Roads on Her Face #1 Shots Fired

http://www.allthesky.com/nightscapes/forest2.html

© T. Credner & S. Kohle, AlltheSky.com

The night was still, quiet, scented with the pungent odor of fresh pines and the musty smell from the station wagon’s lived-in interior.Squeezed into a corner of the “bed” that magically appeared by laying the seats back, I could make out the sky if I pressed my face against the plastic siding of the car. The stars peeked through the trees, the sky darkened to the almost-purple of a bruise. My brother moved in the front seat, rustling, getting comfortable. All six of us could sleep in the car, somehow, laid down like sardines in a wheeled can, a feat I marvel out now from my life of king-size beds and life in houses with more rooms than I use. No-one could move, but we were used to that. You pressed your arms down by your side to claim your space, and you were very still. You didn’t want to piss dad off, and for anyone to sleep we all had to be still.

We had pulled off the road somewhere in the forest, between towns and out of the reach of city lights. It was a dirt road, the only good kind to pull off on. Dirt meant it probably wasn’t used that often, it meant cops weren’t cruising and looking for vagrants. You can get lost easily in the trees, behind the brush. I don’t know where we were, other than in the forest. It could have been California somewhere, but more likely was northern Arizona or maybe somewhere in Utah. It was hard to keep track, when the road was where you lived. Places blurred together and the only things that stood out were people. You remembered faces from a place, or a restaurant, or a camp spot where we almost lost the cat. Not so much the names of places, or states. When we were done driving for the day, we stopped, Mom cooked dinner on the Coleman camp stove, and then we went to sleep when the sun went down. There were no lights to read by, there was no TV. No-one called to talk on a phone that wasn’t there. Nighttime was bedtime, or sleeptime since there was also no bed. We let the cat out to hunt, confident that she would appear on the hood of the car in the morning, knowing it was time to hit the road.

I was nearing sleep, my body relaxing, the stars blurring in my vision, when I heard the noise. POP! Zinggggggggg. All of us jerked awake. POP! Zingggggg. The pop was familiar, the zing more like the sound a telephone wire would make if you strummed it. I didn’t recognize it. I was puzzling over this sound, but dad knew what it was immediately. Vietnam and a lifetime around guns had made the sound second-nature to him.

“Goddamit! Some fuck is shooting at us!” He was half-dressed, scrambling for shoes lost somewhere at the back of the car where my youngest brother was hurrying to get out of his way. His tiny bed-space had disintegrated when my father’s feet moved. Dad didn’t have a shirt, but he had his rifle. He got his shoes on, lifted the back door of the wagon, and was gone into the night. We were all awake then, blazingly awake, our eyes glued open.

“Get down, everyone, get down!” Mom was calm, at least outwardly. The baby was calm, looking around with her wise-owl eyes. She had been born to expect things like this. The boys were excited, whispering, both diving to the floorboards in the front of the car. Adventure! Just when they thought they’d been stuck with going to sleep, here was adventure. It often arrived that way, in the middle of the night, the adventure of dad coming home drunk and us figuring out how to stay out of his sight, or the adventure of being on the run, finding a new place because something in dad’s mind had clicked. Something that said it was time to go, no matter if it was midnight. Sometimes it was just time to go.

I flattened on my stomach, Mom pressed beside me with her arms around the baby. We all held our breath. POP! Zinggggg, again. Now, an answering thunder from the 30-ought-6 dad had held in his hands as he slipped into the trees. No zing this time, the bullet was not flying over our heads now. At the time I thought someone really was shooting at us, that someone was after us, but now I imagine the shock on some redneck’s face as he shot randomly into the forest and then heard a zing as a bullet flew over his head. Or did the bullet hit his truck, shattering the windshield? There was a pause, then an excited POP! POP! Zinnnggggg! Zinggg!! Someone was definitely shooting at us now. Boom! Boom! The bigger gun answered, then there was a roar in the distance as a truck started up and sped down the road. Someone had gotten the picture.

Minutes later, panting, Ed arrived shirtless, the gleam of his eyes reflecting the stars, the sweat beading his forehead belying the cool mountain air.

“He got the picture,” he said. “Mary, get our shit, let’s get out of here before he comes back or the cops show up. Let’s go kids, roll up the sleeping bags.” A flurry as we pushed the seats up, arranged ourselves into our traveling formation, got the baby in the car seat. Our few crates of belongings on the top of the car were settled, and before panic could set in the cat was there. She knew. We all knew he would leave her in a second if she wasn’t there on time. I breathed relief, cuddling her in my arms as we coasted out of the forest with our lights off. No-one on the road. It was as empty as it had been when we drove in to find our spot. Huddled together in the back, us kids looked at each other with our wide gleaming eyes and finally breathed.

“Why was that guy shooting at us?” Rowdy whispered, no hint of a stutter when he talked to me, his fuzzy hair sticking up in clumps.

“I don’t know,” I whispered back. Reno grinned from the front seat between mom and dad, sitting back and not moving, not making a sound, not waking the beast. The baby in her car seat was relaxed, watching us, never opening her mouth.

After that, there was a gas station. I remember eating a tiny ice cream cup before bed, such a treat! We never got ice cream! I remember the dark swallowing us up again as the road hummed under the tires. I don’t know where we slept, maybe they drove and we slept on the road. The important thing was that the miles unfurled beneath our tires, marking time between us and them.
Advertisements

3 thoughts on “Roads on Her Face #1 Shots Fired

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s