They rode through Lents in a rusted Toyota Corolla with a busted out back window. No glass left, just the flapping of a tattered, opaque, plastic tarp in the wind, like pigeon wings battering the back of the car.
Jen sucked on a plastic straw, enjoying the carbonated fizz of the soda. A hundred pockets of surprise popping between her warm tongue and the roof of her mouth.
Stan moved his head back and forth a lot as he drove. Looking for a turn, or a cop, or nothing at all, she couldn’t tell.
She focused on the thick, short, ink-colored stubble on the right side of his jaw. The sun seemed to draw each hair out, tiny follicle plants reaching for sustenance. She chewed on the straw and imagined little shadows for each one, mottling his face until it became a soup of shade and growth.
She considered for a moment that maybe she didn’t care about Stan anymore. About anything to do with him, head movements or bathing habits or his forgetfulness or even the history they had built together out of eggshell Legos.
He turned the radio on and the tape in the ancient tape deck began to turn. David Lee Roth-era Van Halen backed up by the shk, shk, shk, of spinning reels.
He let out a sharp, “ha-HA!,” as he slammed his palm on the dash. He followed up with a howling, “Ohhhhh-woah-woahhhhh, Jamie’s cryin’!”
His fingers spidered across the faded dashboard in time to the music. His other hand joined the shk, shk, shk, backing up Eddie and the gang by thumping against the steering wheel as safety allowed. His fingers were dirty and rough, like this car, like the last year and a half, like she felt inside. But when he brushed her lips with those same fingers and said, “Hush, baby doll, we got this,” she felt like it could get better. She felt hope. She felt.
Jen smiled. Damn it. She did still care.
They stopped at a red light and her eyes moved to the sidewalk on their right. The one under the I-205 overpass. The one in front of the huge, sharp boulders the city had placed there to stop them from camping there. The boulders like rotted awkward teeth fallen from the mouth of a giant. A giant who didn’t notice the human life it destroyed in its simple attempt to survive. She remembered her high school U.S. History class and how she had felt proud to be a citizen with a government so full of checks and balances. Then she remembered sleeping in a tent with I-205 above them, the wind rattling the thin canvas like pigeon wings battering at the door.
She spat out the window.
She put her hand on Stan’s thigh and he turned his head, sang to her until the light turned green.
The car was a step up, she supposed, though it felt somehow worse, in-between as opposed to being one place or the other.
What was left of her soda gurgled in her straw, and by the time Stan stopped singing and turned the car into a church parking lot for the night, she was just sucking in air.