I’m afraid I’m going to throw up. The Triumph is a sports car, not a family vehicle. It’s a two-seater and Mom and Dad are pretty comfortable in their leather bucket seats. My brother and I are sitting on a metal ledge behind them, over the real axle of the car. We are tucked in with blankets and pillows for padding. Above us, the black fabric top of the car is stretched over the thick metal roll bar (I learn much later that the roll bar is there to protect the strapped-in driver from being crushed in the event that he rolls the vehicle. But we are not the driver and we are not strapped in). The black fabric is attached to the shiny red body of the Triumph and to the windshield, at intervals, by metal bolts that twist into place. Since we are traveling at considerable speed, the wind whines through the gaps between these bolts, a higher pitch than the roar of the engine, as we careen along the highway on this wintry night.
I’m prone to carsickness. This might be due to the fumes that accompany the whistling wind as we are situated more or less over the gas tank, and not far from the exhaust. No one has ever suggested this, though. My brother never throws up. I feel, at age five or six, that the motion sickness is basically my fault, a weakness I should be able to control, considering how important cars and car travel are to my parents.
I’m wearing my new Eskimo jacket that I just received for Christmas. Bands of embroidered ribbon cross the pristine white fake fur, circling my body. Each circle meets at a wooden toggle button and loop in the front. The hood is muffling the din of engine and wind, and I will myself to be comforted by how much I love this coat. Besides, my father has very little patience for complaints so I know that whining or asking to stop is a bad idea. My mother might be more sympathetic, but she, too, will not wish to stop. It’s late and dark and we were expected hours ago in Montreal, at the home of the family friends who used to live across the street from us in Cambridge. Their daughter, Roxanne, who was adopted and used to be called Gina, will be jealous, I hope, of my fur coat, as I am jealous of her glossy black curls and the glamour of her two names and her mysterious past. She has a new baby brother, not adopted, who we are going to see for the first time. My own brother, Miki, a year older than me, is sleeping next to me, unmoved by the discomfort of car travel. His head thumps rhythmically against the canvas side panel as we race along.
Suddenly, unstoppably, my dinner is rising in my throat. My eyes water, my hand is clamped over my mouth. “Mom,” I call out, but she doesn’t hear and it’s too late, anyway. The yellowish, foamy vomit is coursing through my fingers and soaking into the pristine white plush of my beautiful jacket in wave after wave. I can’t get a word out around it. Maybe it’s the smell that makes my mother turn around, or maybe I’m crying more loudly than I think.
“We need to pull over,” she says to my dad. Probably he can smell it, too. The engine shifts gears, the roaring dulls as we slow down and my father looks for a safe place to stop in the dark. Miki sits up and looks at me. “Gross,” he says, and shuts his eyes again.
At the side of the road my mother tries to clean my coat with handfuls of snow. Maybe this is what Eskimos do. My dad and Miki wait in the Triumph. I feel so much better now that we’ve stopped, I can’t understand how I could have felt so ill just minutes ago. But the vomit smell is sickening and the snow won’t take it away. It’s too cold to ride in the car without my coat, and I will make the rest of the trip miserable for everyone. I have done this enough times to know that they will all be mad at me, even if they don’t say it. The road trip is supposed to be special and fun. I ruin everything, I know.
Theo Greenblatt’s prose, both fiction and nonfiction, appears in The Normal School Online, Tikkun, Salt Hill Journal, Harvard Review, and numerous other venues. Her short story, “Solitaire”, won first place in The London Magazine Short Story Competition and her collection, Rescue and Other Relationships, was a finalist in the Autumn House Press Full-Length Fiction Contest. She teaches writing to aspiring officer candidates at the Naval Academy Preparatory School in Newport, RI.
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