Liza Doesn't Drive
She stands at the apex of the horse-shoe shaped driveway, illuminated by the porch light. Her father loves to take his silver '72 Corvette out on summer nights like these. He manually unhinges the two sides of the T-top, like plucking the hard wings off an oversized beetle. When he hops over the door into his seat, she does the same. They head toward the drive-in - for now, anyway, their town still has one - and order two frozen ices. Red for him, blue for her. Then they head toward the hills. On their way out of town, townspeople crane their necks to watch them pass, others wave.
Years from now, she'll move with her husband to Colorado and realize that those weren't exactly hills back home, but gentle slopes that only seemed like hills in comparison to the straight, flat pastures surrounding them.
Her father speeds on rural routes at 70, 80, 90, 110 miles per hour. The orange bar on the speedometer flicks clockwise in quick, jerky succession. Rows of corn become streaks in the high beams. Hairs escape her ponytail and fly around her face. She sits extremely straight and studies her father. He flashes a wild grin, his lips red from the ice.
Years from now, she'll get a license and her own car, an old four-door Chevy, a hand-me-down from her mother. She'll speed and speed all around her hometown and never get caught. An elderly man sitting on the bench by the post office will shake his fist, but she'll be going too fast to see.
Her father slows and lets her take the wheel. Though he places his fingers gently in the wheel's well, he tells her: "You're driving - I'm not doing anything." He pushes the pedal to 30 miles per hour and she immediately experiences what most don't until their mid-teens: an almighty feeling, a kind of abandon.
Years from now, there will be a boy, a dance, a kiss, and clammy hands, then a drive by herself, the long way home. Despite trees and homes and stores and schools, it will seem like there's nothing but open space, expanding, like the future, all around. It will seem as if she has been driving for ages, and in a sense she has. She will feel like an expert, heady with a genetic gift. She'll take rights and lefts, sail along straight-aways, lean into curves. She'll imagine that this roadway represents twists and turns of fortune, a grid of opportunity she alone can navigate, and she will do so at top speed. There will be an intersection and a stop sign she knows about but chooses not to see. There will be another car and a lot of blood and so much darkness. She'll awake in a stark room, greeted by her parent's immeasurable joy. But, breathing will now be a chore: the impact will have broken five ribs. Though undamaged, her lungs will feel deflated, like balloons after a party. At home, she'll spend her days in the recliner. Sometimes, she'll turn off the television and close her eyes, only barely inhaling, as if she now exists in a space somehow smaller than her body's mass, as if that's all she deserves anyway. Her parents will wait several days before telling her about the man in the other car. They'll remain in that small town, even though, out of remorse and humiliation she'll beg for them to pack up and move.
Her father always pulls over at the same place, turns off the car and headlights. Something spinning inside the hood takes a minute to wind down. They sit in the blackened hush, peering up at the stars, which twinkle bright and sharp as the nursery rhyme contends.
Years from now, she'll leave work early in an office park outside Denver. Her husband, a Francophile, will be hosting a Bastille bash. As she walks toward the bus stop, musing on his curly hair and his coco vin, it will begin to rain. A coworker will slow to offer her a ride and she'll, as always, out of pride, decline. When people ask why she doesn't have a car, she won't lie, but won't be entirely truthful either - "I believe in public transportation," she'll say. Her obvious discomfort will pique their curiosity. She'll wait for the bus, half-protected under the glass enclosure, her skirt blowing out in front of her as if dancing in the downpour.
Her father gulps the rest of his strawberry ice, and she pours the rest of hers, now melted, out the side of the car. Eventually, the coyotes start to howl: far-off sounds, mysterious and possibly cruel. "They're just talking," her father assures her, and she always wonders what they're saying.
Years from now, she'll gaze at the mountains from the bus stop, the skyline she's by now long memorized, and wonder if her husband has remembered the flowers, the wine, the linen from the cleaners. Of course he will have completed all these tasks without needing her help, and taken the Brie out, besides. The bus, for some reason, on this, of all nights, will not come, will not come, and will not come until she's late for a party at her own house. She'll step onto the road, look both ways to see if the bus is coming, then stay there. While drops drench her hair, then soak through her bag and shoes, she'll feel like a child or an elderly person, incapable of getting herself around. Guests will be ringing the bell, and her husband, red-cheeked, will greet them with a bonjour in the foyer, relieving them of their coats and umbrellas. As the hors d'oeuvres dwindle, she still will not have arrived. Some guests will know all about her and others will not yet know a thing. They'll lean toward one another, and Liza will tell herself what her father said about the coyotes and what she tried to tell herself all through the rest of high school: they're just talking.
About the author:
Jocelyn Jane Cox's fiction has appeared in JANE Magazine, Roanoke Review, and Literal Latte, among other publications. She has been nominated for the Pushcart, and was recently anthologized in Tartts 2 by Livingston Press. Her humor has appeared on yankeepotroast.org and she is a regular columnist for Professional Skaters Magazine (a figure skating trade publication.) She has an MFA in creative writing and coaches ice skating for a living.