The road was long and dusty. Just ahead of the horizon was a little town that Dave was starting to wonder if they would ever reach. They had been driving now for a little over eight hours, and the sun and the road and the wind and sagebrush were starting to get to him, and he was starting to wonder if he even knew where this old two-lane stretch would take them. The only thing he was thankful for was that the sun was now coming in on Erica’s side of the car, and not right onto his left arm as it had been for the first half of the day.
Everything they had passed – which had not included any other cars, and barely any other signs of life – had seemed to be in one of two conditions: so overgrown as to be muddled and barely recognizable, or so desperately under-grown as to be colorless, barren, and bland. Even the ghost-towns they had passed through occasionally seemed to follow this pattern, cluttered and heaped up with rusted out shells of old Datsuns and Fords, discarded refrigerator boxes, old, door-less door frames, tractor tires. This would suddenly break into the dun colored wide-open grassless wastelands that lay between them, as if everything had been hastily tidied into little piles by a messy child. The storm clouds had been chasing them down all day, and Dave rolled down his window to have one last cigarette before they were overtaken by the thunderheads.
“Damn, this whole thing sure hasn’t been easy,” he said on the exhale of his first drag.
After a moment: “There had better be a gas station in that next town, cause I gotta pee.” It was the only response he had gotten all day.
“Yeah, we’re gonna need some gas, anyhow.”
Right as they pulled out of the station, they heard the thunder start.
“Not long now,” Dave mused.
“Why did we do that, Dave? How did it come to that?”
“I don’t know, I guess it just seemed like our only option at the time… I couldn’t see any other way to change her, could you?”
“I guess not… it just doesn’t seem right, all the same.”
“Of course it wasn’t right! It’s too late now, thought, isn’t it?” His face was turing red, he paused, looking out his window. “Oh, God… oh, God…” he whispered, biting his lower lip and blinking off tears.
“I just don’t know why she wouldn’t ever listen, and she just wouldn’t stop. She was never like that with us, why did Joey have to deal with it. It wasn’t fair, not of it was fair.”
“Why didn’t he just protect himself? Why couldn’t he just fight back, or leave, or something? He just sat there and took it from her. The whole thing would just have been so much easier if he wasn’t such a good kid.”
“No, it wouldn’t. It never could have been easy, no matter what the circumstance. She was our mother, Dave, our mother. She raised us.”
“What does that mean now? She tortured him! He is dead, Erica!” he screamed. “What the hell kind of mother is that?”
“Does that make her deserve it? I don’t know, Dave. I just wish that was enough to convince me that we did right.” There was a pause. “Dave, please tell me that we did right,” she pleaded, choking on tears, somehow knowing that neither of them would ever find that peace of mind. Dave, only half hearing her almost rhetorical plea, was far beyond the point of being able to reassure her, anyway, fist to his mouth, teeth clenched, and the wet snail-trails of tear drops highlighting his face in the evening sun. The overbearing silence of the first leg had returned, broken only at odd intervals by a sniff or stifled snob.
The storm started just as the sun was a red crescent out to their right, and the sky glowed a radiant deep purple-to-crimson. Big, heavy drops steadily increased as the sun disappeared. Now all that could be seen was the flicking neon “MOTEL” sign up ahead in the rain. As the pulled in, Dave thought, maybe tomorrow will be better, but his mind had given up looking for new hope, and now only looked for the border.