“Road Trip” by Lana Frankle

You’re in a rusty, beat-up green pickup that squeaks and sputters on a long, painfully straight highway.  The lighting is orange and dusty-glowy but it’s unclear whether it’s dawn or dusk.  Literal desert.  Tumbleweeds.  Cactus.  Even in the dream you know it’s cliche.  Pawn Shop by Brandy Clark plays on the radio but the static keeps cutting through so you turn the dial.  Your car swerves into the opposite lane.  An evangelical is telling you you will go to hell.  You swerve back into the right lane and turn the dial again.  Hot Girl Bummer by Blackbear comes on.  The reception is crystal clear but you’re confused because the song alternates between saying “fuck” and censoring it.  You feel dizzy.  You reach for the can of Coke in the cupholder and take the last lukewarm half-sip left.  You can’t tell if it’s half backwash or if it’s just gone flat.  You see a gas station on the horizon, some townie off-brand kind you’ve never heard of.  You glance at your meter and it’s far past the line for “E” but your car is still moving, lurching, running on fumes.  You press the gas pedal down further and power past the station and turn the radio up.  It is now playing Dance Monkey, but you didn’t register the moment the song changed because you were distracted.  You visualize all four wheels falling off like caramelized sugar melting in your mouth, but they don’t.  You visualize the body of the car coasting through the air after the wheels fall away and then coming down gradually several feet later as though the Earth’s gravity had been significantly reduced, but not eliminated.  But it hasn’t, and it doesn’t, and it doesn’t have to because the wheels are superglued in place and spinning, propelling you forward.  You glance at your odometer.  Forty.  A sign for the speed limit says 70.  No one else is on the road.  No one else has been on the road.  You haven’t passed a single car since you started driving.  When did you start driving?  The radio cuts out and you know it’s because you’ve crossed a state border or a dimensional plane or the car is low on gas.  Dua Lipa starts singing in your head.  You let her.  You don’t hear her voice, just a song stuck in your head.  The way that downstream part of your brain hears.  You see a storefront up ahead.  It isn’t a gas station, but you notice you’re both hungry and thirsty.  You glance at the clock on your dash and it’s 7, but you still don’t know AM or PM.  You picture some vandal filling your tank in the car you leave unattended.  You picture the thermodynamic arrow of time running in reverse.  You remember that you can call Triple A after you get something to eat.  You pull into the tiny lot for the convenience store and check the battery on your phone to make sure you can make the call later.  24%.  You notice when you do this that it is PM and not AM, but by now it is almost 7:30.  The lettering for the convenience store is big, blue, and unilluminated.  The wiring in the letters doesn’t even flicker or short circuit or catch fire.  The place must be broke.  The letters say PIT STOP.  The letters say REST AND DIGEST.  The letters just say someone’s name, the name of someone you don’t care about.  He probably isn’t the guy working the store.  There is only one person working the store.  He’s a pimply redheaded boy with glasses, late teens.  His shirt is an ugly mustard yellow that clashes with his hair.  He is reading a book by Descartes or Hegel or Wittgenstein.  It is thick.  It is paperback.  It is oily-wet.  The kind of print so fine it strains your eyes.  But you aren’t the one that needs to read it.  You turn your attention to the shelves.  They are all the same.  Red painted, wire, flat red metal bottoms.  The paint is not chipped.  The paint is still wet.  It has come off onto the packets of chips.  The packets of chips are all the same too.  They are single-serving Lays Sweet Southern Heat BBQ.  You count the racks, the aisles.  There are six of them, they are about ten feet long, and both sides of each are stocked.  Your eyes come to rest on probably twenty or thirty bags, individually.  You glance at the wall opposite the cashier.  There’s no clock, and the lighting is dim.  There are three anti-theft posters but they all say different things and have different images.  You don’t care about them.  Your eyes scan higher.  An official Lays logo advertisement is placed in the corner of the room like a postage stamp.  “Lays: betcha can’t eat just one.”  And below it and below the anti-theft posters, at the bottom of the room, appropriate eye level for maybe a rat, another advertisement with an identical logo says instead, “Sweet Southern Heat BBQ: it’s all we have.”   You plunge both hands into the pockets of your faint black stained jeans.  Your right pocket has a frayed hole in it and nothing else.  Your left pocket has a wrinkled bill and three coins, all different sizes.  You pull them out, unfold the bill and inspect the coins.  They’re sticky with something.  It is a one dollar bill, a quarter, a dime, and a penny.  The orange tag by the first row of chips says $1.22. You grab one bag and take it to the cashier. He rings it up and the total with tax is $1.36. You give him everything you have and ask if he has a water fountain. “By the toilets, but it’s gross. Here.” He hands you a Coke, half-finished. You drink the whole thing gratefully in one gulp. It is lukewarm and it tastes like backwash, but it quenches your thirst, for now. 

Lana Frankle grew up in the bay area and got her BS in neuroscience from UCSC in 2015.  She is currently a neuroscience PhD candidate at Kent State University.  Her short story collection, The Dismantling, was published by Gnome on Pig Productions in 2016.

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