It was a good day for driving across roadways in Oregon—no clouds, no wind, no rain—no worries but the one. The three women talked at first. The car filled with their voices; tire hum, engine drone, and the sounds of other cars being past. They were driving from Portland to Pendleton on a wonderful windows-rolled-down kind of day, the sort that makes you feel new again, or reminds you of feeling new again, of such days and other drives retrieved from the memories worth remembering—except for the one troubling question that wouldn’t leave Lynnette alone.
What would happen to her son if all three of them died in a car crash?
The three women in this car were the only people on earth who held any rightful claim to Josh. Her mother. Her sister. Herself. They were Josh’s entire family. And this was the first time they’d all been together in a car without him since he’d been born. It was always one of them left behind to watch over him, but Josh was old enough to stay with a friend now. So, Lynnette had decided to go to The Pendleton Round-Up this year. She hadn’t gone in so many years—six years to be exact. The year she’d slept with a tall shy cowboy. She smiled about the clumsy encounter between stock trailers, and then later, well past midnight, in the little motel room outside of town—at how young she had been—twenty. She wouldn’t change any of it, except maybe to get ahold of him somehow, that part didn’t seem right; not that he was around phones much, or would want to be involved—but still.
At the Shell station in Boardman, Lynnette leaned against a basalt boulder placed in front of the gas pump to prevent accidents. She felt stable. She let the September afternoon heat consumer her. The pump clicked off.
They ate hamburgers out of a white paper sack and shared a Coke.
The question returned to her outside Boardman. A car seemed a damn flimsy thing to be traveling in at such great speeds. The wind screaming past the windows seemed dangerous—a rattlesnake’s shuddering tail. The idea of travel itself seemed absurdly risky, and then the thought would fade and she’d be enjoying the ride again; cutting through the long afternoon looking forward to a rodeo, but it came back, again and again, until this one intrusive thought had turned itself into everything, until she remembered: The only way to exorcize it is to vocalize it. She’d read that in a self-help book she’d checked out from the library with some embarrassment.
Why is it so embarrassing—wanting to help ourselves?
Where’s the harm in it?
“Hey, I just thought of something,” Lynnette said. She wanted to have her sister and mother tell her to stop worrying so much. That’s just ridiculous thinking that way. You can’t live your life like that. But her voice washed out the window onto Highway 84. “Hey, I just had a thought!”
The windows rolled up.
“What’s that now?” asked her sister who was driving.
“What would happen to Josh, you know, if we got in a car crash, or something happened to all three of us at once? Would he go into foster care?”?
Lynnette’s sister rolled her eyes in the rearview mirror and went back to driving.
“You should paint your toenails. I’ve got some Pinkalicious in my purse. Momma, can you reach for it?” Her sister’s focus in life had always been making things look good for boys.
Lynnette’s mother turned her head towards her daughter’s voice, age had weakened her hearing, but she didn’t need hearing aids, not just yet anyhow. “What’s that honey?”
Her sister reached to the passenger side floorboards and felt around for her purse as the car drifted left. They heard the truck’s horn. Her sister looked up and yanked the steering wheel right as a semi-truck almost answered Lynnette’s question.