Truck Tales
Kajsa Wiberg
Break
Smoke fills the air as I run. It burns my lips, my tongue, my throat— hurts all the way down into my lungs. The strappy sandals in my right hand thump against my thigh. I'm running on gravel, but it feels like nails. Not even when I reach the grass do my feet get much of a relief. It's not the soft kind of grass suitable for a picnic, or even the kind of greenery you would feed to livestock. It's harsh, dirty, rough, side-of-the-freeway grass.
I stop next to Jake and turn around, panting, agonizing. Most of what I see is just... well, smoke, but there's the truck too. Yellow, from Penske, the largest size they had. Holding every single piece of clothing and furniture, every CD, every book— everything we've ever owned. Filling the air with smoke.
"What now?" I ask, dropping my sandals on the dirty grass, squatting down, and fumbling with the straps.
Jake shrugs, his face haggard as he watches the traffic building up on both sides of the road. Horns blare because of us.
I force my right foot into the sandal.
"I told you," pops out of my mouth.
Jake ignores me.
"I told you the check engine light couldn't be on for nothing."
He presses his lips together, but says nothing.
"When did it start beeping? San Antonio?"
Jake takes a step toward me, his shoulders square. I hop backwards and almost fall over, crouching with a four-inch heel on one foot and the other one bare.
"Shut the fuck up!" he hollers.
"All I'm saying—"
He leans forward, closer to me. His breath inflicts more pain on my lungs than the smoke does.
"What? That it's my fault?"
"No! I—"
"You knew, too. You saw the light and you didn't make me stop."
I secure the straps.
"I suggested it."
"You didn't make me. You should have made me."
"Made you? Jake, you never even listen to me. Everything's always about you."
He snorts.
"Always has been," I continue. "Just take this whole moving thing. You never even asked me."
A bee buzzes close by. The second sandal in place now, I jump to my feet and run a couple of steps.
"Goddamit Cindy, always so skittish!"
"I'm not skittish. I'm allergic. Remember? I almost died last time I was stung."
Jake sighs. "What-ever. I should call for a tow truck."
He pulls his cell out, turns his back to me, and strolls off along the roadside. The further away from me he gets, the easier it becomes to breathe. The smoke is clearing up a bit, like a foggy morning, and cars are starting to pass the yellow carcass of our future. I don't feel pain anymore; it's almost refreshing to hang out roadside. In the dark, bad part of my mind I can't help but wonder if it's really Jake I'm allergic to.
Break
He returns after a good fifteen minutes, and informs me the tow-truck is on its way. He waits by my side, although not so close my breath turns into burning gulps of air again. He stays in the periphery of my existence, just like he always has. The kind of person you sleep with, have dinner with, and go to the movies with. Not the kind of person for whom you move across the country.
"So you don't want to go to California?" he asks once, as though this were complete news to him.
I can't reply. His words rob the air off its oxygen. The only thing making his closeness bearable is the knowledge that instead of counting down the miles to where my life is over, we're stuck in the middle. Just like we always have been.
"You never said anything," he adds after another silence.
Once more, I ignore him. I can sense his eyes on me, but I focus mine on the truck. It gets me more than he ever did.
Break
The ride in the rotten meat reeking tow-truck takes more than an hour. We waste another two at the Penske central before we get the verdict.
"All your stuff's gonna be alright," says the pale, dirty and sweaty mechanic lady.
I exhale in what's supposed to be relief. It stings a little.
"But," she adds, "the engine in y'all's truck is completely burned out. We're gonna get a replacement and move everything. Y'all can expect to be back on the road in two hours."
Jake nods. My lungs catch on fire. When the mechanic turns to walk away, I finally work up the courage. I clear my throat.
"How about two trucks?" I ask.
It doesn't hurt at all.
Kajsa Wiberg is a freelance writer, translator, and horse trainer. Her stories have appeared in The River Walk Journal, Long Story Short, Prose Toad, Chick Lit Review, Flash Shot, and Insolent Rudder, with forthcoming publications in Shred of Evidence, The Rose and Thorn, and Aoife's Kiss. She is a script reader for Blue Cat Screenplay and a book reviewer for Eclectica. She lives in Cardiff-by-the-Sea, CA, where she’s at work on her second novel.