The Road Trip
She slammed the trunk shut, the sound obscene in the early morning hours. It was summertime in Texas, and the air was already thick and warm, and she could feel the sweat dripping down her spine. The car was packed, their suitcases jammed into the small trunk. Her husband was inside setting their lamps on timers, their son still asleep upstairs. They were meeting her family in North Carolina, spending a week in a cabin in the Smoky Mountains. The drive would take the better part of two days, and they would have a toddler in tow. She had packed books, crayons, balls, a whole bag devoted to snacks, but she was apprehensive. At two years old, their son hated his car seat, got restless after an hour or so buckled in. They had driven to the beach a month ago, a test run, they had called it. After forty-five minutes he had started kicking the back of her seat, pounding his fists against his armrests. He had even tried to unbuckle the strap across his chest, but his fingers were still too clumsy and had instead howled with defeat. They had placated him with lollipops, pieces of banana, the promise of sand and water and freedom. Thankfully, he had slept the whole way back, but she doubted he would sleep the entire eighteen hours it would take them to get to North Carolina. That was why they were leaving in the middle of the night. They could shuffle him through the dark house and into the car, crossing their fingers that he would sleep through the first few hours.
When she came inside, she could smell the freshly brewed coffee, watched as her husband divided the pot between two travel mugs. They moved around each other in groggy silence, the house groaning around them at the intrusion. She scanned the list she had made: hats, jackets, extra shoes, rain gear, camera. Once satisfied, she threw some oranges and water bottles into a cooler and made her way to the car while her husband grabbed their son, turning lights off as he made his way upstairs. She tucked maps and napkins into their doors and settled into the low bucket seat that would be her home for the next two days. Her husband came out with their son, head cradled against his shoulder and blankets trailing behind them. He buckled him in as quietly as possible, pressed the blankets around his chest, and let his chin fall onto his shoulder, eyes still closed with sleep. They backed out of the driveway, the moon shining high above them.
They were stopping in Alabama for the night, the hotel already booked -- a mini suite with a separate bedroom plus a pack n play so they wouldn’t have to dig out their own. By the time they got there, her nerves were shot and her back ached. She had spent the whole trip turned towards the backseat, passing her son coloring books, fruit snacks, or just patting his arm to calm him down as he screamed for mile after mile. The ten-hour drive had quickly stretched to thirteen and every muscle in her body felt rigid. Her mom had called sometime around hour eight to tell her how spacious the cabin was, how she could see for miles across the valley from the back balcony, how the air felt cool and crisp like a winter in the South. She had nearly flung the phone out the window in jealousy, a reality in such stark contrast to their own as the sun beat on them through the windows, the A/C on full blast.
In the hotel room, her husband found an episode of Peppa Pig for their son to watch as they numbly ate their dinner of cold french fries and greasy hamburgers. Her son threw himself across the couch, drinking milk from his sippy cup and eating the hand pie her husband had originally bought for the two of them to share. Suddenly, he took off across the room, muscles stretching with new found freedom. She reached for the bag of Sour Patch kids they had bought at the gas station, sucked off the tangy sugar, letting it cut into the roof of her mouth and the edges of her tongue, and watched as her son ran in circles around the room, bits of pie flying around him like sawdust.