argue with the waitress about the lack of peanut butter in the condiment tray and make a break for the car. I’m grateful it’s a piece of shit and that the rear door locks don’t work, I snatch my pack from the backseat. I want to take yours out too and dump it all over the side of the road but decide it would take too long. Instead, I pick up a rock and toss it at your car. I watch as it bounces off the windshield and lands squarely between the racing stripe lines of the front hood.
The highway of heroes stretches out at my feet like a magic carpet. I stick out my thumb and imagine where she might be, refusing to include her in the growing statistics. A car pulls over and I hop in, thankful for the solace of the road as the wheels in my head spin forward.