Published in Luna Review – May 2016
They take turns driving. One Sunday she takes the wheel, the next Sunday he does. They pull out of the driveway at precisely 11:50 p.m., drive the same route, pass the same dark houses and lit churches, take the same exit off the highway, turn the car around in the same patch of dirt, park in the same spot. When he drives, she leans her head back against the car seat and closes her eyes. She tries to imagine what Maddy was thinking, seeing, feeling. They roll down the driver side window, always, no matter the cold or the rain. They tune the radio to KJEE, always. They want to feel the same wind, hear the same sounds, that Maddy felt and heard. If they drive the speed limit they will arrive at the off ramp with precisely two minutes to spare. Maddy was so careful, so responsible, she wouldn’t dare speed. They park along the side of the pavement opposite the off ramp, surrounded by the dirt and scrub, no houses or people or lights save the moon and stars. They angle the car so they have a perfect sight line down the ramp and into oncoming lanes.
They sit in the car and watch the minute hand on the dashboard clock. Sometimes they talk. “Remember the time –.” Sometimes they laugh at the stories, sometimes they cry at the memories. Sometimes they sit in silence, numb from the effort of grief. Always they watch the clock.
She likes to imagine that Maddy was going to meet a boy. Got lost in a song, missed the exit, ended up on an unfamiliar road, tried to circle back on the dark highway. She remembers the butterflies when she was 16, the excitement of attraction, the promise in a kiss. She likes to think that Maddy’s last thoughts were those, her last feeling anticipation. She told him once, but he blew up. “My baby girl did not sneak out to meet a boy! She was a good girl!” She dropped it, didn’t try to explain. Let him imagine his own reason for Maddy taking the Mustang out at midnight on a Sunday. She likes hers and will keep it.
They sit and listen and imagine until 12:12 a.m. They both gasp when the minute hand lurches forward. It hits them like a truth revealed for the very first time, every time. They hold their breath and each other’s hand. They watch for headlights to appear around the bend in the highway. Sometimes they see them, mostly they don’t. Three times they have watched a semi-truck drive through the exact spot, at the exact time. Their eyes widen when they see headlights. She can’t help but flinch. Her mind can’t help but stagger in the sudden burst of light.
When the minute hand moves to the thirteen, the spell breaks. They drive home in silence, crawl into bed and face opposite walls. She prays for three things at that moment: peace for her Maddy, peace for the truck driver, and sleep for herself. She knows that she will never have peace, so she doesn’t bother to ask.