Start at the pickup truck. Not mine, of course, though it has the right number and shape of dents to seem like something I could have. I’m driving the Neon, the one with the bargain tires that slide in the puddles and the back window covered with duct tape, and these curves hug us just right. Where am I going? I guess we’ll see. I can’t talk about it just yet.
Let me reconstruct the narrative. We need a beginning so start at the truck, but rewind to the couch. Old couch, bargain couch, hand-me-down-plus-a-twenty couch. Sometimes the stuffing leaks out. That’s where I was sitting, with the stuffing leaking out, and he was in the armchair and asked me to pause the movie. Why did he look embarrassed? It’s just me, it’s just the couch. We grew up here.
Did I remember that?
I’m at the middle, in the car, my phone in the glovebox so it doesn’t go out the window. My hands slip sometimes, what can I say? I’m normally so careful. I’m taking the turns slow. Moving slowly minimizes the threat. This road is an eyesore, I’m counting flowers at the edges. Springtime trying to push miracles through my fingers, no thank you, I’m content to look. I appreciate the lilies, but I’m also trying to stay alive for now.
Oh right, the truck. Well, I learned how to drive in that truck. He was very patient and not quite old enough to be teaching me but Mom didn’t care. Never once yelled the way Mom did. Adjust the seat, check the mirrors, ten and two. I’d find myself whispering it under my breath to keep calm. I’m finding myself there now and what a discovery. I can’t describe the feeling of being in control of something so much bigger than me. Did he think about telling me that summer, when there was nothing but us and the truck and the highway for miles? Maybe not, didn’t want to ruin it all.
I ruined something, not yet. I didn’t have to. I can keep a secret better than most. It would kill Mom, is the thing, and I mean that. That overworked heart seizing up from the shock of it. Nobody deserves that.
Back then, hours not years ago, I was picking the stuffing out of the couch. Like the dandelion down, wish hard. I shouldn’t have said I would love him no matter what. That makes you not consider the cost. And it’s never true anyways, we all have our lines, mine looks like this double yellow right down the middle.
Downtown glides in. There goes the water tower, with the new fence they promised to keep people out. We’ve got a climbing problem in town. Or a problem of people trying to reach certain heights. Best to stay grounded. I remember when they put in that fence—we went together to see it. He heard a rumor that it pulsed enough volts to stop a heart on impact, but I wasn’t a believer in what hadn’t personally sent me running.
Who do you ask an unaskable question? I’m asking you. He wanted to ask me, but that’s where the line showed up just out of nowhere. Nope, no passing here. Our couch matches the living room walls, matches the color of the dents in the truck, matches the shape of his ambition. This is as far as it can go, my hand, not his, covering my mouth and—
Summer is always simpler. So much less to chase. This kind of fall has the wet leaves sticking up my windows and my throat is full.
He did promise not to hurt me, but I’m not sure that’s the point. Our hands slip sometimes. Dandelion down, ten and two. That fence turned out not be electric. Is he the fence? No, he’s just my brother, reaching out.
Mom loves our couch, doesn’t see it for the yellow lines that it is. I keep a foot or so between those lines and my tires and only look at what can’t hurt. I guess I see now that the middle goes for as long as I need it to. All the flowers came in and will die right on time, daffodil tongues lolling out in the side ditches—they light up that country road. Which country road? I suppose all of them, any road where the speed limit has to be felt out. Heel on the floor and toes pressing into the things I’d like to forget.
“Forget the Line Breaks” by Al Reitz has appeared in Issue 38 of Berkeley Fiction Review.
Al Reitz is a 2017 Lambda Literary fellow and an aspiring cryptid based in Boston, MA. A graduate of Emerson College, most of their time is dedicated to investigating bouts of everyday magic. Their debut collection of short stories, Middlelands, was released from Wilde Press in April 2017, and their work is forthcoming from the Grief Diaries.