Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Searching for Manna, Part 2

Searching for Manna, Part 1 is here.

The snow rushed before them, through the headlights, at the windshield and on over the top of the car. Ruth gasped like she was taking her final breath before trying to swim the length of the pool without coming up for air. Her mom turned up the heater. Warmth burst from the vent. The windshield clouded and then cleared. She pushed her way back into the upholstery. They drove for five more minutes and then ten, making their way deeper and deeper in to a darkness they didn't want to be in but couldn't turn away from.

They drove through Napolean. The buildings were dark, and the streetlights reflected dimly off of the crumbling buildings and the cheap Christmas decorations--red and white candy canes, green Christmas trees, gold stars of David, all of which whipped in the wind looking a lot like giant pipe cleaners. The sign in front of The First Bank of Napolean displayed the vital information 27°, 10:52 pm.

Ruth's dad began to snore in the back seat. It occurred to her that he should have been driving. He knew these roads better than anyone. They were the roads of his youth, of winding rides on rickety school buses to every one stop sign town in southern Indiana. These were the roads where he had learned first to drive and then to fly. She hadn't been this way since she was a girl.

Three miles outside of Napolean, they encountered their first oncoming car. It seemed like a good sign. It can't be too much further, now she thought.

Her mother asked meaningless questions. So, what were Jeff's plans for Christmas? Do you still have that green blazer we bought on sale last fall? How come you never wear it? They were the same questions she always asked. Sylvie couldn't let her focus be drawn from the road.

Another set of headlights appeared faintly in the distance. Ruth could tell that the oncoming vehicle was moving fast. She braced herself. For a moment, she could no longer see the lines on the road. The truck barreled past, and she felt the passenger-side tires rumble on the edge of the pavement. She imagined their car springing from the road, climbing and somersaulting into the crisp black sky, eventually landing softly, upside down in the snow-layered fields. There would be no pain or discomfort, only rest, absence of motion. The car slid back across the center line and toward the driver side ditch. She regained control without using the brake.

They drove on in silence. Above the trees, in the distance, the two women began to sense a pulsating light.

“That must be it,” Ruth said.

Soon, they were part of the dome of light which flickered and flashed against the falling snow. Ruth felt herself becoming part of it. She could picture it--the little 4 door sedan sliding along this road where the cornfields start to give way to the glacial hills of the terminal moraine--as if they were preserved by the dome of light like in one of those paperweights with falling snow that settles and can be shaken again, at once peaceful and chaotic.

When they got there they found a makeshift parking lot on the side of the road opposite the house. There was just enough shoulder for two or three cars to pull off of the road at one time. She eased the car into the first available space. The odometer read thirty-two miles.

Her father woke up, climbed out of the back seat, and walked into the woods without saying a word. She was used to this. There were many nights while she was growing up that he didn't come home at all. Her mother would make excuses. Your father had to work late out of town, so he's staying in a hotel, she would say, or the roads are slick, we both thought it was better if he didn't come home until morning. It took Ruth a long time to see through the lies.

"Too much beer?" said Ruth, getting out of the car.

"I don't know," her mom replied, never facing her, walking toward the house.

As long as she could remember, Ruth's mom never betrayed him.

To be continued...

Monday, April 16, 2018

Searching for Manna (Pt 1)

I used to write fiction. In fact, I started this blog way back when as a way to keep writing in hopes that I might one day write fiction again. This story is one I wrote long, long ago. It was published in a student magazine when I was an undergrad but otherwise hasn't seen the light of day. This is part 1 of what I think will be four parts. Let me know what you think!

Searching for Manna

     On Christmas night, on the way home from Aunt Martha's, they decided to go. It was then that they realized how much they needed to see it. They were afraid if they waited one more day, they would miss the chance altogether. Ruth was driving. The car heater put out enough warm air to make her think she was wrapped in a cocoon--wrapped together with her parents, two dirty casserole dishes which sat at her mother's feet as patriotic survivors of one more baked ham and twice-baked potato meal, and a huge round tin with caramel, cheese, and sour cream and onion flavored popcorn, Grandpa's annual expression of love and good will. Outside, it was snowing. It had been for several days.
     Ruth navigated the pathways of slushed roads, lined with grey snow and headed south through town toward the countryside. She could feel their car being pulled from the stark incandescent streetlights into the gentle glow of the stars and moon that rolled with the hills for miles.
     Tiny towns appeared as dots along Highway 42. Ruth tightly gripped the steering wheel and pulled herself closer to it. Whenever she moved the wheel, it lightly brushed her breasts. The wind cut across the long-since plowed frozen fields, picking up bitter speed with each invisible row of corn that it passed over. The dark parallel lines on the roads shifted and changed without design as the snow blew relentlessly across them. She aimed for the middle, crossing the double yellow line and then back over again, focused on keeping the car out of the ditch on either side. There were no other cars on the road.
     Ruth's dad was the first to speak. "This is ridiculous," he said, when they were already several miles out of town. "You're going to get us killed."
     Even in the front seat, she could feel the warm bourbon on his breath. "Shut up, Dad," she said glancing over her shoulder. "We asked you what you thought ten minutes ago, and you didn't say anything."
     The sight of him leaning in the corner of the back seat, turned to his side, with his head resting on his hand, reminded her of the time several years before when he broke his rib at the hotel the last day of their vacation. At first, he had refused to go to the hospital and instead, resigned himself to lying in agony in the back of their woody Oldsmobile wagon. Her father, as they learned later at a hospital in the heart of southern Georgia, had no internal bleeding but a broken twelfth rib, the tip of which hung on to the rest of his rib cage like a loose hinge and threatened to break off at any moment and start a careless journey through the rest of his abdominal region. The injury resulted from a late-night fall either in the bathroom or on the patio. He couldn't remember which.
   That was the summer when she was eight, and it was the only time she remembered the family seating arrangement being altered. It always went by age. Dad drove. Mom co-piloted. The older two siblings were in the middle seat, and Ruth and Fran were in back, lying amid the suitcases, coolers, and discarded magazines. Ruth was the youngest, so she always sat in the back.
   This time, their father was back there, and she felt sorry for him. The suitcases could be isolating. She turned in her seat and sat facing him on her knees, reading parts of Ramona the Pest, and, when she saw tears in his eyes, offering him her stuffed goat. No one else in the car spoke. When he couldn't take the pain any longer, they stopped at the tiny hospital in Georgia. In that cramped and humid waiting room, sitting between her two older sisters, Ruth learned about drunkenness, and, she learned about her father. It was the first and last time that she heard anyone make a link between the two.

To be continued....

Also, when I post two days in a row, I know I run the risk of readers missing the earlier post, so here's a link to it. Check yesterday's post out if you haven't seen it already!