“We should have taken the train,” Dad said for the fifth time. He looked out the passenger window, a worn map crushed in a hand clutching his armrest. Mom, hands perched on the driver’s wheel, did not deign to look at him. I think if she had, she would’ve socked him good. Her shoulders slowly rose and fell.
“You’ve said that already, Larry.”
“Well it seemed like last time I was talking to an empty car.”
“Look at the birds!” I said from my plastic car seat.
Neither of them responded.
“Great,” Mom said, not to me.
Motorcycles streamed past the idling cars. One bike had four people on it. Daughter and son as small as me sandwiched between their dad driving and mom smiling in the back. It looked like the mom was going to fall off—her only purchase the underside of the seat’s lip—leaning back like that. But her black hair was flowing and her smile was the brightest thing I’d seen all day.
“We’ve been sitting in this traffic for two hours. How far have we even gone?”
“Are you expecting my answer to make the cars move, Larry?” She had a way of saying his name like she would say mine when I was in trouble, one of Mom’s many powers.
Dad turned on me. “What’s so funny, Jordan?”
“Don’t yell at her.”
“I wasn’t yelling!”
A seemingly empty car answered him.
The cars ahead moved slightly forward. As they’d been for hours, everyone fuming.
It was really very quiet, and the crummy felt on the plastic seat was sticky, somehow the gum I’d saved for later not returning to me. I plucked at it sucking and wetting my fingers, the gooey strings coming up, spiraling and breaking. I sniffed. I couldn’t save any.
“Do you guys smell smoke?” Dad asked. “Seriously, though, what’s that smell?” He twisted in his seat to look through our back window. “You smell that, Suze?”
“I don’t smell anything, Larry.”
“Is that a fire?”
I pulled at my straps, the thin gray bands around my shoulders. I kicked my legs. My head cramped by the car seat’s walls. “Let me out, I want to see the fire.”
“Honey, there’s a fire,” Dad said in his goofy-trying-to-be-charismatic voice, “and I think we ought to show Jordan what the fire looks like.”
Mom turned to him, and she was smiling. “Ok.”
They burst out of their doors, yelling, “Fire drill, fire drill!”
Mom came to my door and yanked me from my seat and hoisted me on her strong shoulders, my favorite perch, and we ran around the car, looking for the fire, Dad running in the opposite direction, screaming, “You guys see the fire?” Maybe to us, maybe to the other cars.
We were all hollering at the top of our lungs and it felt so good. We ran in more circles around the car. People yelled at us, honked and held their horns.
We got back in the car.
Mom and Dad were out of breath and laughing.
“Where was the fire?” I asked. “I want to see the fire!”
“It’s ok, sweetie,” Mom said, “the fire’s out.”
“Aw,” I said.