A cold, steady drizzle had fallen all morning, and the steel December sky screwed down like a pressure cooker on the stark and bleak horizon. The clouds, rolling over each other in waves, were streaked with dark bands of impending snow.
Laura was still at Junior’s place. David had called her mother six times that morning, before she finally gave up and, exhausted from arguing, told him where Laura was. Desperate to escape Indianapolis, just out of jail, David had decided the night before to leave for Oregon and start over. He was determined to take 18 year old Laura with him, whether she wanted to or not. Besides, he knew she wanted to go, wanted him to start over, wanted things to work out. David knew he wouldn’t let her down again.
It had already started to snow by the time he reached Junior’s near east-side neighborhood. A quarter inch lay on the sidewalks, covering the grime that coated nearly everything on East Washington street. David pulled into the alley that ran alongside Junior’s apartment. Junior would, for sure, be at work. Construction jobs were hard to find, and David had heard that Junior’s boss was tough on him. As David knocked on the door, he looked forward to getting back to the Oregon coast, where it never snowed; where the nonstop rains kept everything green, lush and overgrown. The door opened a crack. There was a chain on it.
“What are you doing here? Junior will be really pissed if he finds out.”
“C’mon, Laura, it’s my birthday. I just wanted to see you, to see if you wanted to come back and start over.”
“We already talked about that. You know I can’t.” Laura’s voiced wavered. She looked really scared. “I’m tired of always running. I’m tired. I don’t want to go back out west. I’m with Junior now.”
David stared grimly into her eyes as she spoke.
Her voice rose. “You’re just gonna have to get used to it.”
Splintered wood flew past Laura’s face as the door chain tore from its wooden frame. David’s second kick sent the door careening from its hinges. Before Laura could turn, he had pulled her through the doorway. Writhing in his grip, Laura kicked at David with her bare feet as they headed towards the car.
“Let go of me! Are you effing crazy? I don’t even have my effing shoes on!”
David neither answered nor slowed his march to the car. In a moment, they were both in the vehicle. “C’mon! You know I love you. We’re going to Oregon. Give me a chance. It’s my birthday!”
“Thanks. Happy birthday to you, too.”
“Let me out of here, David. Junior’s going to beat the crap out of you…”
“Shut up! Junior’s nothing but a two-bit junkie.” Tears welled up in David’s eyes. “We need to get out of here. Why the hell would you want to stay here with him?”
David pulled onto the interstate with a full tank of gas. He had a few hours to convince her before things got really difficult. They sat in silence for a while; David concentrating on the hard rock blaring from the radio, Laura resting her head against the window, staring at the snow that blew through the neighborhoods as they passed by. David reached over and laid his hand on Laura’s knee. She quickly removed it.
Run-down neighborhoods gave way to snow covered cornfields, the stubble of broken brown stalks sticking out of the white powder. The third time David placed his hand on Laura’s knee, she didn’t move. After another hour, she grudgingly allowed him to pull her to his side. As they sat together, David began to talk about their farm in Oregon. Before long, they were laughing, and within another hour Laura was chattering away about her Mom and Stepdad. David told her they could start over, that he would find a job, that they could escape the arguing, petty crime and drug use that led them to cross the country, six months before, in search of a new beginning in Indianapolis. David looked at the gauge. It was time for gas.
David paid the bill while Laura waited in the car. It was growing colder and the snow had become deep and heavy. Ice covered the road. David was exhausted and took a couple of uppers. It was going to be a long hard journey and he needed to stay awake. He picked up a sweatshirt for Laura. David wasn’t sure if she really wanted to stay with him, but Laura certainly wasn’t going anywhere in the snow, barefoot. By the time they reached Kansas, Laura was fast asleep and the roads were almost impassable. David sat hunched over the steering wheel, peering into the white fury, struggling to keep his mind focused, trying to stay awake.
“There’s no way I can go faster than forty in this mess.”
As the car pulled into the Denny’s parking lot, just outside of Denver, Laura was busy doing crossword puzzles. She wasn’t angry anymore, just disinterested. David carried her into the restaurant, with Laura telling him, good-naturedly, “Better be careful, someone’s going to think you kidnapped me.” David smiled.
The coffee and burger helped a lot, but David had been up for two days straight. He had plenty of uppers to finish the trip, and a couple ounces of pot to take the edge off, but his stomach was churning and he was practically asleep on his feet.
He didn’t think things were going well with Laura. He was running as fast as he could from everything that had gone wrong in Indianapolis, but it seemed as if they were swimming in molasses. He could see that nothing had really changed in Laura’s heart and that he hadn’t the slightest idea of how to change anything. As David sipped coffee, a slight high-pitched tone began in his head, and the coffee turned bitter as a familiar metallic taste of amphetamine overpowered its sweetness. Laura droned on, talking about nothing, touching on nothing that mattered, going on and on about her mother and sister, about clothes, about cooking, about anything and everything but them.
“It’s time to go. I’ll stop at the truck stop and get you some shoes.”
Two days turned to three as they crossed Wyoming on Interstate 80. The highway was covered with six inches of ice, but David didn’t care.
Laura awoke to an intermittent “thump” under the car.
“What’s that “thumping” sound?”
“Rabbits. They’re jumping under the car.”
“Oh, my God! It’s awful!”
As Laura looked out the window in horror, she could see jackrabbits along the interstate. Every 20 or 30 seconds, one would jump directly in front of the car. David never even slowed. In front of them, hundreds of flattened rabbit carcasses lay strewn about the road, killed by countless cars before them.
“If I start to hit the brakes, we’re gonna crash.”
As the miles passed, they sat in silence, with only the irregular constant “thump” of violent death marking the passage of time. David kept both hands on the wheel. As they entered Utah, darkness fell for the third time and David began to drift into a netherworld of sleepless hallucinations. Jackrabbits, as tall as the car, appeared and scampered onto the road. At first, David tried to avoid them, but as the car slid and swerved, Laura would awake with a start. After awhile, David quit braking, even for the phantom cars that appeared on the edge of the interstate and pulled directly into the path of David’s now speeding car. David simply drove through them.
At times, the car slowed to a crawl, trying to maneuver through mountain passes. Long lines of vehicles creeped forward, barely able to see the bumpers of vehicles two feet in front of them. At other times, David would speed down the road, radio blaring, staring blindly ahead, his body held awake by methamphetamine, his mind a complete blank. All the while, Laura worked her crossword puzzles, fiddled with the radio, slept and barely spoke.
As they neared the Oregon coast, the snow stopped and it began to rain. David had not slept in four days and nights, and couldn’t even finish a thought in his own mind, much less carry on a conversation. As they turned south onto highway 5, David leaned over the steering wheel and tried to concentrate on the road.
The white lines whizzed past the car. They started about twenty feet in front of the speeding vehicle, in clear contrast to the dark pavement, and quickly sped up to pass David by in a white blur. Again and again and again the white lines came and went as Laura slept beside him. David hunched forward, gazing at the speedometer. One hundred miles an hour, clear and steady.
David woke up. Trucks and cars were flying by his still car, horns honking. The car was sitting in the right lane, perfectly straight. Laura was still asleep. David had no idea how much time had passed. Was it a few minutes or an hour? Starting the car, David tried to focus as he pulled off the road. He looked at Laura. He reached over to touch her, then stopped. Trucks were still hurtling by, but now no one was honking. David sat back in his seat and pulled onto the highway. The farm was less than an hour away. After some sleep, they could go to the ocean and wade for awhile. David thought about how they had escaped death. He thought about the last thing he saw; about the speedometer; one hundred miles an hour.
The ocean was ice cold. Laura wandered down the beach as David stared over the water, listening to the constant crash of the winter waves. She was as beautiful as the ocean and as uncontrollable. He understood he was alone, that he had never really been with her. There was nothing, David knew, to come back to. He wondered what had stopped the car. Something had, and it wasn’t him. It defied the laws of physics. As David stood at the water’s edge, listening to its constant throb and roar, he began to feel less alone. He felt as if someone was there beside him, watching over him. For a moment, with the wind in his face, he felt held by the hand of God, steady and constant. He felt free, without a care in the world.
“Come on,” he called to Laura. “I’ll take you home.”