by Jeffrey Yang
Issue: Elysium (Spring 2012)
“Are we there yet?” Mollie asked for the third time.
I chose not to answer.
“Are we there yet?” she repeated in a peevish voice.
I watched the dusty road. Twenty miles, and nothing but the straight road. When Linda, Mollie’s grief counselor, told me the canyon would be a fun, educational experience for Mollie that would take her mind off my wife’s death for a while, this was not what I had had in mind.
Two hours of driving, and always the voice asking,
“Are we there yet?”
“Almost,” I said, fidgeting in my seat. There was a time when I would have laughed at this, along with Martie. Beautiful, glowing, smiling Martie. Why did it have to happen? Why did the lights malfunction, why did she have to have gone forward while the train sped along? Why? In a single day, my world turned upside down. But at least I still had Mollie, thank God, at least I had Mollie.
And here we were, driving along a dusty road, when we hadn’t paid our respects to Martie yet.
Why was there so much dust? It covered the windshield and blocked my view. If the dust didn’t let up, I would crash the car.
Martie. I glanced to my right, the seat that she would have been sitting on, should have been sitting on. The car turned a little, then righted itself. I couldn’t stop thinking about her.
“Is Mommy coming back?” I glanced into the rear view mirror, startled to see her face streaked with tears.
I tried to keep my voice steady for her sake. “No, Mollie, Mommy’s never coming back.”
Damn it. This wasn’t working at all. Linda was wrong. It would take much more than just the prospect of a trip to get her mind off her mother.
“Look, Mollie,” I said, watching the road. “We lose some things in life. Things that can never be replaced.” I took a long, hollow breath. “But we have to try. We can’t stop living just because we lose something.”
Aside from some snuffling, Mollie was silent for a long time. After a while minutes, I heard her voice again. “Are we there yet?”
I looked into the rear view mirror. No tears. Good, good. “Not quite.”
Forty miles now, and nothing but the dusty road, the dry fields and the occasional decrepit farm building. Horrible scenes shoved their way to the front of my mind. I remembered the day of her death. The day everything went wrong.
I had just left my office cubicle when the phone rang. An officer told me the news. Martie had died in a train crash at the St. Walker railroad intersection. The officer told me she was sorry. I didn’t remember clearly what happened after that. I got out of the building, out into the pouring rain. I stumbled across the lot to the car, and jammed the keys into the ignition. The windshield wipers weren’t even on when I left the lot, but nothing mattered then. I arrived at the scene, blocked by a line of waiting cars, their lights dim in the rain. I sprinted from the car toward the wreck, oblivious of the rain, oblivious of the onlookers. Somewhere I must have tripped. The rain made it dark, but a flash of lightning revealed all. The grim, soaked faces of the police officers, the rubble lying about the road, and God, the remains of Martie’s car.
I ran towards it, and when the officers tried to pull me back, I screamed, “She’s my wife!” and they backed off reluctantly, compassion on their faces. I reached the car. I searched for a trace of her, anything, but there was nothing left. Nothing. Just cold, twisted, wet, metal. As I stood before the wreck, I felt the droplets sliding down my cheeks, one by one, some hot, some cold. I didn’t remember much after that. An officer pulled me aside and told me that there was nothing left for me here, that there was nothing I could do, that I should go home. He showed me to my car, and I drove back to my house, my hands shaking on the wheel. Slamming the door, I stumbled inside and made straight for the kitchen cabinet. When I opened it, I recoiled at the mirror. I looked like a monster. Red, swollen eyes, sopping wet hair, face contorted in silent grief.
I dumped them into my hands. The white circles. Perfect, white circles. I didn’t even need to count. I couldn’t have counted them. Then at the last moment, I remembered Mollie. I remembered her fourth birthday, when she hugged me, and I swung her around the house, with Martie laughing and putting up the balloons. The memory just brought more tears. No. I couldn’t. Mollie still had a life, a future. I couldn’t take it all away. To do it now would be murder. If only there were a way…
Slowly, like a puzzle coming together, my vision of the road returned. I shook myself from my reverie, and when my eyes focused back onto the road, the car was on the wrong side. I pulled the wheel to the right, a little too suddenly. The car jerked to the right, and for a second, drifted, but it steadied and continued on the right lane. Looking back at Mollie to see if she’d been surprised, I found her busy humming to herself and gazing out the window at the rolling fields.
Where was the next stop? My thirst was starting to get a little distracting, and the light. I hated how the sun hovered directly over the dusty road, hurling its rays straight into my eyes. Why didn’t the damn car have tinted windows? I squeezed my eyes together to look past the glare to the road. Through all the dust, I made out a hazy figure. My heart stopped. It looked all too familiar.
I blinked, and the image disappeared. There was only the road.
“She’s dead,” I whispered to myself. “She’s not coming back. Get that crazy thought out of your head, Adam.” But no matter what I told myself, I couldn’t.
The glare, always in my eyes. I needed a break. There wasn’t a single place to stop, but there were no other cars on the road. I stopped the car.
Mollie yawned behind me. “Are we there yet?”
“No. We’re just taking a stop.”
I got out of the car, and shook myself. This trip wasn’t a good idea. We still had a long while to go, and I was slipping away. This wasn’t good at all. I needed a breath of fresh air, but it was too dry, too dusty. I walked around, stretched, and got back into the car. There was nothing I could do but keep driving and hope we reached it soon. The canyon. It had a river, and Linda told me that it shone a pure blue in the sunlight. Clear, sparkly blue. That’s what I needed. Not this dusty road. There was a speed limit, but then and again, no one would be there to see me. I put pressure on the pedal, and the car sped along.
All these miles, and nothing to keep me interested. My mind inadvertently wandered back to the thoughts that had haunted me for the past three weeks. I looked in the back seat, hoping to occupy myself by talking with Mollie, but she had fallen asleep.
I narrowed my eyes on the road, trying to focus on every insignificant detail to keep myself from drifting away. But the glare kept interfering with my vision, and I found it easier to stare at the dashboard and let the memories take control…
I forced my vision back to the road, but up ahead, I could see a figure–the figure of a woman outlined by the sun. She held up a stop sign. I blinked. The figure was gone.
When was the last time I had seen her before it happened? It seemed like a world ago. A lifetime ago. And it was. Everything changed that night.
I focused my eyes back on the road, and shook myself clear.
“I’m just getting a little drowsy, that’s all,” I said to myself. “I haven’t gotten much sleep these past few weeks.” The engine of the car grumbled in response. But when I looked at the road again, I saw the same figure, hefting a yellow sign. On it big black words read “YIELD”.
When was the last time I saw her? I had never given it any thought. I thought hard, and it came back to me. We were eating dinner together while the rain pattered on our roof. We ate in silence, both of us weary from work.
Martie looked up, smiled, and asked, “Remember what you said when we first met?
That you’d wait for me no matter what happens?”
I cracked a weary smile. “Yeah.”
“Do you think I’d ever wait for you?”
I stopped eating and looked up. She was giving me one of those strange looks, as if she were trying to gauge my response.
“Of course,” I said, and went back to my spaghetti.
“Good answer.” She smiled and left the dinner table.
The next morning, she was gone for work. I never saw her again.
It just occurred to me… She never did wait for me. She was gone, and I was still stuck here. A screech brought me to my senses. The wheel was scraping along the edge of the road. I swung the wheel to my left, but I overreacted. The car flew over the mound of dirt that lined the road. As the car flew down the hill, the ground loomed closer with each passing second. I braced for impact. A ripple of force rocked the car, cracking the windshield. Pain shot up my leg, crushed by the impact. I couldn’t even scream. Through the splintered windshield I saw that the car was tipping, about to fall backwards. I ducked my head, put my hands over it, waiting for the blow to strike.
A brief sense of vertigo, and my back smashed onto the top of the car. Pain raced up my spine, but before it even reached the base of my neck the car started sliding down the steep hill… Sliding, tumbling. Mollie screamed every time the car crashed into the ground, but I could hardly hear it through the deafening sound of breaking glass and screeching metal. But when we were smashed against the cabin again, the scream was cut short. We were falling towards flat ground, some sort of ravine between the two hills. Here was our chance.
“Get out!” I shouted at the top of my lungs. “Get out, now!” I felt something hit my shoulder. It was Mollie’s hand. I grabbed it, and reached out with my bloodied hand towards the door. I struggled to pull the tiny lever, struggled to force my broken fingers into a grip before we hit the ground. The force launched me out of the car, with my hand still gripping the severed car door, the other holding Mollie’s limp arm. As we flew backwards, I could see everything. Mollie’s hair streaming back, the car shuddering as it bore the impact, flying aside, the disturbed soil sifting down the hill as the grass swayed slowly.
I fell, hard, hugging Mollie. Her back was bent in a wrong way, and her left arm was dangling, useless. I tried to get up, but the car door pinned me to the ground. Then I noticed the tracks. Steel tracks, crisscrossing right under me. I heard the horn, the roar of the engine, the clicks of the wheels sliding across the tracks, coming from a tunnel up ahead.
I looked back at Mollie. Her eyes closed tight, tears streaming down her face, she whimpered in a small voice that I could barely hear over the roar of the train, “Are we there yet?”
As it came into view, its headlights glowing like overhead light fixtures, its engines running at full speed, I answered, hugging her tightly. “Yes. We finally are.”
The investigator entered the lab.
“You got them prepped for the autopsy?” he asked the officer.
“Yeah, and it’s pretty gruesome.”
He slipped on his gloves and examined his subjects.
“You can leave now,” he told the officer.
He walked out, obviously relieved. The investigator examined the corpses. No visible flesh wounds, yet a deluge of blood and bile dripped from their mouths. It all reeked of overdose. The investigator took a blood sample, and tested it for the common toxins from standard over-the-counter pharmaceutical drugs, the only ones found in his house.
He only went through five different chemicals before he hit a match.
“Damn,” he whispered. “Tylenol.” The investigator brought up the investigation notes. The two were found dead over the dinner table with half eaten food, with no apparent cause. He looked at the item list. An empty Tylenol pill case with the man’s prints was found on the kitchen counter. He took the blood of the girl, and the results were the same.
A scenario formed in his head. Both corpses showed the same stage of rigor mortis, so they had died at almost the same time. The man had mixed a fatal overdose of the drugs into the food to kill himself and the child. It all made sense.
He typed up a report and sent it on to the forensics team so they could dust the pill case and the other items for the prints. As he stood to leave the room, something stopped him.
“Why?” he asked himself. “Why would a man do this? What did he think he would get by committing suicide?”
But thinking about these things wasn’t what he was paid for. He took one last glance at the I.D. of the man still up on the computer–a healthy, happy looking man, with a wide and friendly smile–and left the room.