We’ve been driving for ages. It’s been at least two state lines since I stopped counting the weeks we've been living in this purple Saturn from 1998.
We drive at night, taking back roads and half-paved highways. When we stop to take a break, we flip a coin to see which town we’ll hit next. Sometimes an empty gas tank decides for us.
We reach the sign that says Welcome to Hell Hole, population none, or whatever. We find the bank just as the sun comes up and share our last cigarette, sitting across the street.
He calls me his queen and tells me about the pretty yellow house we’ll share one day. I tell him the names of our five bulldogs. We know it’ll never happen. We’re not made for walls and ceilings. But we still play this game every day.
We find the motel just outside the town limits, the one with the signs that only has half its neon lights flickering. The lady at the front desk is still wearing her nightgown when she hands us the rusty room key.
We fall asleep in a bed that’s just as lumpy and dirty as the one before. There’s a crack of sun creeping between the curtains. I almost think it’ll keep me from sleeping. Then I wake in the afternoon to the sound of heels walking on the pavement outside. He’s all giggles as he tells me it’s time to get ready.
As we get in the car, I kiss his bandana for good luck before helping him cover his face in it. I put on my grandmother’s veil and hop over to the driver’s side as he gets out.
I stare at the Random Town’s State Bank doors. Every time he goes in, I worry he won’t come out in time, that the cops will get here before he gets to the car, that I won’t be fast enough, that they’ll only shoot one of us, that they’ll leave one of us behind.
Then he just walks out with that army green backpack full of cash. His face is still covered, but I can tell he’s smiling. I turn the engine on as I’ve learned to time it. We take the rural roads for a few days until we reach the next county or state. Then it starts all over.
I woke up in the bathtub today with the taste of metal between my teeth. I looked down and saw my shirt and jeans soaked in blood. I don’t remember how it happened. I called his name but heard nothing. I tried to move, but my entire body was an open wound.
The door slammed shut. I could feet his desperate steps shuffling through the carpet before he walked in the bathroom. “Stay awake,” he said, but I could feel myself slipping out of consciousness.
I was in the back of the car when I came to. My clothes were still gross crimson brown. A tourniquet made from his cowboy father’s belt and his black bandana was wrapped around my leg. The bullet remained lodged between muscle and bone.
I heard the sirens before I opened my eyes. I thought they’d found us. But then I looked up at the white building with red neon letters spelling out Emergency. “I’m sorry,” he whispered before he walked out and left me in the car to be found.
There are days when I drive to dusty motels in the desert, looking for him and the new girl who drives him around. I smoke in front of two-bit Credit Unions, hoping to hear him walking in.
I never knew his name. He told me to call him Hurricane and said I’d be his Catastrophe. Maybe now he goes by Neon and my substitute is his Vegas. What if he drives while she struts into the banks, flirting with the tellers?
One Sunday I saw his sketched face looking at me on the local channel from this shitty town. They said nothing about a girl being his accomplice.
Two days later, the lady with the short straw-like hair from the seven o’clock news tells me he’s dead. They found him in the desert. The trunk of the grey Honda he’d stolen a week earlier was full of cash.
(End of fiction)
The accompanying images are part of the series Love We Leave Behind by photographer Cody Bratt.
For more images of youth on the American road, check out Mike Brodie’s photography as well.
Michele Abele’s images capture the complicated mess that love becomes.