Excerpt from The Distance

I always get to sit up front when it’s just me and mom. It’s better up front because I can see better and mom talks to me more and I can reach the radio.

We’re headed for grandpa’s in Colorado and it’s a few hours and she says I hope this P-O-S doesn’t break down before we get there and I say what’s a P-O-S and she says pretty old chevy but that’s bull because chevy doesn’t start with S but I let it slide because when she lies to me like that little white lies she says I know it’s to protect me from something ugly. That’s what she told me.

It’s rap on the radio mom’s favorite and I’m looking out the window and the tops of the mountains are red rock where there’s no trees and it’s more beautiful than anything I see out the window in Bluff and I don’t think rap is the best music for this. I aske her can we listen to my CD and she smiles and nods. When I told Mr Hammond that I was driving to Colorado the next day he brought me a CD he made because I told him I liked the music he plays in class sometimes when we’re doing quiet time. It’s called the Odyssey CD because of our journey. It has some Brandenburg and he says that’s for livening up the boring parts between Bluff and Durango and it has some quieter songs that are for the Million Dollar Highway where you want to do more looking than listening he says.

That’s where we are now the Million Dollar Highway and I think it’s called that because of all the gold mines that were here but I forgot to ask Mr Hammond. I’ll ask grandpa if I can call him when we get to Mineral.

I pull the CD out of my backpack and there’s Pinky I forgot to get him out so I put him on the dash by the windshield so he can see too and I put the CD in my CD player because the car doesn’t have one and mom and me put on our headphones and plug them into the splitter thing we got at Walgreens for the trip. I pick track three and the music starts and it’s guitar and banjo but not country just soft and good and the guy is singing about your rocky smile and I grin when I hear that because Mr H knew we were driving through the Rocky Mountains and now we are.

Mom is nodding her head to the song and she smiles at me and says nice which I can’t hear but I can read her lips.

I tilt my chair back and watch the pine trees out my window tick tick ticking by and sometimes a hole in the trees and I can see the jaggedy mountains and then I don’t even know it but I’m asleep.

I wake up and I can feel mom’s hand on my shoulder shaking me a little. You want something to eat she asks and that always means she wants something to eat. I look out the window and we’re out of the mountains mostly now and I wish I didn’t fall asleep and miss them. I say where are we.

She says Ridgway an hour to grandpa’s but I’m hungry now.

I wasn’t and I wanted to get there and see him and Mike but I said okay.

She asked me what are you hungry for and I said chicken strips because if I didn’t eat them I could still eat them later.

She finds a place and goes in to the parking lot and parks and she says let’s go inside so we can stretch our legs a little I’m tired of sitting.

I say are we gonna eat standing up and I grinned at her.

She says funny man then she heads for the door and me too.

We order our food at the counter and I get chicken strips and she gets a chicken sandwich and we get a large fries to share and she gets a diet coke and me an orange drink.

When are we going to get there I ask her when she just took a bite because it makes me laugh when I do that. She crinkles up her nose at me and one side of her mouth makes a smile and she finishes chewing then she says an hour I think about an hour we probably should have kept going but I was hungry and I needed a break.

Outside the window where we’re sitting the cars are going down the road and sometimes a semi and then she says hey real loud.

I’m taking a bite of my burger when she says it and I thought she was trying to do it to me too but I say what with my mouth full.

She says hey again and she nods her head sideways at the road. I look out the window and a big semi loaded with hay is going by.

Ha I say even though it was about the tenth time she did the hay joke on this trip.

I learned that from grandpa she tells me for about the tenth time but not the tenth time on this trip this is the first time on this trip.

I nod but I don’t really laugh because I’m thinking about something else then I ask her do I go to school on Monday.

She says I don’t know we have to go over to the school and figure that out probably not Monday but maybe Tuesday.

I say but I’m going to school. I sip my orange through the straw without making a slurpy sound because I’m trying to do better at that. After that I ask her how do I get there.

She says you probably will take the bus maybe grandpa will drive you sometimes. I used to take the bus. She looks out the window for a long time. Maybe you’ll have the same bus driver.

I finished eating. I guess I was hungry after all. Mom is still eating her sandwich and looking out the window at the cars going by so I get my wrapper and my cup and my napkins and my ketchups and I carry them over and dump them in the hole above the sign that says trash.

When I come back to the table she has a funny look on her face not like sad or mad but different. She says let’s go to the bathroom and she gets up fast.

I don’t have to go I say but she says yes you do come on and she is already walking. I get up to follow her but instead of going to the bathroom she goes out the doors. I look back at the table and her sandwich is still there and her drink and fries but I go out the door behind her.

She is standing in the parking lot and she has one hand on the back of our car and she has her arm across her mouth. When I get there I see there is some vomit on the ground and she is wiping her mouth with one of the napkins from the restaurant.

I ask her are you okay mom.

She says I think so and she smiles at me but she looks weird. She says that was gross then she looks around the parking lot then back at me. She says did you finish eating.

I say yeah but you didn’t.

I’m finished she says and she holds her hand over her stomach like she’s stuffed. There is no way she was though. She says now let’s go to the bathroom so I follow her back into the restaurant and she watches me go into the men’s then she goes on.

When I’m done I wait outside the door of the bathroom for a long time and I’m starting to get worried a little when she comes out. She’s smiling and her hair is pulled back in a ponytail and she says what do you say we get on the road and get to grandpa’s.

Let’s go I tell her and she follows me out to the car and we get on the road.

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