A short story written for the Flash Fiction Challenge on Terrible Minds.
They say a home should fit the soul. I suppose that’s why Jake’s was the Grand Canyon. Mine felt atomic in comparison. I could barely fill out my skin, let alone the car we sat in, overlooking the hole in the ground, the one waiting to captivate him once I’d gone.
For now, he gaped in the passenger seat. “Do you have to do this now? I’ve got samples waiting.”
I ground my hands on the steering wheel, keeping my fingers from the keys, my foot from the pedals. “I thought I should tell you rather than just disappearing.”
Confusion muddied the typically clear blue in Jake’s eyes. “I thought you wanted this.”
My well-intentioned lies, my hopeful deceit, my twists of fact until it screamed, occupied the back seat like disfigured children. I etched lines in the steering wheel with my thumbs, wishing they’d lead me to easier truths. “I wanted what I thought this would be, not what it is.”
“And what is this?”
“Quiet. Dull. Lonely.”
He tried touching my knee, but I jerked away, not wanting his fingers to lure me back.
“I’m not, Jake, I never have been.”
I stared through the bug-spattered windshield, over the grime-smeared hood, at the lip of earth plunging into open air, and into the past where brimstone and oceans had danced with rock. Our past few months lay among the shadows, charred from the initial fires drawing us together, and cooled now, embers long doused by divergent dreams.
Vertigo teased as I imagined the sandy edge, the jagged plummet, the landing in river and stone. I gripped the wheel with sweaty hands, my arms cold as clay.
“This is where you belong. I need people, I need green, I need a life.”
“This isn’t a life?”
“Sitting around wondering when you’re going to remember to come home, isn’t a life. Sharing you with a crack in the ground, isn’t either. I don’t want to live stringing grant money together to pay the bills. I want pictures of friends on the wall, furniture that doesn’t fold, a working fridge not stocked with bugs in bags.”
Jake bent forward, elbows on knees, hands clasped. “Their specimens. They’re important. They’re my work.”
“I know that. But they’re not mine. This isn’t me, this isn’t where I want to be.”
Realization ballooned within my car’s confines, pressing against the glass until I wanted to roll down the windows and wiggle outside. I drooped before the wheel instead and stared through the dash. For each second of silence, inevitability leaked, blanketing the luggage I’d packed and Jake’s bowed head.
“Then I guess there’s nothing else to say.”
I swallowed a boulder-sized lump in my throat. “I’ll write.”
“Sure. That’d be nice.”
He sounded soothed, almost interested, although I didn’t think he’d read anything but journals, departmental emails, and scientific reports since we’d plugged in the trailer.
Without another word, Jake heaved from the seat and stepped out of my life.
The door closed with a crack of willow bat on ball. I turned the key, the engine rumbling with a desire to charge and round the bases. When I reversed and turned, Jake appeared in my rearview mirror, cap already on, folder in hand, bag slung on his shoulder. He started for the trailhead, about to bury himself in work, to forget about me with the first data point or critter in a trap.
I floored it and dust clouds blocked my view, a pall completing the proper funeral for my foolish path and creating a backdrop to my next trip, my resumed search, my hunt for someplace to call home.