Yet he somehow keeps his mind and focus forward, the smeared glass offering a view of a black asphalt ribbon that slices a straight and narrow path through the cornfields, before disappearing into a sky cloaked in dark angry clouds.
He takes in a deep breath. There’s a storm brewing. Rain. Thunder. Lightning.
Yet he knows it won’t be like the one he’s just left behind. Nothing could ever be like that one.
Another deep breath. He shouldn’t have to be doing this. He’s fifteen for God’s sake. He should be worried about the algebra test he was supposed to take today. Worried about pimples. Worried about how to talk to MarySue in Biology without sounding like a putz.
Instead he worries about--
A moan from behind pulls his eyes from the road and to the mirror. His mother, tucked into a fetal position, lies shivering in the rear seat as if the car is filled with ice. Her swollen eyes are still closed, but at least the blood around her nose seems to be crusting over. She, like him, breaths in deep gasps, though hers carries a slight wheeze. Of pain or hope or fear, he’s not sure which.
He won’t let himself look at her arm, how it’s bent in that unnatural angle. Instead, he turns his gaze to her bare legs, where new bruises blanket over old.
Only twelve more miles. The sign said only twelve more miles.
Though the telephone poles fly by like fence posts, he presses harder on the gas. But the petal has nothing more to give, leaving the engine to growl in discontent, and the tension inside him to finally boil over.
The vented steam comes in the form of tears, a luxury he’s not been able to afford to this point. It would have resulted in a slurred and angered, “Girlie boy,” shouted to his face with a hurricane-force wind of cigarette and beer-laced breath followed by an open-hand slap that would have sent him reeling to the floor.
That’s behind him now. He needs to leave it behind. He HAS to leave it behind. Just like the house he used to call home. And that man...that man he used to call a father.
He turns his focus back to the horizon where the black clouds continue to gather. This new storm has been waiting for him. He’s long felt its cold digging into his gut. But, it’s okay. She’s gonna be okay. He’s gonna be okay.
Because his conscience remains empty, like the chambers of the still warm gun that lies beside him.
Sometimes you do what’cha gotta do.