In first grade I came home from school and announced my love for Lillian Clay. She had hair like orange sandstone, spoke in spontaneous poetry, and wore her shoes on the wrong feet. “We’re getting married,” I said.
After supper Dad said, “Let’s go for a ride.”
I rode up front in Mom’s seat. I waited for Dad to speak. He drove us – me and him, him and me – out of town onto the highway and over the river bridge. His face shone like buried treasure in the waning dusk. Across the state line, he pointed to a small green sign along the shoulder and said, “Read it. Out loud.”
Further along he pointed again.
We traveled on, my voice breaking the silence every minute or so.
At mile seven Dad said, “That’s you, right now, here in the truck with me.”
Mile eighteen was college. Mile twenty-three, a job. At mile twenty-five he said, “You’ve worked a few years, saved your money. If you still want to marry Miss Clay, now would be an okay time.” Breaking the order, he explained, was how folks ended up on the sides of highways with no money or family or home.
He took an exit some forty miles in and stopped for gas. I stayed put when he went inside to pay. The sky held some day in its corners, but beyond the station’s humming glow, the plains were the color of night. Out here I was no longer a boy. I had a career, a mortgage, a wife and kids. I was him. I wanted to go home.
These days I drive strangers home from airports and bars to make rent. My primary partner sleeps with other men every first and third weekend of the month. I love her deeply, uncustomarily. She’s pro kids but anti marriage. I’m not sure about either.
That night at the gas station, Dad returned with a small tub of ice cream. He ate slowly, staring out the windshield as if he were alone in the truck, alone in the world. Often he got this way, cold and distant, put under a spell by his own mind. I knew better not to break it. I scrutinized every bite. When he finally handed me the container, its shallow remains had melted. I brought it to my lips, sipped the sweet soup, and Dad drove us home against the flow of time.
Jacob Schrodt is a drummer, music producer, and emerging writer. His fiction appears in J Journal: New Writing on Justice. He lives in Nashville with his wife and two children.