My car propels us further into the desert, sand and dust spraying out the rear tires like fire from a rocket. Ellie sits shotgun, wringing her hands, words trying to come out. In my mirror, I can see Fenster is trying to light a match on the stubble of his chin. He keeps breaking them and producing more from some unseen pocket of his stupid leather jacket—why the hell would you think a leather jacket is a good thing to wear when you’re travelling through a desert? He eventually seems to give up after breaking at least seven and slumps back into his seat.
“You better be picking those up, asshole!” I say.
“Yeah, yeah,” he says, springing back up. He mutters something angrily under his breath. I want to tell him to speak up, but I know Ellie would be upset, so I don’t.
We all had our own reasons for being in this car, after all. “We may as well be civil," she says.
I didn’t need to escape from my home as badly as Ellie did and I wasn’t sure I knew or cared about how Fenster ended up with us. So why I felt inclined to continue this maddening voyage was sort of a mystery to me. We are many miles away from our home. We haven’t cleared the desert yet, but we had to be on its cusp.
If I were wracked by enough uncertainty of purpose, I could just turn back.
“Lookit that sunset,” Fenster says, pressing his face against the window. Ellie turns to look at it herself. The sky is turning red through the clouds and it makes the entire desert glow underneath its muted light.
Despite my fears and my uncertainty, it is pretty beautiful.
I decide to pull over, the car grinding to a stop in a plume of dust.
“Why are we stopping?” Ellie asks, sounding a little anxious.
“There’s no one around for a mile, El. Maybe more.” I say, my eyes fixed towards the uncertain horizon. “Don’t you want to enjoy that for a bit?” I ask, turning towards her.
I look into her eyes and I’m reminded of why I decided to take her and drive so far away.
I step outside the car and walk to the edge of the road on the other side. There’s several cacti littering the stretch of desert in front of me. Fenster strides up beside me, retrieving a cigarette from a little tin case in his jacket. He offers one to me. I think for a moment but I eventually refuse it.
“Here,” I say. I pass him a lighter before adding, “I’ve seen your success rate with matches.”
“Thanks, Jake! Maybe you aren’t so tight-assed after all!” He chuckles and slaps my behind. I know that Fenster’s behaviour is motivated by sincere social ignorance rather than egging me on deliberately, but it’s sometimes hard to see in crowning moments like these where I feel like we’d both benefit in the long run if I were to punch him in the face.
Eventually Ellie joins us, standing to my right. I don’t know why or how I can forget about how short and how small she is—like I could break her bones if I hugged her just a little too hard.
I look down at her, seeing her eyes trying to scan and take in every detail like she was observing the desert one grain of sand at a time. I think I remember her saying she had a photographic memory once. I always thought that was such a comforting thought and a part of me sort of envied her for that. My memory is so poor that sometimes I feel I can only escape from every moment with my feelings about them. I’ll always remember those moments in time somewhat incorrectly and then I don’t know if I’ll be able to rely on even my own feelings to be true.
To know that Ellie will never have to worry about that is incredible.
“We should hurry while there’s still day-light, Jake.” She says, looking up before walking back towards the car.
I nod as she turns away. Fenster nudges me as he takes a draw from his cigarette.
“Can I offer you some advice?” He says, shortly before exhaling.
I don’t know what horrible and dark avenue my life would need to go down to willingly accept advice from Fenster, but he tells me what’s on his mind before I have a chance to refuse him.
“I can see the way you look at her. I haven’t known either of you for that long, but I could recognize the desire in that look anywhere. Ellie’s pretty cool. But I think we all have bigger things to worry about than romance.”
He tosses his cigarette into the sand and the spurs on his cowboy boots clack against the road as he strides back into the car.
I look down as a gust of wind blows through, eventually engulfing the cigarette in sand. I breathe in the dry air, slowly starting to cool down as night encroaches.
It seems oddly fitting that we are trying to escape from our town. It, and the desert surrounding it, seem to devour everything that stays in it for too long—without hate, but without any mercy.
I digest Fenster’s advice with the same attitude as I step into the car and start the engine.
Operating under the nom de plume, "Legion," Alex Sundaresan is a writer/poet/cartoonist based in the city of Ottawa. He has a strong interest in, and is drawn towards, the strange—being somewhat strange himself. Hoping to gain work one day as a graphic novelist, Sundaresan spends his days in search of good stories and good company.