We didn’t speak. On Highway 29 North to Danville, we were the only car for miles. He drove in the right line, repeatedly drifting toward to the guardrail until the loud vibration from the rumble strips under the tires caused him to jerk the car back onto the road.
“Are you sleepy?” I asked, but he didn’t answer, remained focused on the road—though, how he could even see the road through his foggy windshield, I wasn’t sure. He’d tried to clean it twice, but that only made it worse. The windshield wipers had smeared a cloudy layer of dirt and wiper fluid across the center just as we were approaching a curve, forcing him to suddenly hit the brakes and wait for it to clear so that he could see well enough to continue driving. Still, it was like peering through muck.
Maybe the glass was just old—aged with the car, a ’96 Camry—and he never thought to replace it. Years of sweaty palms and fingers touching the glass, of food and drinks spilled due to a careless knock of the elbow, of bird droppings in the spring, of bug guts splattered at fifty miles an hour in the summer, of dirty rain water spread from corner to corner by dull wiper blades had added up to a cataract-type vision driving down the empty highway in the middle of the night, barely able to see the road ahead or the dashed and solid lines marking the outside of the lane, even with the high beams on.
Before we left, I had insisted on putting Stephan in his car seat. I surprised myself at how quickly I’d done it without hesitating or asking for direction, pulling tightly on the seatbelt to make sure he was secure, as if my brain had suddenly registered that I was a mother now and trickled all the necessary knowledge down to the rest of my body. When I leaned forward to kiss his forehead, I felt another force control me altogether. Stephan was now my primary concern. He’d just lost a mother, and contrary to what his father might believe, he’d lost a father in infancy. I was his only hope for a normal childhood, a normal life. All my actions that night meant nothing if I didn’t return to him doting parents who would love and care for him unceasingly, even if one of those parents was me.
I turned to check on Stephan, to make sure his car seat hadn’t fallen forward or slid across the backseat into the door due to his father’s sporadic driving. He was sound asleep. His head bobbed only when we hit a pothole in the road— nodding “yes,” shaking “no,” answering questions in a dream, in a police station, sitting next to a man with a badge. Do you know what happened to your mother? Did your father do it? The anxious thoughts invaded my mind suddenly, and just as quickly, I replaced them with images of Hershey’s chocolate bars and Hot Wheels Thunderbirds and projected them into his dreams. If not for the darkness, I believed I would’ve seen his lips curl into a smile. My first motherhood test passed—expelling the nightmares. Not even the thrash of heavy metal from the radio would stir him—I hoped.
I never thought of his father as someone who enjoyed rock music. I’d always assumed he listened to urban hip hop—Lupe Fiasco, or Wale—but without a word, he’d slipped Bullet for My Valentine’s The Poison into the CD player, and we continued down the highway under blood curdling screams.
“Is this really appropriate?” I asked, thinking of the dead body in his trunk, of how perfectly it matched to the lyrics— “. . .betrayed one more time . . . you’re gonna get what’s coming to you . . . now is your time to die . . . cover her face . . .” —as if it were the soundtrack to his violent break-up. I envisioned him turning the stereo in his apartment up full volume to muffle her screams as he straddled her torso and pulled the pillow over her face, driven by his hatred of her and the aggressive shredding from the speakers egging him to press harder, not to let up, until her arms stopped flailing.
“It might wake Stephan,” I added, and my voice sounded so out of place against the rock music, like a dove trying to coo over a lion’s roar. He only turned the dial down a notch, as if that would make a difference, but Stephan didn’t move, so I kept quiet the rest of the ride—cracked the window so that the inrushing air would slightly drown out the music and relieve my ringing ears—until we were fifteen minutes from the border, and he finally asked, “So what are we gonna do when we get there?”