I held onto Lorraine’s elbow to stable her as she gripped the top of the car and slid herself into the passenger seat. Lo slowly eased her legs into the car, which looked painful, tucked her cane at her side and held her elbows in as I closed the door for her.
“This is going to be one long trip,” I said to myself as I walked around to the driver’s side. I took in a big, slow breath of air before climbing in behind the wheel, half-thinking this might be the last breathing I’d do on the road and that I might be holding my breath for the next two days.
We drove in silence through town, passing the Krystal and the Piggly Wiggly, the competing Kroger across the street and the barbecue shack, maneuvering through intersections and light traffic. But once I pulled onto the highway, I let my shoulders relax, and I leaned back, and I looked over hoping to see Lo do the same, but that woman sat rigid. I asked her, “So, are you sure you’re up for two days in the car with your favorite daughter?”
Lo answered without expression. “I guess I can handle being in this hot car with my only daughter.” She bit on “only” and dragged it out as she slapped at the vents in front of her.
I adjusted the air conditioning and gripped the wheel, and I set my eyes on the steamy road ahead and aimed for Texas.
We weren’t far from the state line, and the highway would take us straight there, straight to Mom’s sister’s house, and Lo would stay for a month, and I would deposit her like I was boarding a cat. I would say “good bye” and turn around and drive back home with the radio on and the windows down. And I would sing out loud and stop for a beer when my eyes got tired, and I’d leave all the pent up tension behind with my mother’s suitcase. I would think of the easiness of the return trip when this westward leg would push my teeth together in a clench.
“I don’t know why you insist on making me fly home,” Lo said with her arms folded across her chest and her dissatisfied stare set on the blurred field brush in the distance.
“Because, Mother, as I’ve said before, I can’t get time off of work to come get you.”
Lo snorted through her nose, but I persisted. “I’ll be happy to pick you up at the airport, though, and I am happy to drive you out this one way because I know how much you hate flying.”
Lo sat quietly for a moment and almost whispered, “I thank you for that.” She relaxed her arms and let her hands rest in her lap and she asked would I mind stopping for a Coca Cola soon. I said I’d look for a place to get us out of the sun.
And again next day a thinly populated sky, losing its blue to the heat, would melt overhead, and Lo would clamour for a drink, and her cheeks would hollow vigorously over the straw, and the car inside would be a furnace when we got in again, and the road shimmered ahead, with a remote car changing its shape mirage-like in the surface glare, and seeming to hang for a moment, old-fashionedly square and high, in the hot haze.