Red Car

This is a guest image post by Marissa. Inspiration for this sketch came from this image.

Too hot to stay indoors. Leo barely thought about it, even though it was early in the morning and her mother was still sleeping. She couldn’t wait to ask for the car. She had to get out. If she was driving, at least she was bursting the dead, wet air apart.

The air conditioner was broken and so she rolled both windows down, slapped the locks on both doors, and almost enjoyed the sting of the steering wheel under her fingers. She tried to hold her skin away from the leather seat, but it kept sticking against her legs anyway as her shorts rode up, and her whole body felt heavy under the iron sun. Looking across the prairies surrounding the house, she thought she would give anything just to be buried underground instead of running like a dog over the boiling surface of the earth.

She would try to reach some wooded place, a hundred miles away, a shady grove and babbling water. At first, she let the whine of cicadas drown out her thoughts, but as they grew louder she felt a panic rising in her chest. The radio worked at least and she rolled the dial over until she found some low country blues to turn up loud. She could measure out the time left until dusk in distance. How many miles per hour to reach the relief of a black sky?

After two hours, the red arrow on the dash pointed empty and she pulled off the road for gas.

“Hot as hell on earth today,” the old, worn face of the gas attendant muttered as he rang up her orange Nehi.

“You speak the truth, sir. You wouldn’t know of any place to swim around here?”

“There’s an old dirt access road, next to an abandoned shed down the way. That winds back into the hills a ways to the creek. It’s flood season though and the current’s too fast for swimming.”

“That’ll have to do. Thank you.”

She swallowed down the bright flavored soda and threw the car back in gear.

Soon she was tearing down the empty dirt road and for miles she couldn’t see anything but bleached out brush in all directions. Hills loomed in the distance, however, and as soon as the road finally curved beyond them she saw a stand of elms. She eased off the shoulder and parked. She took off her shoes, to let her toes drag through the damp, cold grass, and headed for the trees. She heard the sound of water and soon stood beside its red brown rushing.

The attendant was right. It was too big and fast for even wading. One of the tree’s thick branches spanned the water though and she thought she might be able to lay out on it, perched in the cool air above. She had loved climbing trees. As a teenager she was too often mad at the way her body no longer felt like it belonged to her, too consciousness of her awkward limbs to reward them with a good climb.

Her muscle memory was still with her, feeling around the bark’s grooves and making the flowing shifts of balance from one branch to the next. She edged out onto the last branch and then carefully, laid her body down along the full length, her arms and legs wrapped around to keep her steady. She pressed her forehead against the wood, stared down at the blurred rapids below, and dreamed that she had found the one holy branch where she could wait the whole fucking summer out.