Up ahead, the electric-blue border of Florida. Behind, a roadside fruit stand where Sara bought a small basket of ripe cherries.
She stretches her legs across the dashboard until her bare feet are flat against the windshield. Her Tropical Twist toenails wiggle and smudge the glass. Outside, palmetto trees line the Interstate and the yellow mango sun boils the concrete.
Evan drives. He wrinkles his nose. The smell of Sara’s sweaty leather sandals permeates the minivan. Her feet are awfully close to the AC vent. Beads of sweat roll down his neck into his pink polo shirt.
He rolls the windows down. The Toyota clocks in at about eighty-five miles-per-hour, give or take. In the back, an empty McDonald’s cup and an empty large fry container spin around the floor, helpless in the sudden burst of wind.
In the back, their three-year-old daughter Jessalyn rattles a Tic-Tac container. The noise makes her giggle. Beside her in her carseat sits a Cinderella Barbie doll whose feet have been chewed off. They are headed to Sea World. This is their first family vacation. Jessalyn’s wispy hair catches in the sudden blast. For a moment, she can’t breathe in the vacuum.
Sara reclines her seat as low as it can go to the ground. From passing cars, it appears as though Evan is driving alone in the carpool lane. A Mitsubishi and a Fiat both honk at their Toyota for this reason.
“I feel like we’ve been in this car for years,” Sara says.
Sara and Evan had visited Florida once before. Four years ago, the senior class of Groves High hopped on a charter bus and spent two nights in a hotel near the Kennedy Space Center. On the last night, after a day of touring and drinking frozen orange juice, the chaperones bought each hotel room a bottle of vodka to celebrate their upcoming graduation. Everyone got wasted — adults, teenagers, mothers and daughters. When other hotel patrons complained about the noise, Lisa Bostick invited them over, beckoning with one finger in her tank top and lipstick.
That night, Sara and Evan took a cab around Cape Canaveral. They got out by the ocean and walked the length of a fishing pier, still a little tipsy. Sara looked up and saw a shooting star over the Atlantic. Evan looked down and noticed a dead shark trapped underneath the barnacled pillars. Underneath the boards, the waves washed in and out, pushing the body toward the shore and then pulling it away. Eventually, Evan knew, the flesh would wear away on the barnacles, feeding minnows and molluscs for weeks. The salty air covered the smell.
Neither saw what the other did, but both felt like a small eternity had passed, in the span of five seconds — like their lives had stretched out before them a hundredfold and cemented into one, shining, solitary moment, where they finally felt the weight of reality, of finally feeling real. They returned to the hotel holding hands, steeped in the feeling of standing on a precipice over the vast, unlit ocean.
Both Evan and Sara were convinced that Jessalyn emerged from that night. In truth, she came from a quick fuck in the charter bus bathroom, after several of their friends placed bets that they were too chicken to do it. They’d already crossed the border back into Georgia.
Jessalyn starts screaming. Sara, who had just popped the plastic cap from their last lukewarm Dasani water bottle, spills a good portion of it onto her sundress. Evan’s joints stiffen and his muscles concentrate on keeping the Toyota in the lane. His worst fear is swerving into someone else’s path.
Evan parks the car safely on the shoulder. In five hundred feet, there is a sign reading “Welcome to the Sunshine State.” Some drivers assume the Toyota stopped to take a picture. Others briefly picture a child peeing on the side of the road, the doors blocking any Interstate view. No one thinks about the stopped car for very long.
Sara steps out of the car in bare feet and immediately finds a sticker patch. There is a brief scramble to extract the small briar, then to buckle her shoes. Jessalyn’s face has turned purple with screaming.
Evan tries playing with the toddler’s feet. Sara unbuckles the car seat and starts bouncing Jessalyn up and down. She has an impulse to check Jessalyn’s diaper, to pull down the straps of her dress and attach her baby to her nipple, but those easy fixes to loud crying have long since passed.
Evan eventually finds a white oval obstructing Jessalyn’s nostril. Closer inspection shows it to be a Tic-Tac. Evan asks Sara if she packed a pair of tweezers for her eyebrows, but Sara cannot find them, even after tearing through her suitcase twice. Colorful blouses lay scattered on the side of the road.
In the end, they decide to wait it out. They sit Jessalyn down on the tailgate and hold both of her hands. Eventually, Evan says, the Tic-Tac will melt down far enough to fall out. It will become infinitesimal, absorbed by Jessalyn’s snot and tears, until even the ugly memory of this moment can be swallowed.
Caroline Fairey is a creative writing student at the South Carolina Governor’s School for the Arts and Humanities in Greenville, SC. She enjoys live baseball and cities at night. Her work has been previously published in Litmus.
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