The day starts off with a problem. Mondays often do. Chelsea can’t find her little book. Fraser can’t remember how to program the GPS. They run out of milk for the coffee. Little things really. But the drive to the specialist is long and stretches out before them.
It takes about fifteen minutes for them to clear their neighbourhood. They get stuck behind a garbage truck. Chelsea hears Fraser drum his fingers against the steering wheel tap-tap-tapping. There isn’t a pattern to the taps. She clenches her fist, attempts to hide her irritation. Finally, the wait is over and he accelerates. He just makes the turn as the yellow light switches to red.
“You didn’t stop for that.”
“I slowed down. Nothing was coming.”
“That you saw. You could kill someone. What if Mrs. Simon had been walking her dog?”
“But she wasn’t.”
“That’s not the point.”
“And you didn’t.”
“Slow down I mean.”
“I know you’re nervous, but no one likes a back seat driver.”
“Just don’t do anything to jinx us, okay?”
They continue driving. Chelsea notices the back of a yellow school bus as they turn the corner. She feels Fraser looking at her, “We won’t hit many lights. Once we get to Stanton, it’s all interstate.”
Chelsea nods. “How many kids fit on a school bus?”
“I never thought about it.”
She feels a blast of cold air as Fraser fiddles with the vents for the heat. She can’t help noting that he hasn’t gotten it fixed yet, and adds it to her mental scoreboard. She hears a knob click as Fraser turns on the car radio. He starts to sing along. “Help! I need somebody. Help! Not just anybo-“ Chelsea reaches forward and snaps the radio dial back to off.
“It’s too early for that. It’s annoying.”
“And that’s why I love being married to you,” Fraser says. “Everyday is an adventure. I’m constantly discovering new things.” Out of the corner of her eye she notices him glance down at the car clock between them. The blinking green lights flash on and off. “Today at precisely 7:18AM, I learned that you find my singing annoying and that your ears are extremely sensitive early in the morning.”
She rolls her eyes. “You’re the one who’s sensitive.”
Fraser swerves as a teenager darts into the street. Long hair escapes from a backwards cap. He’s slouching. His jeans hang low. About three inches of boxer shorts are on display. His eyes dart from his phone. Startled-he gives them the finger and smirks. Fraser beeps the horn. And beeps it again. “And you’re the one who’s angry. I took the day off when we can’t really afford it. To drive hours to see another specialist, to pay another small fortune, to inject you with another magic potion.” Chelsea winces as she hears him punch the top of the heating console and tilts the vents. With luck it will kick on.
They are at the on ramp now. They pick up speed. The guardrail is grey and low. The landscape is dotted with bare trees. The sun comes up late this time of year. Just now a hint of light is winding through the naked limbs. They remind her of the abstract art in her old childhood bedroom. Those branches seem to be aching for something. The more she looks at them, the more insistent their stance. They are the only car on the road this early. The highway feels in-between.
They drive past three billboards in three minutes. The fist advertises a preschool. The next one reminds unexpectedly pregnant women to consider adoption. The third is for state sponsored children’s health insurance. She feels exposed on this empty stretch of limbo. Wait…Limbo doesn’t exist anymore, right? She tries to remember. She wants to ask Fraser, but his remark still stings. She isn’t ready to forgive him yet.
Chelsea stares out the window. How dare Fraser snap on an important morning like this? “At the last appointment, when Dr. Brown said this was normal for lots of couples, you coughed.”
Fraser is startled. “What?”
Chelsea rubs her hands over her arms. “You blame me, don’t you?”
He tugs at his shoulder belt, frustrated now, “I don’t know why I coughed last month. Do you really expect me to remember that?”
Chelsea continues to look out the window. A blue billboard. Rest Stop in ¼ mile. “I remember. It was a hostile cough.”
She crosses her arms. “It’s cold in here today.”
He gives her a sideways glance. “It’s been cold for awhile.”
“What did the mechanic say? When can we bring the car in?”
He focuses intensely on the road. “Umm…We can’t. I forgot to call him. We were busy. And Hammond moved the deadline up. You know what he’s like. I’ll call first thing in the morning. I promise.”
“You always promise…You promised we’d get a cat,” she remembers.
He responds slowly and is careful to keep his eyes on the road. “We tried. I was allergic.” “
“And, what if there’s another problem?” Chelsea makes air quotes to emphasize her point. Chelsea notices the sign for the speed limit, “It says 45. You need to slow down.”
“Are you saying this is my fault?”
“No. But we had a plan. And we aren’t. You said…” She stops mid sentence and blows into her hands and rubs them together.
Fraser lets out a sigh. “Talking to you makes me tired.”
The drive is interminable. She blinks her eyes furiously, not willing to allow one mutinous tear to fall. The check engine light flickers on.
Chelsea turns to look at out the window. “I just want to feel warm again."
Valerie Hodges is currently studying an MLitt at the University of Aberdeen. She prefers to go by 'Kate,' and says of herself: 'I’m intrigued by stories that have undefined endings because life doesn’t usually offer many clean breaks. Or if it does, we find it hard to accept them.'