I hadn’t thought about what we would do once we crossed the border into Virginia. Truthfully, I didn’t think we would ever reach this point—that eventually he would come to his senses, or I would. Instead, we subconsciously watched ourselves perform like actors in a suspense film, screaming for us to stop, stop and face the consequences, call the police before it was too late. But when we still stuffed the body into the suitcase, when we still put it inside the trunk of his car, when we still took her sleeping child along for the ride to unknowingly witness his own mother’s disposal, our subconscious stared on horrified, unable to tear eyes away.
The Virginia border was just under two miles ahead, and I had to think fast of what we would do next. Would we try to find a park near the highway where we could bury the suitcase, or would we just pull onto the shoulder and find a spot in the woods? Even if we did find a place to bury her, what would we use? I didn’t think to ask if he had a shovel before we left, but why would he even need one? He lived in a second floor apartment, he had no yard, he barely left home unless he was going to work. Where else could we easily find one? Going to the store to buy a shovel this late at night would only raise suspicions—not to mention it was unlikely we would find a hardware store open 24 hours.
Why was the decision left to me? He didn’t weigh out his options with me before he moved her into his apartment. He didn’t consult me before he decided to end her life. But he pushed all the responsibilities of eradicating the problem down onto my shoulders. I couldn’t stand on my own two feet underneath the weight. Eventually my knees would buckle, and I would fall forward face first into the ground, inhaling dirt, and in the end, when he no longer required my quick mind to hide his shame, he would bury me right beside her.
As we approached the “Welcome to Virginia” sign, he turned to me. “Well?”
I shrugged. “Maybe we could hide it somewhere in the woods on the side of the road.”
“Are you shittin’ me?”
“What happened to ‘we can’t just toss it. You’ll get caught’?” he asked in a nasal voice, mocking me.
“Better here than in the lake behind your apartment where someone’s sure to identify her!”
He shook his head and returned his attention to the road. A pair of signs notifying us of an upcoming split in the highway passed overhead. Ignoring them, he pressed his foot down on the gas pedal, and we lurched forward. He turned the volume on the stereo as high as it could go. The speaker vibrated against my leg and the windows rattled as if about to shatter.
I checked Stephan in the rearview mirror. He was still sound asleep. Was it possible that he was deaf? I couldn’t remember if I’d seen a hearing aid in his ear. Maybe he never had one. Maybe his mother kept it a secret. Jobless, she couldn’t afford doctor’s visits, had to pretend he just wasn’t listening to her—children that young had short attention spans. Or maybe she’d become so vindictive she’d allowed his father to believe Stephan didn’t like him, didn’t want to be near him, when in actuality he couldn’t understand him, couldn’t connect with his voice, match it to his first memory of his father long forgotten.
Maybe I could convince him that we should add Stephan to my insurance, schedule an appointment with an audiologist sometime next week when everything settled.
The fork in the road was slowly coming into up, and he was still driving a steady 70 miles per hour.
“Are you gonna pull over?” I asked.
“I don’t know where I’m going!” he snapped.
I read the sign above our lane. We wanted to go to Danville, but this sign was leading us down a business route. Anything “business” would take us right into the heart of town—the last place we wanted to be with a dead body in the trunk.
I pointed to the sign for 58. “Take the exit!”
He swerved at the last minute, treading across the grass, almost clipping the exit sign with his side mirror.
We merged onto a two lane highway, as empty as the last. There were no street lamps, and the trees on either side of the road created a pitch black barrier that narrowed as we drove along. I watched him drum his fingers on the dashboard and steer with the other hand, screaming along with track, “All these things I hate revolve around me . . . Just back off before I snap!” My brain shook against my skull, and I covered my ears, expecting to feel blood ooze through my fingers from all the noise.
“Do you think you could turn it down? Please!”
“So are you gonna tell me what we’re doing?”
“I don’t know! Just keep driving!” I smacked the dial with my palm. Finally in silence, I laid my head against the window. The forest outside was peaceful, undisturbed. I wanted to disappear behind the curtain of leaves, lie amongst the shrubs, let the cool breeze sooth my exhausted mind and rock me to sleep.
“Why can’t you make a fuckin’ decision?” he groaned. “You said you would help me.”
“I didn’t tell you to kill her!” I banged my forehead against the glass. The music was gone but the headache pressed on, squeezing against my temples. I looked up and perked when I saw the yellow diamond: BRIDGE ICES BEFORE ROAD.
It wasn’t ideal, but it could work. We wouldn’t have to get our clothes dirty, or scrape our arms on branches, or leave behind our footprints in the dirt for someone broken down on the side of the road and waiting for the tow truck to get curious and follow them right to the makeshift grave. All we needed was the arm strength and the prayer than no car would pass by as we pushed the suitcase over.
The headlights illuminated the sign: DAN RIVER — JAMES LESTER TRAMEL BRIDGE.
“Stop,” I said, tapping the window. “Stop right here!”
He braked hard and jerked the steering wheel right, nearly colliding with the guardrail.
“Smoothly!” I whined.
“What the fuck are we doing?”
“We’ll throw it in the river,” I told him.
“Do you have a better idea?”
He sighed. “I just want this shit to be done.”
“Well let’s hurry up before a car comes.” I checked on Stephan once last time before following him to the trunk.
The smell of rotting flesh had permeated inside, and the whiff nearly knocked me out when he lifted the lid.
He covered his nose with his forearm. “You take the one with the sheets,” he said through his sleeve. He extended the handle to the larger suitcase and pulled it out. It hit the ground with a loud thud, and the wheels, unable to properly roll under the weight of her crumpled body inside, scraped against the pavement like chalk on the blacktop.
He dragged the luggage behind him, and just as he was about to heave it over, I shouted, “Wait! It might float.”
“We gotta figure out how to weigh it down.” I moved the other two suitcases around and patted the inside of the trunk in the darkness, feeling for a weight, or crowbar, or maybe even the tire jack, anything that would sink the unlikely coffin down to river floor.
“Didn’t you say better here than back home?”
He was using my own words to mock me again. Before I could rebut, he pushed the suitcase over the edge and stormed toward me. I backed out into the highway, held out my arms. I was next. Without the sun, water temperatures were much cooler at night, maybe even freezing. This was how it would end for me. Death by drowning or hypothermia, whichever came first. I turned toward the eastbound lanes, anxious to see a pair of headlights, a witness. How soon would they get here before he hauled me over his shoulder, dumped me into the black abyss?
“What are you doing?” he asked.
I dropped my arms.
“Get in the damn car,” he said then snatched the second suitcase out of the trunk and tossed it into the river.