Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Along the Way

Having grown up in Florida, Blias felt better outfitted to navigate the death trap of I-95 during tourist season, not winding Connecticut highways during a loose snow storm.  All she wanted to do was go back home to Jacksonville.  This singular wish ruled her thoughts as she squinted through the out pour of white powder smothering the windshield of Mick’s truck; the wiper blades cracked like concentrated lightning in an attempt to clear her view.

Home was where the heart was--as well as suntans, thatch palms, and sandy beaches.  And besides the ugliness of this thing called snow, Connecticut contained her in-laws.  In many respects, this undoubtedly traumatizing drive back to her husband’s parents’ house wasn’t as terrifying as her destination.  Should she be lucky, Mick’s truck would spin out of control and flip into a hill of snow to spare her the unpleasant scenario of sipping wine across the table from two pre-geriatric control freaks with a less than tampered need to remind her that she was not of a wealthy assort.  Those recriminations delivered over fine china, of course.

“At least the heat is working okay.”  Blias told herself with a fading sneer at the thought of her in-laws.  There was no turning back at this point.  She was on the road with Mick and they were coming back to her in-laws house after a night out.  She fought the urge to yawn from the coziness of warm air blowing in her face instead, deciding then to adjust the air vents away from her just a little.  “Maybe a little too hot, though.”

The snow kept coming, as if God stood ripping apart reneged contracts before chucking the shreds down in fury.  And if the snow was truly God’s doing, then Blias was certain that it was his way of broadcasting displeasure at her husband’s drunken state.  Dancing in those thoughts, she spared yet another dark glance toward the passenger seat as an inner burn tugged at a muscle in her right arm.  

Releasing the steering wheel with the risk of drifting off the road, Blias rocketed a hot--yet sloppy--backhand across Mick’s dozing, pale face.  Blias quickly pulled the truck to a gentle left, nearly sending them into the neighboring lane.  She regained control of the truck with a satisfying grin on her lips as Mick scrambled alive with a terrifying cry and a choke.  His eyes widen as one hand lost the lifting of his glasses and the other braced into the door handle.  And although the truck had yet to roll outside of his muddled awakening, he anticipated the first tilt with a glisten of slob lining his o-shaped mouth.

Heart hammering, Mick waited.  He closed his eyes, tight.  Caught his breathe.  Winced at the burn in his nostrils.  And waited again.  Nothing.  No crash.  So what had hit him hard enough to sting his sinuses bringing tears into his eyes?

The truck rattled over an island of powder, and Mick hurled his hands and fingers around the JC handle with a whine.

“Jesus ain’t coming to save you yet, Mick,“ Blias said.  “But I’ll slap you again if you don’t wake your ass up and help me keep him from coming to collect us both.  Well, me anyway.  I don‘t see why Jesus would come and try to save some old slumped fool like yourself.”  Her grip curved over the steering wheel and she lowered her chin to screen her focus as a veiled bend in the road came about.  Her footing loosened on the gas, she applied easy pressure to the brakes.  Focused.  

The truck continued to rattle and bounce, eating up patches of powder as it went pass exits where the barest snow-globed vision of hotels, gas stations, and diner lights could be seen.  Blias drove forward, reminding herself that she was grateful for the heater working and grateful that she remembered the exit number.  Or hoped she did.  And if she wasn’t close enough by now, God forbid they would have to swoop into an exit and get a motel room.  She didn’t like Mick’s parents, but her luggage was at their house.  With her luggage, came a cab, and with a cab came a trip back to the airport so she could get back to Jacksonville.  Preferably tonight.

“That Jesus stuff again, huh?” Mick’s voice croaked as he relaxed, still gathering his surrounds.  He blinked a few times, patted a hand against his stinging nose then pulled it away.  As if blood was on his palm, he frowned.  “I’m starting to think you slapped me, but I know better, B.”

They each cut their eyes at one another, but saw neither expression.

“Had to,” Blias said.  “And I’ll hit you again if you don’t help me figure out how to get back to your devilish parents’ house.”

“You ‘had to,’” Mick’s voice mocked with disbelief.  “Whatever happened to just shaking my shoulder?  Or hollering my name?  Matter-of-fact, aren‘t you not suppose to hit people?  Did Christ every hit anyone?”  He leaned back to wait for his wife’s answer.

Blias reached to turn the heat down.  She needed to be awake.  To be slightly chilled.  To give herself time to think of something to change the subject.  There came nothing, so she let her chin remain high.  At least Mick was up and running like usual, challenging her at whichever turn he could.

Eyes pinching from a sneaky wave of nausea, Mick rubbed the back of his head as the liquor started to bubble back across his senses and memories became muddled with thick questions.  He was seconds behind realizing that his wife called his parents devilish, and fighting off a passing upchuck to respond at the moment. 

Blias swallowed within her focus, chin still high.  

For the pass hour since Blias hauled Mick into the truck and away from his hometown drinking buddies (who kept giving her looks for what she perceived was because she was black and married to Mick), she let him doze, hoping it would taper down on his beer intake.  With him awake now, she couldn’t judge whether the doze worked.  However, the guilt inside her was there.  While she tried to get to know some of Mick’s friends’ wives, she should’ve been regulating Mick reliving his college days at the bar, chugging and taking shots.  Just the thought that she should’ve been watching him, instead of worrying about what his friends thought of her, upset her more than him being drunk.  Blias was upset that she let Mick’s friends intimidate her from stomping across the bar and taking her husband by the collar.

Guess there was nothing she could do now.

Rising himself up just enough to give his diaphragm air, Mick looked out over the road and broke the silence asking, “Are we in the I-95 corridor, because I can‘t really tell?”

Blias shrugged.  “I guess, Mick.  Does it look like I’m from Connecticut?  Do you think I can tell with all this snow falling?  Maybe if you would’ve-”

“Alright, I got it.  You‘re pissed at me,” Mick cut her off.  He raised a traffic hand to pause her mouth, then turned to use it to smooth down the crown of his head before taking a large breathe to soften his tone and nausea.  “But seriously, how fast are you going, B?  There could be black ice forming over the roads.”

Giving her seat belt a ginger tug, Blias didn’t answer.

Mick sighed.  “All right.  Get us killed then.”  He slammed his back into his seat after catching a peek of the speedometer.  Blias was doing nicely, as he knew.  He just couldn’t stand the hush.

Silence spread between them, except for the scratching snow and the roar of tires breaking through street powder with a clank in the undercarriage.

Mick shuffled in his flannel hunter’s jacket, watching the road carefully for signs.  “Mind me asking do you even know the exit?”

“You’re asking me this now, Mick?” Blias turned to look at him with a  jerk of her head.  Her dreads slapped back into her face and she threw them away with a huff.  “Matter-of-fact, are you too drunk to drive?  Do you want me to pull over so you can get us out of this?”

He looked at her without a shift in focus before crying, “I just asked a question.  You want us to get to the goddamn house don’t you?  You miss the exit and we’re gonna have more problems up the road in this snow, smartass.”

“Oh, I’m the smartass?  You’re the bastard that should’ve thought about what you were doing throwing up beers like you’ve got no sense.”  Blias had the mind to swerve into a bank of snowy mounts on the edge of the road, but managed to contain that rip of desire.  Instead, her jaw tensed, then unlocked to say something far more deadly.  “I watched you sit there like a fool, getting drunk with those scary, prejudice freak-buddies you call friends looking back at me while you were glass-eyed and twisted.  Were you even thinking about your wife when you were up there getting laughed at, thinking you were laughing with them?  Do you even remember what you were laughing at when they kept sliding that devil juice in your face?  Huh, Mick?  Tell me what you remember since you were having a good time being the punch line to a joke, or four?”  Satisfied, Blias kept her chin up and breezed pass Exit 54 in Branford.  

Mick’s eyes narrowed, searching left to right as if trying to pull in and compute what his wife had said.  At first he thought maybe the beer distorted his hearing.  But when it clicked, “What the hell are you talking about my friends for, B?  Prejudice?  Really?  My friends?  I haven’t seen them since I moved to that backward ass city in Florida where your home girls,” Mick emphasized this with widen, exaggerated eyes, “tried to get rid of me so that they could hook you up with a brother instead.  Do you ever see me bitch about them, or tell you what you should do about them?”

Blias’s eyes flinched.

“No,” Mick spat.  “I don‘t, nor have.  Even though I know they’re always talking about me to you and anyone else that‘ll listen.  So you talk about my friends, who were cool with you the whole time, even their wives but-”

“You were drunk, Mick,” Blias shouted, blinking as if to keep herself clear and reasonable.  “You didn’t see how your friends kept looking back at me while I had to listen to their stiff wives talk about orangutan sanctuaries and early bird prices.”  A hot breath went into Blias’s lungs straight from the heater‘s burning scent.  “You were just up there, slapping the bar and chugging them down while your buddies looked back at me smiling over your back.”

Mick’s face screwed up in confusion, fingers spreading aside his head as if he could pull out the answer before gasping a resounding: “HUH!?  Because they looked at you!?”

“Yep,” Blias was unrelenting.  “They looked at me.  I know that kind of look.”

Mick settled back, scaling his wife with wide eyes, as if she were someone else.  

That’s when the truck’s shocks absorbed something large and thick in the road.  Whatever it was caused both Mick and Blias to gasp out, their heads barely scrapping the roof of the truck as it bounced.  In her fury, Blias hadn’t seen what she ran over, and it all happened to quickly to calculate.  Whatever she hit was eaten by the front wheels of the truck, rattling underneath like wooden spoons on pots, before throwing the rear of the truck up then down.  Blias cried out as both her feet slammed on the brakes while her hands struggled to tug the wheel in place as she feared they were about to plummet over and sideways.  The brakes didn’t seem to stop the truck, however.  Blias’s nightmares were coming alive as the truck skidded through the snow like an Iberian bull prepping for a fight, tossing powder onto the windshield.  At some point the truck had stopped, but it felt like whatever she hit was inside the car and they still weren’t safe.  Blias’s eyes were pinched and she recoiled when she felt Mick’s warmth reach for her, whispering that he had her.  That they were okay.  A voice that seemed distance over the clicking of the engine.

“What the hell was that?” Blias finally hissed.  Another fear rose up in her mind.  What if she ran over a dead, frozen body?  

To afraid to look back, she left that up to Mick as the shift of his head grazed her face when he turned to look back at the road.

“I don’t know,” Mick said, his voice slow with fear and wonder.  “Probably some kind of… animal.”

Blias’s lips pursed.

“I’ll go see,” Mick said, moving his warmth from her.  He wasn’t surprised when Blias suddenly grabbed for him, and it set her a little at ease to hear his chuckle.  “You watch too many scary movies, B.”

“And the black person always die first,” she retorted.  

Mick peeled from her, taking her face in his hands, waiting on her to open her eyes.  And when she did, he kissed her forehead.  “Chill,” he said into her face.

The smell of beer took to Blias’s nose and she held back a cringe before nodding.  “I’ll come with you.”

When Mick looked ready to protest, he knew better seeing the glare in Blias’s eyes.  So he nodded, reached to shift the truck into PARK, and took his wife’s hand.

The cold ate them the minute they stepped out of the truck only to find nothing in the road behind them, but the sound of a baby wailing over the wind.


Another writer's workshop drafting piece used to bring a little productivity to the blog.  Eh.  It is what it is.

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