Here’s the third installment in my little Winter Short Story Series. Scroll down to catch the earlier installments. Enjoy and feel free to share…
Highway 11, Eastward
There was something about that road. The way it pushed defiantly through the dark. The way our Jeep chased its own pale headlights futilely. The way my father cut the curves out and drove a straighter line down the centre.
“It’s better for the deer,” he said. “Gives them a little more room.” But we never saw any deer. I imagined the foxes and the owls, concealing themselves in the trees, watching us lumber past in a panting steel heap.
“Nobody lives up here?”
“Sure they do,” my father answered, like he’d been there before but I knew he hadn’t.
“Nobody uses this road, then.”
“Boring road.” I slumped to lean my head against the window. My father’s old compass swung from the mirror where I’d left it hanging when it got too dark to read the face. I flicked it with my finger, sending it sailing into my father’s line of sight.
“Watch it,” he scolded then steadied the compass and the wheel. “What’s your problem?”
“Nothing.” That word was the bastion of my teenage vocabulary. It meant everything and… nothing.
“Can you tell how far it is to the next town?” There was husk in his voice. Not anger, just a sort of flatness.
I pulled the crumpled road atlas from behind my seat and flipped to “Ontario”. There it was: that massive slab of land, drawn out in blue and green. Measured, charted, named. The centuries of survey and exploitation spelled out on that one page caused any sense of mystery and reverence leftover from the influence of Lake Nipigon to drain from me. My father and I were just tourists after all.
I traced the thin line indicating Highway 11 eastward from the jagged-edged Lake Nipigon, searching with an eager flashlight for the nearest dot of a town. Three, four, four-and-a-half finger widths away. We would need to drive on, even though I wanted badly to go hide with the foxes or else dematerialize and travel fast as a sound wave to the end of that highway where I was sure there must be some solid, unnatural thing that would ground me once again in ugly urban distraction.
“I really gotta pee,” I lied.
“Can’t you hold it? There’s nothing out here.”
“Girls can’t do that.”
“You used to all the time,” my father said. I was afraid of drains when I was a kid. I was convinced little mice lived inside toilet bowls and under the porcelain tank covers.
“Well I can’t.”
The Jeep slowed till our tires crunched onto the graveled shoulder and stopped. I leapt from the car into the thick brush that insulated the ditch and in three swift strides was engulfed in blackness. The night air lay damp and cold on my forearms where I’d shoved my shirtsleeves up to my elbows. There was no sound but the low idle of the Jeep in the distance behind me. I could have been in a desert or a dry river bed or walking on the blank plain of a third dimension. I could have been in Russia or The Andes or Mississippi. My defeated eyes blinked, powerless.
I loved it. Just to be alone there.
But I would have to turn, to stumble back through the trees, to climb the embankment toward the stuttering headlights, to settle back into the car and lie again to my father that I’d peed in the forest bravely when the truth was I had only stood there in the darkness and wished to be free.
“Alright then,” he said when I got back in the car.
“I think I was made for some other world,” I said.
My father smiled at me. “Well, I hope so,” he said. And we drove eastward toward a little town and a crooked motel.