She’d looked forward to seeing him all day and now she spotted him, his little red car parked across the street, chugging steam out the back end. She stepped off the curb, nearly into the path of a giant truck with spinning rims. A goateed man scowled and gave her the finger, she blushed and laughed and ran across to the waiting car.
“Did you see…”, she started as she opened the door, but stopped before she’d fully sat down. The air was different in here, hot and oppressive and thick with malice. “Hello,” she tried, but he stared straight ahead and did not speak. He pulled out into traffic before she’d buckled, driving too fast and following the car ahead too close.
It was miles before he said anything; they’d left the city and were driving past the low ranchers that lined the road. Before long, the spaces between the houses would grow wider until the flat lawns turned to open pastures, and then they’d be home.
Then he spoke and laid the truth in her lap like a stone. She wanted to cry out, but the weight prevented it and she simply sat there, looking straight ahead. If I don’t speak, she thought, then it will be as if I didn’t hear. If I didn’t hear, she thought, he didn’t say it. And though she willed it to be so, he kept talking and his words were like blows.
Names and dates and places and with each one, she barely whispered, “Yes,” until it became a mantra, yes yes yes. With each yes, a memory, guilt and pleasure and disgust, and disbelief that even now, with his words thrashing her, each yes made her breathless. She had regretted everything but could stop nothing, until she believed she was beyond redemption.
His voice was sharp, emotionless. She wanted to cry and scream and kick her legs. She wanted to tear at her clothes and claw at the window and rip at her skin until she was raw and bloody. She wanted to beg and tell him that she was sorry, so sorry, that this would never happen again. But she knew she was lost and could not be found. She could not apologize for who she was, nor make promises for a person she could not be. So she stayed silent except for her brittle yeses, even when he demanded answers. Even when he wept.
When he pulled into their long drive, she could see her father’s car parked sideways in front of the house. Her father held the door open for her, and she registered her suitcase in the back seat. She looked at the house and saw the flowers she’d planted in the window box the month before had withered from lack of care. The paint on the porch was peeling, and the shutter on the kitchen window had slipped from its hinge.
The men stood outside the car and spoke briefly, then shook hands. For a moment, it looked as if her father wanted to embrace, but thought better of it. When he got into the car, he exhaled long and slow, then started the car.
They drove in silence.