Leo’s head fell forward with a jerk, awakening him abruptly to the sound of screeching tires.
He sat himself up and squinted, his eyes adjusting to the light. He was disoriented but everything seemed fine. His mom was still driving. The car was on the road. For an instant he was drawn back into the dream he had been having. Fleeting feelings and wild visions from the dream lured him. He tried to mentally find his way back, but the images quickly faded as waking reality took hold of his awareness.
“He could have killed us!” exclaimed Teresa, his mother, as she banged her hand against the top of the steering wheel. The scene of the near-accident disappeared in her rear-view mirror. Her heart pounded in her chest.
Leo turned to look out the side window, his dark hair flattened against his head from sleep. He thought to himself, “Just hope she doesn’t start crying.” He touched the outside of his pocket and was reassured to feel the edge of the card. With a long sigh, Teresa picked up the map next to her.
“Oh, no! I think I just missed our turnoff… I’m going to pull into that gas station and figure out where we are.”
Leo felt waves of relief as his fingers reached the electronic GameToy that had slipped down the side of his seat. As quickly as he could pull it out, he started playing. He paused for an instant as a snapshot from his dream flashed in his mind: he had been flying.
“Will you please make yourself useful by cleaning the windshield?” She stepped out of the tightly packed car, not waiting for an answer. Perhaps because he was an only child, Leo talked to himself often finding comfort in the sound of his own voice.
“Oh joy, I get to clean bug guts.” He grudgingly put the GameToy down and opened the car door. “Can we get something to eat? I’m starving!” he called to his mom as he picked up a squeegee and started washing. Leo’s 12-year-old body had begun to grow tall faster than it had become broad. This gave him a slightly gangly not-yet-comfortable-in-his-size way of moving.
“We still have snacks in the back,” she replied.
She too had grown tired of the carrots, celery and cheese sandwiches she had packed what seemed like eons before. Her stained sweatshirt, wrinkled jeans and disheveled hair were all signs of the long hours spent behind the wheel of the car. The dark circles under her eyes, pale skin and hollow cheeks reflected a layer of fatigue predating the road trip by weeks.
“Well, I guess so… Here,” she said handing him a few dollars. After giving the windshield a final wipe, Leo trotted off toward the mini-mart. Meanwhile, Teresa began to fill the gas tank.
Another car pulled up to the other side of the pump and a heavy-set balding man stepped out. Teresa thought he looked nice enough. She wiped the stray hairs from her face, gave a shy smile and tried to make eye contact. “Pardon me, do you happen to know if the turn-off to county road 52 is nearby?”
“Yeah, it’s down that way a spell.” He motioned back down the road. “… just past that old beat-up barn on the right.” Clearly comfortable with carrying the conversation, the man continued talking as he pumped his gas. “…doubt there’s even a sign marking the road anymore. Not much down that way since the batty old lady died. I heard she and her loony sister lived to be over a hundred… Nutty folks those old sisters.” He was shaking his head as his voice trailed off.
Teresa thanked him and got back into the car. She was glad the conversation ended before Leo had gotten within earshot. “I wonder if Great-grandma Lila is the ‘batty old lady’ or her ‘loony sister’,” she thought to herself.
She sighed in relief as Leo exited the mini-mart and started toward the car. They were finally nearing their destination and Teresa was eager to get moving again.
Leo opened the car door and plopped the food down onto the seat: a big bag of chips, and 4 candy bars.
“It’s the best I could do. I promise… There’s nothing better in there.”
She rolled her eyes as she started the engine and shifted into gear.
“Can I open the chips?” asked Leo. “I’m starving.”
“Yes, you may, as long as you hand me some of that chocolate while I drive.”
Leo opened the chips and stuffed a handful in his mouth. Then he unwrapped the chocolate bar, broke off a piece and reached toward his mom. She opened her mouth, and he dropped the square on her tongue. “Tane-gyu,” she managed. “No problem,” he said smiling. He knew she would want the chocolate.
Numerous handfuls of chips later, Leo noticed the battery power on his GameToy getting low. He sat up and looked around. The ride became bumpy as the pavement ended. A cloud of dust billowed up behind the car.
“When are we going to get there?” asked Leo.
“Soon… I hope,” Teresa replied wearily. “Will you hand me another piece of that chocolate?”
Trees lined the side of the road and signs of human habitation grew rare. Finally, Teresa spotted an old mailbox off to the side of the road. She pulled over and turned off the engine.
“Well, here we are,” she said as she took off her seatbelt.