There was nowhere to go but everywhere […]
Michael Lacare is a Pushcart Prize-nominated writer whose work has appeared in The Rumpus, Able Muse, and Salon. He lives in Florida with his wife Lori where he spends his time writing and drinking copious amounts of black coffee. Follow him on Twitter: @MikeLacare.
The Things We Left Behind
Written by Michael Lacare
Wherever George led, I followed. Sure, he was older, but he didn’t treat me like everyone else did. I remember the day he rolled into town. Denim jacket, torn jeans, black leather boots. I’d never met anyone like him before, and when he asked me to run away with him, of course I said, “Yes.” We trailed smoke through the night until we ran out of cigarettes. Blazed through faded clapboard towns with too many churches. Across desert highways far from anywhere. No more school, no more family. The world was ours, and I never looked back.
“Coffee’s my drug,” George said, inhaling wisps of steam from his cup. “Black like my soul.”
We drank and smoked in one of those night owl diners off the highway. George liked to complain how the government never left him alone. No more smoking inside diners, no more Nixon, no more Viet Cong. Pigs telling you how to live, who you could fuck. I hung on every word. I missed those days, too, the days he described. He made me miss them, although I had no experience of them myself.
The waitress smiled at me, and said, “If you need anything, honey, just ask…” and my palms turned clammy. She passed me a message with her eyes, but I was too young then to understand what it meant.
The moon shone through the trees like a flashlight through our fingers. The night air felt cool against my skin with the windows rolled down. Sometimes George sat in the driver’s seat, hands on the wheel, and just stared into space. Sometimes he switched on the headlights and paced the parking lot. Sometimes he leaned against the hood, his back to me, while he smoked a cigarette.
Behind the wheel, he placed his hand on my knee, said, “Earth to Debra,” then flashed that wolfish grin of his. I almost didn’t recognize the name. Whoever Debra was, she was long gone. George leaned over and sniffed me like a dog. “You smell like me,” he said. “Smoky.” I took my last drag, parted my lips, and watched the smoke plume around him.
We drove on up the highway without saying a word, while I thought about the life I’d left behind, and the one I’d given up. No one named their baby Erin anymore. She was better off with a kind, wholesome family, on a one-story ranch with a dog named Bandit. The kind of life I could never provide. George insisted it had been the right thing to do, but I couldn’t stop picturing her: asleep in a basket, wrapped up in her yellow duck blanket, and the note I’d scrawled on the back of a napkin.
Please take care of her, because I can’t.
George had been driving all night. He never let me take the wheel. I was his princess, his passenger, he told me. He tapped the steering wheel and looked me over. “What are you thinking about?” I didn’t know how to answer. He shook his head and answered for me. “We’re running low on cash…” We were always running low on cash.
The sun crept over the horizon, and George said, “Perfect,” as we pulled into the parking lot of an old convenience store. The middle of nowhere. No cars, except for a beat-up station wagon. I saw the owner, somebody’s grandpa, standing behind the counter inside.
George left the engine running and placed his hand on my knee. “Everything’s going to be okay,” he said, and I watched him get out of the car and slam the door. He zipped up his jacket, told me, “Don’t go anywhere,” through the rolled-down window, and patted the pocket where he kept his gun. Then came the familiar rush, surging through me like smack, as he entered the store, and I held my breath.
Everything’s going to be okay. He’d told me the same thing the night we left.
I didn’t know any better at the time.
Copyright © ‘The Things We Left Behind’ Michael Lacare 2020