Our Word :: Week 5 Day 3 :: {Flat Tire & Ballet Shoes} {11th Day of a Journey}

by Cassie

Through the sheets of rain rolling off the windshield, she could barely make out the bright yellow lines alerting her to which lane she was in. She’d turned off the radio ten minutes ago, when the low-hanging curtain of iron-colored cloud had split open and spilled a downpour onto the cars crawling along the highway; she couldn’t stand distractions when driving required her full attention, and the car was full of the kind of loud silence that sudden storms produce. She crawled along at 20 mph, sensing the agitation of the driver behind her aimed at the sensitive spot at the back of her neck, but she’d be damned if she drove any faster when she couldn’t even tell where she was on the road. Then, over the sound of the rain on the roof and the squeaking of the wipers she should have replaced five thousands miles ago, she heard a fat fwumpfwumpfwump sound thirty seconds before she felt it, an uneven bounce beneath her. She sighed, thought about crying, but instead indicated to the right and pulled over on the shoulder. The car that had been riding her bumper flew past, throwing a wave of water across her window; once it passed, the road was mostly empty in either direction, so she opened her door cautiously and stepped out. The left front tire lay low against the ground, and she groaned. Of course this would happen today, she thought, stomping through mud to the back of the car, opening the trunk and leaning in to find the tire iron. At least the rain was beginning to let up, slowing down to a medium drizzle; around her, fog was rising from the steaming blacktop and rolling back towards the trees that lined long miles of highway. With the spare tire wrangled out of its cramped quarters, she dropped it at her feet, grabbed the tire iron, and slammed the trunk door shut, then noticed an odd shaped something just past the place she had parked; it was vaguely rectangular and as she walked toward it, she could see it was a box that had been warped and crumpled and sunken by several days in the sun, exposed to all the elements of summer. Everything had gone quiet in that eerie way it does in the moments just after a heavy rain, when the birds and the bugs are still hiding dry somewhere, but as she leaned over the box, a crow flew just over her head with a loud CAW! that made her jump, and then she saw it was only a pair of ballet shoes, a dark wet pink, nestled in among handfuls of soaking wet wrapping paper. She reached for one, tentatively, unsure of the jangling of her nerves, and stroked the satin with one finger; the shoe rolled over like an obedient dog and there, along the bottom length of it, JUNIPER written in thick black ink, smudged at the end, the “e” and “r” almost illegible. The crow made another sweeping circle above her head and this time, she barely heard it.

IIIII IIIII I. Juniper scratched the newest mark into the ancient old cracked dash of the Pinto she’d been driving, using the rusty penknife he gave her before she left. She picked absentmindedly at a mosquito bite on her shoulder, her skin starting to peel from a fading sunburn, and flipped the map over her bare knees. There were thick red circles and lines and arrows wandering back and forth from east to west and she closed her eyes, counted to ten, let her finger pick the next destination — south, then, the back edge of the Delta, crawling up along the Mississippi. She folded the map up haphazardly and shoved it under the seat, stretched long enough to pop her back, and threw it into drive. Out here, she thought, this is it. Not the place she was putting further behind her with every mile of warm air rushing in the window. Not in the tomb of his arms, the way they blocked out all the sunlight even when it was laying in bright bars all over the bedroom. Not in the wall of mirrors, bent over the barre, always extending, always exhausted. The box sat in the seat beside her, boring, malevolent; the scar on the inside of her thigh twitched and jumped as the healing skin knits itself back together. The only music she’d brought with her reached the end of one side and slowly flipped itself over in the tape deck, a clunk and a whirrrr and that static sound of silence about to be broken. She was the only one on this long stretch of small highway, two lanes and trees and the smell of summer-warmed water somewhere out there; with nothing much to focus on, all she can see is a flash of sharp silver and a badly set broken bone, the skin at odd angles. She glanced down at the battered old box again, held together with brown paper and a couple of messy strips of packing tape; before she knew what was she was doing, her hand has grabbed at it, thrown it through the open window, thrown it away. She stared at it in the rear view mirror, how it bounced twice before landing upside-down on the shoulder, and the scar burned the way new scars do, and the laughter tore out of her tender throat like it had had eleven days to get ready to go.

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