10 December 2007 | Vol. 7, No. 4


It was what he wanted to do. He was flying, his body moving ahead of his head, doing things, pushing the gas, steering. The pavement was new, the road ropy and thick and black, a wonder of this world with its sharp yellow line to pull them along. The pickup's tires glided over it. It felt good, too good. He needed to push it further. Until it felt bad.

They said rain but the sky was clean and that added to the feeling. The music was crazy headbanging music he didn't even like, too loud to hear if she was saying anything, her head out the window. He thought she was. Yelling the words, or just screaming, lips wide, leaning over the doorframe and baring her teeth in the side mirror. Her hair was too tame in that rubber band.

Pull. His body leaned right, his hand caught the rubber band. It didn't slide off, tangled in those long long curls. Her hair was drier than he'd thought it would be. Last night when he'd grabbed it, he'd been dreaming about touching it all week, twisting those curly-Q curls around his finger as he'd seen her do, but it was coarse, like the scrubber side of a sponge, and he'd pulled his hand away fast. She hadn't even noticed, flying on top of him, hands behind her head and her chin up like she was doing sit-ups, muscular thighs squeezing, hips working, breasts beautiful and big, too big for his hand, swinging above him, nipples thick as the tip of his thumb. From breastfeeding, she'd said, as she let the bra drop. They swung big and empty above him, her eyes on the picture of the mountain above the motel bed, hard ridges soft with snow. He'd pulled his hand away from her hair, grabbed her thighs, her ass, closed his eyes.

"Ouch! What are you doing?" Her head back in the window long enough to smile. The rubber band ripped at the hair around it. He'd had long hair once. He knew the feeling, hot tacks all over his scalp, forgotten acupuncture needles stabbing behind his eyes. He pulled harder and she pulled away from him until it came off in his hand, a hunk of hair twisted around it, dark red and yellow highlights that didn't glint in the sun.

"That's so much better!" Her eyes were wet and hot and glittering. He knew that feeling, too, like looking through red-tinted sunglasses, the blue sky so blue you could drink it, the dirt sparkling, full of fool's gold and glass. Just a step on the way to where he was going today. Her head shot back out the window, eyes to the passing landscape, that hair whipping and snapping around her. Braless in cut-off jean shorts, the hippie chick he wanted her to be.

Outside was a checkerboard of mute green and dust brown, nothing he needed to see. Not the landscape that set him free, the Utah desert with its canyons stamped in by broken cookie cutters, its lopsided arches and lumpy spires, Play-Doh leave-behinds of some godchild with more red and orange than he had use for. Not red like her toenails or orange like fire but the somewhere in between of overripe fruit.

There was a road in southern Utah like a roller coaster. A thin track that climbed out of a pink and gray valley with no sense of top. It pulled you up and up and up by that sharp yellow line and then let you go, down, down, swinging sharply left, now right, now climbing again, with nothing but twelve inches of shoulder on either side. No concrete barriers to block your view or save your life.

He held the wheel with his knee and reached behind his seat for another beer. The can was cold but the beer was warm. He swished it in his mouth until it was flat and flavorless. Swallowed, swigged, swallowed, swigged. He was getting there. He barely remembered the cat now. The feel of it under the front, then the back tire, like something already dead but not quite flat enough, and when they'd stopped and turned back, it was still breathing. "It's just a barn cat," she'd said. But she saw the collar just like he did, the heart-shaped tag.

His arm flung the can out the window and it caught in the sagebrush, barely silver against the gray. His foot pushed the gas, his knee rolled them around a turn. Their skis and poles scraped across the bed of the pickup and back again around the next bend. Gear packed yesterday when they were still pretending. "We still could, you know," she'd said this morning, and for a minute he'd thought they should, wanted to cover her body up in stiff pants and a puffy jacket, but it was too late, he'd already touched every inch of it.

"I." She ducked back into the truck. "Feel." Bounced over to him. "So." Poked him in the belly, slid her hand between his legs. She was going to straddle him again right there and he'd have to look around that broad back to see the yellow line in the road. "Good."

She had a deal with her husband. He'd rather that she didn't. He'd prefer to take her in her own bathroom, with the happy cuckold stirring risotto on the other side of the wall. Stuff a towel between her teeth and bend her over the sink and afterwards conjugate irregular French verbs for her daughter while they waited for dinner to be served. Pour out wine and toast the friendship and wake up slantwise across his own bed, shoes still on, wondering how many bottles they put down and how he got home and if her husband had discovered the condom in the wastebasket or the hickey on her ass.

"What now?" he asked.

She pushed down on his thigh and brought her face close to his. "Whatever you want." She had big teeth. Orthodontist straight. "Don't ask." Her eyes glittering. "Just go." She gave his leg a squeeze and then arched her body up over the back of the seat, her knee in his side, thigh rubbing his shoulder. She handed him another beer, cracked one for herself.

"God." She took a long swig and leaned back against the seat. "All our friends are having kids. I'm so over it." She took another drink. "I've been tied down for eighteen years and I'm almost free."

Give a woman long enough and she'd start talking about kids.

"You're so lucky you never got married. You can do this whenever you want."

"Lucky," he said.

"You don't even know," she said.

"No, the cat." He took his eyes off the yellow line. Her cheek was pressed against the vinyl seat back, her chin angled up a little, like she wanted to be kissed. "The cat's name was Lucky." When she wasn't looking, he'd flipped over the tag.

"Oh, God." She punched his arm. "Don't think about that. This is our time." Her eyes way out in front of her face. There'd been a film over Lucky's eyes, death coming or cataracts, and tread marks on Lucky's crushed back end. She'd gone back to wait in the truck. He scratched Lucky's head, along its cheekbone, and the cat closed and opened its eyes. He carried it to the side of the road, laid it in the dust, scratched under its chin. It'd stretched its head back, made its neck long, and he'd scratched the soft places under its ears before he brought the rock down on its forehead.

"Nothing to hold us back," she said.

The windshield was coated with dust, drab and brown. Proof of just another dirty afternoon. The yellow line stretched ahead and disappeared between his tires. His foot pushed the gas. She slugged her beer and leaned toward him.

"That's it," she said.

There would be a little girl owner, dad taking her out in a truck like this. Hanging an open can of wet food out the window. Calling.

"Faster," she said.

His gas foot pushed harder. There was something in the road he needed to see, but he didn't look. Neither of them did.

"That's it," she said. "Hold it. Hold it." And she held his eyes, cupped them in her own.

He'd put the cat under a bush, but when they had driven away he saw that the tail curled out around it, toward the road. Black and gray. If you weren't really looking, you might think it was a snake. The girl would really be looking.

Next to him, her breath was coming hard and fast. There was white spit in the corner of her mouth. Her eyes way out in front of her face, his stuck to them. "Hold it," she whispered. He didn't need to be told.

"Now!" she said.

She unlocked his eyes, and he looked at the road. He was on the wrong side and the tractor was right in front of him, coming closer, coming slow. The driver with a denim arm over his old face. No road is really like a roller coaster. You made it happen, your foot on the gas. He pushed the gas. She screamed, his pinky finger on the wheel. Spinning. His foot on the gas. She slid across the seat away from him, dropped her beer, hit her head on the dash. The skis crashed in the bed. Bushes cracked beneath them. He knew exactly what he was doing. His pinky on the wheel. Tires reached for the road. The asphalt was smooth, a little sticky. The yellow line pulled him forward and disappeared between his tires.

Her husband was already asleep when she got home. The porch light was on, the annuals she'd bought last week spilling little purple and yellow heads over the rims of their pots. The nightlight in the hall showed the gleaming new floors. Pulling up the carpet had been a good idea. She tiptoed upstairs. The door to her daughter's room was cracked, and a warm teenage smell slipped out. She opened her mouth and breathed it in. She snuck back downstairs, stripped down to her underwear and slid under the covers, wrapping her leg over her husband's waist. He reached behind for her.

"Did you have fun?"

"The snow was amazing." She touched her cheekbone where it had hit the dash and the smell of dust and him filled her again.

She let her husband pull her hand over his chest. She nuzzled her face in his back, kissed him between his shoulder blades and closed her eyes.

About the author:

Amber Krieger writes in Portland, Oregon.

For further reading:

Browse the contents of 42opus Vol. 7, No. 4, where "Push" ran on December 10, 2007. List other work with these same labels: fiction, short story.

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