Fiction · 10/21/2009

Foggy Mountain Breakdown

She hated mountain driving. The mountains might fall, snap, at any given moment, rocks and dirt and trees tumbling. Or maybe just a shift, a closing in, the mountain sides narrowing the road, so that she held her breath, curve and curve again, nausea building.

He didn’t seem to mind. He drove fast, confident, and he had turned the music up on the radio, and it was the wrong music, loud and angry, the kind she thought was okay sometimes, maybe when they were drunk and at a bar, laughing and shouting their words.

But not now. The music, the loudness, the speed of sound and movement, the fog, the loopy meandering, the mountains ready to move, she couldn’t handle it.

“Slow down!” she shouted, and her voice was mean, frantic, and she reached for the stereo volume button and she punched it with her thumb. “We’re going to die,” she said into the silence.

“We aren’t going to die.” He glanced at her quickly. “We’re not.”

“Watch the road,” she said. She thought about all the times he had looked at her and the variety of meanings.

“Relax,” he said.

She cracked her knuckles, tried again and again on her left pinky. Jammed.

“Don’t you know I’ll always take care of you,” he said.

Yes, she knew he would do anything for her: throw himself before a train, punch an attacking dog in the neck, push a crowd of surging people away with his arms so she could breathe. He would buy her things and make her things and sing her things and play her things and his love was so full and so grand and big.

“I do know,” she said. “But, still.” He had not slowed down, and they were still moving forward, still weaving, and the sky was thick and gray and rolling and the painted lines on the asphalt were surely bright enough. But still.

A deer in the road, a fallen tree, a truck sliding, a sneeze, a blink, a moment of looking at her too long, and then he couldn’t take care of her as they tossed themselves over the mountain side.

Or maybe it would be later. Something else. There were no guarantees. Not really.

“Trust me. I’m being safe.” He put one hand on her knee. She could feel his callused fingers on her bare leg. “I can pull over,” he said.

She knew what he was asking for. She looked over at the man who would do anything to take care of her, who would do anything for her. She let out a long unwinding breath and pushed the stereo button back on. “Drive,” she said.

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Shellie Zacharia teaches in Florida. Her story collection, Now Playing, was published by Keyhole Press in October 2009. Her stories have appeared in Hobart, Opium, Keyhole, The Pinch, Washington Square, SmokeLong Quarterly, Juked, and elsewhere.