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Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Elena Callahan's Very Big Day Part Nine

Part eight is here.

Part nine: Direction, not speed


The thing about being on an open road is that it is an open road: open to possibilities, limited in direction.

Agatha, in her stolen Taurus, drove along a highway in Ohio and it stretched out before her like a prophecy--so straight and sun-baked that nothing was unpredictable. She could foresee each dip. She could anticipate each hill. The signs were pre-ordained because she could see them coming miles ahead before blowing past them in the car.

“You miss me yet,” one sign said. A picture of a former president grinning at her.

“Stay at Motel 6 THIS EXIT,” another sign demanded.

“Evelyn’s Consignment. Turn your threads into material wealth.” A picture of a charmingly moth-eaten coat.

Agatha’d started calling the two headless child corpses in the back of the Taurus “Moulder” and “Dee Skully.”

Several hours had passed since she fled Dubuque. In those several hours, Agatha had wearied of ‘The Bodyguard’ soundtrack, had discovered both an absence of replacement CDs in the car and an absence of radio broadcasts. So she drove in wind-thumping silence. So she started talking to the children.

“Hill coming up in a mile or so,” she called back to headless Moulder and Dee Skully. Or, “More trees to your right, if you want to look.” Or, “I don’t know what the hell I’m doing. Why I’m driving. Civilization is clearly over, so why fight it?”

The thing about a road of prophecy, where every bend and dip and hill stretches out before you like a foregone conclusion, is the clouds pass the sun and you see the shadows on the earth. The emptiness surrounds you, and you feel alone. The awareness that the road ahead is one of many roads, leading to more roads, leading to highways and driveways and to the overwhelming expanse of space and time.

Agatha focused on the billboards.

“Hey kids,” she called to the backseat of the Taurus. “Wanna go to the Thurber House?” she’d ask.

“Hey kids, Ingrid Hansen really wants to sell our house. Look at her smile!”

A cop pulled her over just outside of Columbus--he’d been hiding behind a sign, maybe. For the first time in miles, Agatha glanced in her rearview mirror, saw flashing lights, took a good look at the road stretching out behind her like a fulfilled promise, and pulled over.

Just like that.

Pulled over. The wheels of the Taurus rolled into the dirt, kicking up pebbles that hit the passenger’s side of the car and made the sound of static. Her hair settled into a bit of wind-beaten, aged architecture around her face. “Wow kids,” she said. “Flashing lights in daylight are mostly useless.”

A few days earlier, Agatha had spoken to her mom. She’d hung up. She’d tried to write a thesis about ‘Notes from Underground,’ which she began--she thought cleverly--with these sentences: “I am a poor student. I am a terrible student. My brain hurts.”

The Taurus rolled to a stop, and behind it the police car parked. The driver’s door opened. A short, pregnant-looking man scrambled out, notepad in hand.

“Well kids,” Agatha said. “Little Moulder. Little Dee Skully. Looks like this is it.”

Agatha knew the policeman would understand she was mad. Agatha knew the policeman would see she was driving two child corpses down a highway in Ohio, headless child corpses, and he would immediately call for back-up. The policeman would run the license plates of the stolen car. The policeman would discover she’d shot two men and strangled a woman back in Iowa. Jail, trial, death sentence.

The policeman scribbled down the license plate, then moved forward, approaching the open window to Agatha’s left. She could hear the crunch of the broken asphalt beneath his boots, and could suddenly smell the stench coming from the backseat. Agatha brushed her hair away from her eyes and practiced her innocent smile which had always worked with her father.

When the gun was placed against her flat forehead, she managed a gasp.

“Don’t look at me,” the policeman said. “Look at yourself.”

She did. She looked down. Looking down seemed just as normal as staring down a long highway in Ohio. She saw the hills and dips and curves of her body and knew them just as well as any highway, and knew those hills and dips and curves held as many possibilities as any road leading inexorably forward to a destination--death or New York.

Her left leg shook from fear.

“Yes sir,” she said.

“What do you see?” the policeman asked.

“Me,” she answered.

“You see you.” The gun pressed harder into her head, and there was a clicking sound that didn’t sound promising.

“Yes.”

“No.”

“Do you not notice the two decapitated bodies in the backseat?” Agatha asked

“You.” The policeman’s voice seemed to come from the gravel of the road. “You do not exist unless you actually look at yourself.”

“I must’ve been going 100. Maybe 150.”

“It’s not your speed I am concerned with. It’s you’re direction.”

Agatha turned her head to look. The gun slid along her sweaty forehead as she moved her eyes up, away from her lap, to take in the vision of her arresting officer. Had Moulder and Dee Skully still possessed heads, they might’ve joined her in the assessment of Officer Racigan, a short man with a bald spot and large gut who had joined the force to have an excuse to wear a hat to work (he’d tried for minor league baseball, but failed).

Agatha repeated. “‘It’s not your speed,’” she said, “‘it’s your direction?’ Really. So I can go as fast as I want with as many corpses as I can carry.”

“You’re going East, right?” Officer Racigan pushed the gun deeper into Agatha’s forehead. “If you were headed the other way, I wouldn’t give a shit.”

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