Next Stop Rest Stop
Eric Bennett
Break
She slumps asleep, raindrops on the windshield making streaming shadows on her face. The dash lights cast a marmalade glow and the lines on the road pass and pass and pass hypnotically. And in this way, we are snow-globed in my car.
The highway lights buzz by and by and by. I love their exquisite smears on the wet tarmac.
My secondhand, sky-blue Chevy is a shoe box diorama depicting the way twenty-first century twenty-somethings travel. Wadded Kleenex, empty Doritos bags, sloshing water bottles, CDs scattered across the back seat, and "songs of the eighties and nineties" play and play and play on the radio.
I like Madison too much after too little time, it frightens the finches inside of me and they burst from barren branches. Nevertheless, here we are driving and driving and driving from DC to NYC to meet her parents. Just the thought makes my bowels tremble; I need to stop at the next rest stop.
I glance over at Madison and love how we are here, everything quiet— nestled and cozy at seventy-five miles per hour. No one can say all the things they feel, but I whisper "you're my map" and it's enough for now.
Blue sign flashes by: 23 MILES TO NEXT REST STOP.
Alternately, I'm watching an eighteen wheeler in the rearview mirror and you. He's really moving, and finally, so are you. I say, "Hi."
For the next few moments you make tiny waking noises, eyelids pressed tight and the wet window light of the moon drenching your stretching and stretching and stretching limbs.
"Where are we?" you say sleepily.
"I guess we're about two hours away."
"Hmmm."
Then, we sit in silence. Eventually I put my hand on your leg searching for finger touches and possibly, your warming lips in my palm. But you stare and stare and stare ahead.
Blue sign flashes by: 13 MILES TO NEXT REST STOP.
"This doesn't look familiar" you say.
"What?"
"This interstate doesn't look familiar, Sean."
Reaching, I unlatch the glove compartment, and the atlas unfolds into my hand. "Check the map" I say, handing her the world with all its rivers and roads.
Madison clicks on the overhead light and fluorescent sunshine fills the car. Her brow furrows and I can feel love leaking through the vents, through the cracks between the door frames and the doors, absorbing into the seat cushions. All love is leaving— we become vacuum sealed.
"Goddamnit, Sean."
"You don't have to bring God into this."
"You took interstate 95 toward Philadelphia instead of 295 toward the Delaware Memorial Bridge. It'll take another hour and a half to get back on the right road."
"Shit, Sean. What were you doing?"
"I was loving you, Madison."
She stares at me. I stare at the road.
Blue sign flashes by: 3 MILES TO NEXT REST STOP.
I can't help but think those blue signs are a countdown to calamity. I say I'm sorry, a sign of weakness you once thought gallant but you don't respond. I feel like I'm drowning while you watch from the lido deck, fruity cocktail in hand and a look of disdain on your face.
Blue sign flashes by: NEXT STOP REST STOP.
"Get off at this rest stop."
"I was planning to, Madison" I say sarcastically, hot emotions flooding my voice.
"Fuck you Sean. Fuck. You."
"What the hell is your problem? So I made a mistake. Can I get a little grace here?"
I'm slowing to take the next stop rest stop exit. I'm going about twenty miles an hour when Madison opens the door and jumps out of the car.
"What the fu..."
Brakes slamming, I jerk the car to the shoulder of the off-ramp. Even in the dark, even as you're running and running and running in the rain, I can see that your knees are bleeding. I'm chasing you down the steep, slippery embankment, distance closing.
"Madison, this is crazy. Stop! Talk to me."
Several truck drivers are walking our way, watching the abusive boyfriend chasing his terrified girlfriend. There's not a doubt in my mind they're going to beat me with bats, tire irons, their bear fists. I'm going to die at this rest stop.
Finally, you collapse in the sweet grass and stinging nettle absolutely soaked. It's dark save for the flashes of passing traffic and the distant lights of the rest stop. I flop exhausted next to you, gasping for air while you sob.
What the hell are you doing Madison?"
"I hate you."
There's a wounded kitten in her voice and I'm afraid my heart will burst because of that last sentence, or from the lack of oxygen. We lay in the highway litter our chests heaving and heaving and heaving.
"Can we go?" I ask after what seems forever.
"Madison?"
"What?"
"Let's go."
"Okay."
I stand, reach for her hand, and pull a whimpering Madison to her feet. She doesn't let go so we walk toward the car holding hands. I wave to the truck drivers like a high diver emerging from the water to show he's alright.
Almost to the car, we pass a blue sign, it says "REST STOP" but the word "stop" has been spray-painted so it just reads "REST..."
Yes, that's what I need— a little fucking rest.
Eric Bennett lives in New York with his wife and four children. He loves trees without leaves and the scratchy silence between songs on a vinyl record. His work appears or is forthcoming in numerous online literary and art journals including Bartleby Snopes, Foundling Review, Ghoti Magazine, Prick of the Spindle, PANK, and LITnIMAGE.