“All my life I’ve been waiting,” says my father-in-law, through the stall door. We have stopped at a rest area along the interstate, halfway between our homes. I would meet him back in the car, if only he would stop waxing poetic.
“Frank?” I face the mirror, smoothing the hair over my thinning spot. “I’ll be—”
“First for school to end,” he interrupts. “Then for my twenties, then for success. Marriage, children, et cetera. For them to leave. For their children. Then the waiting became less conspicuous. Waiting for the cry of boiled water. For the paper. For spring. It took a mighty long time to understand that what I’d been waiting for wasn’t each thing, actually, but the chance to wait for whatever came next.”
The closer they get to Wickersfield, the slower she wants to go. She’ll stay in the car and never get out, they can just keep driving, taking detour after detour until they are lost completely. With the roads torn up like this, Allison will not be to blame. We tried, she’ll say from a B&B somewhere in Canada, but it was just impossible to get there. Arrival means smiling, means forgetting all she has seen, and she isn’t yet ready to do that. She watches the once lovely scenery unscroll outside the passenger-side window: trees that look like they’ve been dipped in milk chocolate, cornfields trampled by dinosaurs. Sometimes half the road itself is missing, snapped off like a cracker and tossed aside, lying in the mud with the guardrail. The road narrows down to one lane marked off by orange cones and Jersey barriers, and cars have to negotiate with each other, managing a degree of civility Allison didn’t think possible without uniformed intervention. They pass through woods and meadows, farmhouses off in the distance, now miles from the interstate that brought them here. The flood has drained from the roads and fields and forests, no body of water glowers off in the distance, but clearly a big river has ripped its way through here, sweeping up boulders and gravel alike, tossing them behind like loose change. What must the cows have thought, when the water rose, when everything they knew was washed away?