I wrote this story a few years ago for a writing contest. I never heard back (many of you know how that goes...) so I thought I'd post it here. Hope you like it.
A View Of Cedar
“Dad?” James looks at the digital clock on the car’s radio and notes the time when his son’s meek question signals that the six-year old has awaken from a sound sleep in the back seat of the car. It’s 4:25 a.m. and James had hoped the boy would have slept longer, but this will have to do.
“Dad,” the boy stirs and sits up. James sees the boy’s spiky blond hair more disheveled as usual as his only son peers out the fogged rear passenger window. “Where are we?”
James hears the innocent question and contemplates his answer. “Just driving, son.” He knows the answer lacks specifics, specifics his inquisitive son will need in order to satisfy his ever-expanding brain. The boy’s reaction surprises the tired driver.
“Oh, okay.” James cranes to see the boy in the rearview mirror and is pleased when he sees his son lay back down in the small back seat and pull the blue blanket over his body. Please sleep! James silently prays as if sleep will erase the events of the past 24 hours—will erase memories that James hopes his son never remembers. He checks again and sees the bundle of straw-colored hair poking out of the blanket. The bundle doesn’t move and James knows his son sleeps.
James continues driving. The hauntingly straight road extends for miles, though the car’s lone working headlight illuminates nothing beyond a few feet. If it weren’t for an occasional headlight traveling parallel to him from the opposite direction the moonless night would completely swallow everything in James’s world. The road could suddenly disappear 20 feet from the nose of James’s aging import and James wouldn’t know it until it was too late. James imagines the car not being able to stop in time and the car would plunge off the edge of the world, infinitely falling, and the nightmare that is James’s life would never end.
These and other thoughts swim through James’s mind as the car continues forward. The road on which father and son travel is still foreign to James, he having taken this particular strip of tarmac only a few times in a quest that consumes the man behind the wheel. James again looks in the rearview mirror. His son still sleeps.
The darkness remains as the car heads east, but James sees a thin uneven line as the mountain range in the distance separates earth and sky. James knows the sun will soon lighten both the celestial and telestial forcing the black cloak of secrecy to disappear for another day. Hopefully, I’ll be 200 miles from Vegas by then, James thinks. The further from Nevada’s most populated city, the better. Thoughts of the modern-day Babylon and what remains behind in Vegas sparks a nervousness that runs up James’s spine. James depresses the accelerator closer to the car’s floorboard and the tired Toyota lunges reluctantly forward into the morning dawn.
The world rotates and beams from the stationary sun spike through a dip in the mountain range and hit the cracked windshield as the car continues driving atop the cold desert road. James grabs his sunglasses and puts them to his face as the yellow glow rises in the white morning sky. The glasses and the lowered visor help in allowing James to see the road, but only so much. James engages the car’s windshield washer lever to clean the dirt and grime and bugs long since dead. The wipers dutifully begin swiping back and forth, but James does not see the magical cleaning agent squirt from small rubber nipples on the car’s hood onto the windshield. James curses as he remembers the washer fluid reservoir has been long since dry due to other more important tasks that needed doing. The wipers continue to mix the dried dirt and the carcasses of unlucky insects which creates arched streaks across the windshield further impairing James’s vision.
The sunlight brings with it an increase of fellow commuters traveling both with and against the father and son. After many miles James looks into the back seat and sees the blue blanket move. James thinks of his sleeping son and remembers something. He remembers something he forgot—something important. There is no child seat in the car. Suddenly James scans the no longer straight, but curving road for any hint of a police car. The thought of being pulled over causes the blood in James’s hands to retreat leaving his appendages cold. James grips the steering wheel harder as he unconsciously reduces the car’s speed.
The drive continues uneventful until James again hears his son’s voice.
“Dad?” the voice filters to the front seat followed by the sounds of a child stretching. James’s thinks only of a car seat and where he can buy one.
“Hi dad!” James looks in the rearview mirror and sees his son’s brilliant smile as the boy patiently sits in the middle of the back seat, a deep red line imprinted across his son’s cheek where a vinyl seam from the back seat met his son’s face. The boy’s sleepy eyes convey a tired, but contented look eager to experience the wonders that fill the child’s world.
“Well, good morning,” James says a little louder than he expected. The father looks at the son and all the planning, the worries, and repercussions of his actions over the past week disappear. “Did you have a good sleep?”
“Uh huh,” the son hums.
“Dad? Where are we?”
“We’re driving home,” James replies and the worries begin anew.
“Where’s mom?” the son asks.
James stares ahead. The drone of the semi-bald tires revolving over the road fills the car’s interior space. James prepares to give one of several answers he’s rehearsed thousands of times in his mind. Somehow all his planned answers evaporate from his mind.
“She’s not coming with us this time. She’s at home—her home.”
“Oh,” says the son and he looks out the window. The silence makes James sweat.
“Cows!” the son yells as he spots a herd of large black and white animals lazily grazing in a mountain field by the side of the road. A startled James wonders what his son will think about once the little car crests the upcoming hill and the meadow and the quadrupeds will forever vanish in their rear window.
“Daddy, I like cows—they look so cool!” James looks in the mirror and sees his young son kneeling on the back seat, his hands perched on the vinyl strip just underneath the passenger side window as he soaks up the visual treat the cows offer. The son makes several sounds, doing his best to mimic the moo of a cow. The sounds make James smile, but only temporarily. The need for a child car seat jumps to his foremost thought. James knows there’s a city 20 or so miles ahead and they will need to stop to make their commute more legal.
The car reaches the exit, the first of three for the medium-sized town. James takes the business loop frontage road and searches for a store. The child spots the universal sign for fast food and says, “Dad, I’m hungry.” James is hungry, too.
James pulls into the restaurant’s drive-thru and orders off the breakfast menu. James directs the car to a parking lot next door; the appliance repair shop is not yet open for the day. The two eat their food and say little.
As they eat, James spots a large supermarket store and he knows two things—that the store is open and has what he needs. He also realizes that he lacks the adequate cash needed to buy the car seat outright. He could put it on his credit card, but the thought scares him. He knows the second that card is scanned anyone looking for him or his son will immediately know his location, and after that, well, it’s only a matter of time.
James wonders if he can make it to Colorado without the seat. After all, they’re about halfway home. But if he’s pulled over between her in Utah and his home in Colorado Springs, his journey—and his quest, will be over. As James scans the city’s layout from his vantage point atop a slight slope, he notices a Salvation Army sign. The sign (faded and in desperate need of either a new paint job or replacement) stands above a small building (also in desperate need of a new paint job or replacement). James checks his watch and wonders if the thrift store is open. He wanted to be somewhere on I-70 by now, but things happen…
“You done?” James asks his son. A nodding toe-head answers the father’s question. Wrappers gently fall to the car’s floor as the reliable Toyota merges into the morning traffic and James drives to the second-hand shop. Before they exit the car James pulls out all the available cash he has on hand. He quickly does the math and thinks they might have enough money for gas and food if he can find a car seat under $15. If he can find a seat, he could stop and get some bread and peanut butter at a grocery store as they leave town. That would have to feed them both for the next 8-10 hours, but that’s do-able. If a seat costs more than $15, he couldn’t buy it and he’d have to have to risk the rest of the drive without it.
James and his son get out of the car and enter the store. Exactly seven minutes later James and his son leave the store and get in the car. Before they drive off in search of a grocery store, James secures his son into the new (to them…) car seat they found because some mother decided that this particular car seat would not adequately protect her child because it was more than two years old. James doesn’t care how old the car seat is as long as it makes any cop between Utah and Colorado ignore them as they drive by. James smiles to himself as climbs into the driver’s seat and cranks the engine, an engine that never—ever failed to turn over for him, even in the Colorado’s coldest winter. With the price of the car seat lower than even he expected, James thinks maybe he could pick up some candy along with the peanut butter sandwiches as a treat for his son. If anything, the little boy deserved at least that.
The car eventually finds its way to the Interstate-15 on the city’s third exit, or the city’s first exit if coming in from the other way. The two resume their trip. James looks at the clock illuminated in red on the car’s radio. All things considered, James thinks to himself, things are going pretty well. He turns on the radio and hits the SCAN button. After finding a rock music station, a talk radio station, and a lot of static, the radio finds music James prefers. The country music fills the car as James continues driving. The son in a search for more cows happily looks out past his father to the open road ahead, the car seat lifting the child and giving him a higher perspective, which affords him the opportunity to see a panoramic view of his new life.
* Photo used without permission from: http://blog.udot.utah.gov/page/25/