The rain hit against the car and I watched with a peculiar fascination as the drops raced each other down the window. Joshua and I had planned this trip for months but life had gotten in the way and after a while it just seemed easier to pretend that we had both forgotten about it. But it refused to go away so when the anniversary arrived we packed up the car, packed it with extra blankets, flashlights, and snacks, with our fears, sadness, and it. Now sitting in the car I watched the blurred landscape roll passed us. I had traveled this road so many times in the back seat: a child with wobbly teeth, a teenager engrossed in a novel, a college student complaining about everything. Now I was in the passenger seat.
I wish I could roll the window down so I could breathe in the scent the coast mixing with the pines that had engulfed us in gloomy shadow three miles back. The rain has us trapped in the smell of car, it doesn’t smell like freedom just stale Cheetos.
“We should play a game,” I declare.
Joshua snorts and raises one of his brows, amused at me like he always is when I say this, “And what game should we play?”
I’m stumped into silence at that. He never wants to play games, not after the Monopoly incident. He didn’t like the idea of beating me or maybe it was me beating him regardless board games in our home was a bit of a criminal offense. Instead of answering I curl up as much as I can in the passenger’s seat and reach for his hand. He laces out fingers together and continues to drive. Joshua has always been content with silence, happy to let it permeate the air. I could never stand silence; silence growing up was the calm before the storm.
“You know those questions that you’re afraid to ask but at the same time you need those answers from someone, because the more you ask yourself the more afraid you become of your answers?” I push the sentence out as quickly as I can hoping if I can get it all out I might be ok again.
Without taking his eyes off the road Joshua nods and I feel a bit guilty making him juggle steering with one hand and comforting me with the other but that’s what this trip is for I guess.
“Do you think she just gave up?” I ask as tears begin to bite at the corners of my eyes.
Joshua sighs sadly and shakes his head. His glasses slip down a little, “I think she fought but she was tired honey.”
“It’s my fault,” I admit, it’s the first time I’ve done so. The guilt of it has been eating at me for months. It swims in my gut and just when I think I’ll have a normal day it all comes back to me, Technicolor with surround sound. I can smell the bleach, and death.
“No its not,” his voice is calm and even though he rarely has inflection it makes me angry.
“I told her to just rest and we’d be there when she woke up,” I shake my hand loose from his and begin to wipe madly at my face as if the pads of my fingers could soak up the tears racing each other down my face, “I lied to her, I knew she wasn’t going to wake up but she trusted me, believed me.”
Joshua simply places his hand, palm up on my thigh and I cling to it like a lifeline. I want to rage and cry but his callused fingers pressing against my soft ones ground me. I want to thank him for taking care of me, for letting me sleep till the day became night, for letting me sob in the shower only to pretend I didn’t afterward. But I can’t, not in a way that sounds eloquent and worthy. Instead I give him my best wobbly smile and say the only thing I can, “I love you”
His answering smile is soft, his teeth barely peeking out and to anyone else it might seem dismissive but to me it’s the smell of school supplies, the taste of lemon meringue pie, it’s the most perfect thing I’ve ever seen. With one hand he steers the car into the parking lot of a roadside park. The one I skinned my knee chasing what I was sure was Bigfoot when I was ten. He parks and for a second we both just sit and stare out at the coast through the rain dotted windshield. The waves curl white and I think about the warnings I received as a child about the current, ‘It could pull a grown woman out to sea’ they said and now that I’m grown I wonder what that would feel like. Then Joshua turns to me, his eyes searching my face.
“We’re here,” He’s stating the obvious which he hates but we both know it’s for my benefit.
I nod and open the door letting my bare feet touch the pine covered concrete of the parking lot. I stretch and gently, reverently close the passenger’s side door. It’s warm enough out that the rain steams as it touches me, creating a small fog that I breathe in greedily. This place was always magic to me and it feels like a century before I’m brave enough to open up the door to the backseat. Strapped in where I had spent my life, where I had planned adventures, and cried on the way home from homecoming is my mother’s urn. My mother who had always turned from the passenger seat to inquire if I wanted food, or if the hero of my book was admirable, who commiserated about the crap food and equally shitty teaching styles of the Spanish department at OU. My mother is dead.
Gently, reverently I hit the seatbelt and cradle the urn in my hands. It’s small and cool and heavier than I thought it would be. The rain drops splat against it and it sounds a little like a melody, something sweet and sad. I am crying again and unsure what to do I face Joshua, the urn outstretched in my hands.
“My mother is dead,” I whisper.
Josh takes the urn from me and cradles it safely in the crook of his arm.
“I know,” he replies.