BY ROSS MCMEEKIN
When no rain had fallen for sixty days and all the fine bits of rubber and oil and dirt and ash and exhaust had mashed together beneath three months of hurtling sedans and semis; when said dregs had caulked every cranny and fracture of the highway asphalt and the composite mat had grown so slow and complete it was invisible on the road, invisible like how cigarette smoke colors white walls and no one notices until a fresh paint stroke makes stripes; that’s when we decided to leave the restaurant for home.
Then, it rained. Showers fell on highway and rain pecked at the grit. Beneath our tires the wet seeped in and expanded that stale cracker, melting it back to batter. That’s when I clicked the windshield wipers and rested the palm of my hand on your thigh.
You burrowed into my shoulder as if you hadn’t said earlier that it was finished between us, again. You closed your eyes. It was late and you were drunk. You smacked your lips and I thought of how tomorrow the surfers would sit on the roofs of their vans and in the flatbeds of their trucks and curse the rain because of all the mess it carried into the ocean. How they’d drink and hypothesize how many days it would take for the risk of infection to sink low enough to justify a paddle. Then, after enough unclaimed sets, they’d paddle out anyway.
Then I thought of that overlook where you could sometimes see whales, the one with canyon to spare, covered in wildflowers, thirsty for rain. I was stupid and sentimental. I thought that maybe what we needed was a good storm, even though it might be terrible in the moment. I almost woke you. Smell how sharp the air. How it cuts like paper.
I looked back at the road and saw that our car was about to hit a deer. I broke and our tires spun free over that paper-deep mash. No purchase. You sucked in a breath and spread your hands wide against the dash and I gripped the steering wheel and we spun. I couldn’t stop us.
There was no accident, no wreck, nothing. Just a brief, more exciting way to spend the time. And rain, the only witness, gossiping on the roof. I apologized and took you home.
Ross McMeekin’s stories appear or are forthcoming in Virginia Quarterly Review, Shenandoah, Redivider, and PANK. He’s a weekly columnist for the Ploughshares blog, where he reviews short stories. He has been awarded fellowships from the Richard Hugo House and Jack Straw Studios.
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