The last summer we went to the Midwest, I was seventeen. My parents took turns driving our Ford Fairlane, so old, it was held together by my mother’s clicking rosaries. The car’s upholstery itched the backs of my legs; the smoky fog from the front seat—a blend of Camels and Kents—itched my nose.
With my breasts filling out, waist thinning, I wanted to stay behind on a California beach with friends, lolling around in the sand, sipping cokes from bottles, eating hot dogs, me letting some boy, any boy, press his tanned left leg against my tanned right one.
In Nebraska, I watched seas of wheat and soybeans haze by. Curious cattle watched me watching them, their heads tracking the Ford like radar. Then Iowa swam on the other side of the glass, fields gorged with corn and soybeans, the occasional rolling hill, cedars bordering rivers.
We stopped at railroad crossings, bells ringing down the gates. I sat up and counted the cars clattering by. No windows, no passengers, just agriculture heading to mills and factories and grocery stores. Clackety-clack. Clackety-clack.
I fished an apple out of our snack bag and flopped on my back. My teeth pierced its dark red skin, but there was no juice, the pulp was mealy. I churned down the window, let in a rush of hot air, spit out my disappointment.
My father raised his voice. “Shut that window.”
I obeyed and lay down, hands pillowing my cheek. Then he said, “Get me some water.”
Closed my eyes, pretended not to hear, but my mother spoke my name in that quiet urgent voice she always uses when dealing with my father, and I sat up, dug in the small ice chest at my feet, and took out the jug.
He didn’t thank me. He wouldn’t.
I slumped back into my seat to stare at the endless yellowing land, the incoming shroud of clouds.
About the Author: Gay Degani’s stories have been published online and in print. Four have been nominated for Pushcart consideration, and others have placed first or been recognized in competitions. Her suspense novel, What Came Before, was published in 2014 and reissued in 2016. It was preceded by an eight-story collection, Pomegranate, in 2010. Her collection, Rattle of Want, was released by Pure Slush Press on November 25, 2016. She was the founder of craft online magazine Flash Fiction Chronicles and occasionally blogs at Words in Place.