Where We Have to Go – by Lindsey Harrington

Aberdeen, South Dakota– 5:05 p.m., Thursday – 391 miles

I pick you up after work and we head for the I-29. You’d put the duffel bag in the trunk before I dropped you off this morning. Balled up socks and underwear neatly folded into three, jeans rolled into tight cylinders and a travel-sized package of tissue gently laid on top. You nestled your toothbrush next to mine in my shaving kit and I liked that.

“How was work?” I ask.

Your new office job has helped us get our heads above water. And you like wearing pencil skirts and blazers and standing in a huddle at the coffeemaker talking about the latest episode of Stranger Things. You’ve switch to maxi dresses and fashionably oversized sweaters lately, but no one seems to have noticed.

“Fine,” you answer.

Billboards for McDonalds and the Republican Party dot the roadside. The landscape’s so flat, you can see for miles. Acres upon acres of fields, things growing just to get mowed down.

The car’s real quiet. We don’t want to talk about where we’re going—or why. And everything else seems pointless. We’ll get there by midnight if we’re lucky and check into the Comfort Inn on the outskirts of the city. You’ve got it all planned out. My back aches just thinking of the journey.

No one knows we’re going except for your sister. She’s taking care of the kids. Tomorrow, we’ll both take sick days and Saturday we’ll make the drive home. Monday we’ll both be back at work, no one the wiser. Everything will seem the same, but it’ll be entirely different.

I lean ahead and tune the radio to the easy listening station. Static crackles, then Phil Collins’s voice and the sparse instrumentation of early Genesis fills the car. “Throwing It All Away” is the song. You bark a staccato laugh and turn away, towards the window. Outside, lupins are smothering the ditches with their growth. Barns are collapsing into themselves. I steer the car into the road ruts and let them guide us where we have to go.

Peever, South Dakota– 6:40 p.m. – 315 miles

We’re fuelling up and watching the semitrucks roll by. Panting dogs piss on scraps of gas station grass. The adjoining general store lives up to its name, ads taped to the dirty windows promote everything from fireworks to formula.

The numbers climb on the screen and the gas pump chugs as I hold the trigger. I put my hand on the hot car and welcome the burn. If prices keep climbing, I’ll have to pick up more shifts. The nozzle clicks off. I lay it back in its cradle and feel for my wallet.

My stomach rumbles—I haven’t eaten since noon. All you’ve had since we left was a yogurt leftover from your lunch. The top bulged in the heat, bacteria multiplying beneath the taut surface. You licked the folded back foil, rummaging for a plastic spoon to scoop out the warm insides.

I call to you through the open window. “Hungry?”

“Yeah.”

“I’ll pick something up inside.”You nod and turn away, towards the whir of traffic on the highway.  I look back at the car from the store. The grill is full of insects. Hundreds of lives ended by our hands without us even knowing it. 

I grab plain potato chips and day-old egg salad sandwiches from the cooler, a chocolate bar to split for dessert. I get you a cherry slushy—your favourite. The cashier rings me up and tells me the total.

“You forgot this.” I hold up the plastic cup.

“On the house.” She smiles and tells me to have a nice day. I smile back, nod thanks, and bundle everything into my arms. I’m having trouble with the car door, but you don’t move to help. When I get it, I open my arms and the sandwiches, chips, and chocolate tumble to the driver’s seat.

“The lady gave me your slushy for free.”

“That’s nice,” you murmur.

Back on the highway, we wordlessly chew our food as insects kamikaze on the windshield. You sip your slushy and fiddle with the straw, guiding it in and out of the perforated hole in the lid. Residue covers the bottom half, painting it a washed-out pink.

Fargo, North Dakota, 8:28 p.m., 224 miles

The news interrupts the music. A piece about Roe v Wade starts up. I turn the radio off. We drive past the off-ramp for Fargo.

“You remember the last time we left the state?” I ask.“Before the kids, for the circus in Fargo?”

You nod, still looking away. The sky’s a big bruise, all purples and yellows, hurt but healing.

“And now, we’re leaving the whole country,” you answer, and it feels like an offering.

You’d bought the circus tickets months in advance and counted down the days, marking Xes in the boxes of your ‘Animals of the Rainforest’ calendar. You researched the best hotel deals, restaurants, and what other attractions we could fit in. 

They’ve got a zoo! You texted me a screenshot of a pinned map and ten heart-eye emojis. You chattered that entire drive, about elephants and cotton candy, while I laughed along, your enthusiasm contagious.

But when you entered the weather-beaten big top, you deflated like a balloon. Filing past the lethargic tigers and screaming monkeys, tears crowded your eyes. When you got to the mother elephant with hooded eyes and a sickly calf, you whispered, “I can’t,” and turned away, towards the exit, just as the carnival music started up. All that excitement ended in heartache. People like us can’t afford to get our hopes up.

Now, flashing casino signs dot the interstate, inviting us to try our luck—but we know better. They look gaudy against the prairie landscape, but the Natives gotta make a buck. They gotta do what they gotta do, same as everyone, same as us. I turn the radio back up.

Pembina-Emerson Border Crossing– 10:42 p.m. – 70 miles

We queue up with all the semis, car carriers full of souped-up SUVs, reefers of Mexican spinach and sweet peas, empty logging trucks, and full livestock trailers. And us, with our secret cargo. There’s a smattering of regular traffic—but not much this late.

I’ve got the window down, my arm draped outside. I hum along to the low strains of Zeppelin to bring my heart rate down. The truck in front of us is waved through. I roll the car forward slowly. You hit the radio’s off button and turn to me.

“What if they ask?” you whisper.

“They won’t ask.” I put a hand on your knee to reassure you. You pick it up and place it back on the armrest. 

We arrive at the building and a border guard is in the window.

“Evening folks.”

“Evening, officer,” I answer.

He asks the standard questions about dangerous goods and length of stay. He asks for our passports. I’ve got them at the ready and hand them through the rolled down window. Their spines have never been cracked.

“What brings you across today?”

I freeze. You notice. We answer “Sightseeing,” and “Visiting family,” at the same time.

“Well, which is it?”

I look to you.

“Both,” you stammer.

“I see.” The officer’s face is neutral. “Hold on a minute.” He leaves the window and walks deeper into the building, our passports in his hand.

“Shit, shit, shit!” You punch your leg. “I told you.”

“He doesn’t know. And it’s not illegal.” I try to look into your eyes but you’re looking at your knees, willing yourself not to cry.

After five minutes, the officer comes back and hands me our passports.

“Sorry about that, folks. You’re good to go.”

“No worries. Thank you,” I say.

We both exhale, long and loud as we drive into Canada.

Winnipeg -12:05 a.m. – 0 miles

The rest of the drive is a blur. Before I know it, we’re in the parking lot of the Comfort Inn. I park and rub my eyes but stay in the car. I want to skip past what comes next. It plays in my mind in advance without permission.

After a fitful sleep, I’ll wake up. You’ll be ready and waiting, your hair in a neat ponytail, and your face bare of makeup and emotion. I won’t need to ask if you’re sure. I’ll search the directions to the Women’s Health Clinic on Graham Avenue and drive you there. You’ll be whisked inside. When you come too afterwards, I’ll be beside you. I’ll squeeze your hand, hoping you’ll squeeze back. Tears will leak from your eyes and run down into your hairline. I won’t say nothing. I’ll just lean over and kiss your temple, knowing that the next day, we’ll drive home and pick up the kids and it’ll be like this never happened. But it’ll be like this is the only thing that ever happened.

Cars on a highway at sunset

Lindsey Harrington is a Nova Scotian writer with Newfoundland roots. She was the 2021 recipient of the Nova Writes’ Rita Joe Poetry Prize and has had short stories published recently by Long Con Magazine, Off Topic Publishing, and the Icelandic Connection. She is currently working on a short story collection about breakups in all their forms, called Coming Apart. Follow her on Instagram at https://www.instagram.com/lindseyharringtonwriter

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