By Jennifer DeMotta
Part 2, continued from March 25
At sixteen, I still didn’t have my driver’s license, but I’d driven before. Sometimes at night, when my mother was tired and we had to keep driving to put distance between us and him, she let me drive. Only on those long, flat high ways in places like Iowa, where there was no one else on the road and it was easy to stay between the lines. The only problem was, I wasn’t very good at turning, so windy roads were difficult for me.
I turned the key in the ignition and the engine started right up. It sounded like a lawn mower. I pulled the seat up as far as it would go and leaned as close to the windshield as I could. With my foot on the brake, I put the car in reverse and stepped on the gas. Too hard. I took off like a shot and then braked and put it in drive. I eased my way out of the parking lot and turned left, going five miles an hour. I hoped that boy was right, and they were headed south.
They had at least a ten minute head start so I had to try and catch up to them. The speed limit was 55 so I pressed harder and harder on the gas until I was going 60. I was afraid to go faster than that, but afraid not to. I tried not to think about what could be happening to my mother.
Sometimes at night, in a hotel room, I would watch those crime shows, where detectives would find the dead body of a beautiful woman and they would follow the clues and catch the murderer. I would think to myself, what a waste, if only she hadn’t gone out to her car by herself, she wouldn’t be dead. And sometimes I would get mad and think that she shouldn’t have had to be careful in the first place.
So I drove.
I didn’t see many cars on the road, just one here and there. I concentrated every muscle in my body and mind on driving as straight as possible. I almost didn’t see the black truck up ahead on the right side of the road; it was so far over it was almost invisible, but I caught a glint of the sun hitting the windows and slowed down. No one was behind me. I eased off the road, stopping behind the truck a few yards back, and I put the car into park. The truck looked empty. There were a few feet of brown grass in between where the pavement of the road ended and a sparse stretch of woods began.
I grabbed the can of mace and got out of the car, leaving the keys in the ignition. Walking carefully and quietly, I went to the side of the truck and peered in. Empty. It was definitely Jimmy’s truck: I recognized the little dancing woman with a grass skirt that stood on the dashboard.
I took a deep, shaky breath and looked towards the woods. It was still, no wind rattling the leaves, the sun full overhead, calm and bright. I pulled the switchblade out of my pocket and triggered the blade. It was extremely thin and sharp, a real high quality knife that, strangely enough, was given to me two years ago by one of my mother’s boyfriends. He carried several knives himself, though he’d had a real tough look about him, and he was kind to me. He told me a girl like me might have need of a sharp knife someday, and this one did not dull easy. How right he was.
I hooked the canister of mace into my belt loop, walked up to the truck, and bent down. Holding the knife, I plunged the blade deep into the front tire. It was tough and jarred the bones in my arms, but I kept at it and moved on to the back tire. I flattened all four tires quickly, then stood up and headed for the woods.
I told myself that my mother was alive and well and that I wouldn’t need the switchblade in my hand or the mace in my belt and that this was all some kind of joke or misunderstanding, and it was all going to work out fine. I felt numb, and, at the same time, sick. The voice inside my head was screaming run, run, run. Instead, I kept walking to the woods and I stood on the edge looking in, wondering how the hell I was supposed to find my mother. She could be anywhere. So I stopped and listened, knowing she couldn’t be far.
I heard a crack to my right, like a tree branch snapping underfoot, so I half-ran, half-walked into the woods, staying close to the edge nearest the road so I wouldn’t get lost, following the sound. There was a slight clearing in the woods, a few feet wide, and I sensed movement so I crept along now, as quiet as possible, the blade of my knife in my right hand pointing towards the ground, my left hand extended to feel my way along the trees.
Something on the ground caught my attention. Red high heeled sandals, the strappy kind that slip on. I knew at a glance they were my mother’s. I left them on the ground and kept walking. My heart was beating loudly now, my breath coming in short gasps as I tried not to think about why those two red shoes were not on my mother’s feet. My arms shook as they hung down my side. I told myself that this would not end badly, like on television, that this was my life and I would be okay, she would be okay, and after this we would go and start over.
And then I was in a clearing, and there they were. Jimmy looked more like a bear and less like a man, and my mother lay on her back on the ground at his feet, her white legs splayed wide on the ground, but her arms held tight over her stomach. Her eyes were wide open and for a moment I thought she was dead, but no, she was looking at me, and yelling something, only I couldn’t hear her because it sounded like a train was going by, but it was my life riding through my head like thunder. Jimmy turned away from my mother, towards me, and I still couldn’t hear anything but that damn train that was my life, and his lips moved as he came towards me. I remembered my switchblade, still in my right hand, and my mace. I pulled the mace out of my belt because I did not want to see any more blood, even Jimmy’s, and instead of waiting for him to reach me, I ran towards him, surprising him and shoving the can of mace right up to his eyes as I sprayed. He fell to his knees and roared, and clutched his hands to his face. I gripped the mace tighter in my palm and I roared too. I swung my leg back and kicked him in the gut as hard as I could. I kicked him for what he’d done to my mother and me, again and again, and he fell over on his side writhing and yelling, only all I could hear was that goddamned train in my head.
I felt someone grab my arm so I stopped kicking and turned, wild in my rage, my switchblade open in my hand. It was my mother; the skin on her face and arms covered with red splotchy marks that would soon be bruises. Her shirt gapped open and her red lacy bra matched the thin red cut above her belly button. It was only a nick. Her blonde hair was tangled around her head and her face was wet with tears and blood leaked down her nose. And just like that the train was gone and I could hear again: the angry sobbing and cursing of the man at my feet, and my mother crying and yelling.
I pocketed the mace and grabbed my mother’s arm, pulling her, stumbling towards the edge of the woods. No words came out of my mother’s lips as we moved, only sobs and hysterical sounds as we broke through the trees and onto the brown grass. Our ugly station wagon never looked more beautiful as the sun hit the windows and I felt a rush of something warm flooding through me, but I didn’t know what it was.
I opened the passenger door and helped my mother in as she continued to cry, then I got into the driver’s seat, buckling my seat belt and starting the car. I made a perfect turn and drove down the highway.
“Where are we going?” my mother asked between sobs.
I turned and stared into her panicked eyes. I had looked a man in the face today, stared right at his six and a half feet of muscles, at his snake tattoo and coal-black eyes, and I’d almost killed him. I’d wanted to kill him. I still clutched the open switchblade in my right hand, pressing it against the steering wheel.
“California,” I said, and I turned away from her and stared out the windshield at the road ahead.
Jennifer DeMotta grew up in Maine. As soon as she learned to read she was scarcely seen without her nose stuffed in a book. At the age of twenty-one, she moved to Los Angeles where she worked at a bookstore and began writing her first book. She now lives in Portland, Oregon with her sister and two cats, and is currently completing her bachelor’s degree at Portland State University. She is in the process of revising her first book, and writing her second book. She loves music, books, and food.