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ADELAIDE Independent Monthly Literary Magazine / Revista Literária Independente Mensal, New York / Lisboa, Online Edition  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

TAKE IT EASY
by Beth Mader

 

 

 

Lanie tore her apron off and threw it in the backseat of her rusty Volvo. She smelled like coffee and pancakes, just enough to make her nauseous.

The sun was barely setting between the Rocky Mountains, and she longed to disappear along with it. It was winter, but the sun had stolen a chance to give the world a little hope. She looked straight at the blinding light, mesmerized by its sheer perfection; it was so inviting and warm, like a long lost friend she’d forgotten. Lanie knew better though. She didn’t have any friends: she couldn’t. Her Volvo wasn’t even truly hers.

She climbed into the faded driver’s seat, leaving the door open despite the wintery bite. After making sure no one was around, she peered into the rearview mirror. She could see a pair of dark blue eyes staring back at her, but she wondered if they were really hers anymore. Lanie pulled her shirt down and glimpsed at her collarbone, wincing at the blackening bruise. Another started to show beneath her ear, the one she made sure to hide beneath her hair throughout her shift. This wasn’t the first time, and she was past the point of knowing it wouldn’t be the last.

Lanie pulled out of the café’s parking lot, biting back tears. She hated herself for letting him hurt her in the way he did. She turned on the radio to turn off the worry.

The Rocky Mountains were now just a dark silhouette against the dim lights of Layton, Utah. Lanie hated driving in the dark, especially in the winter. She could never tell between the tar and black ice. Small snow flurries bounced off her windshield and danced dangerously in her headlights.

Lanie made her way onto the highway when she saw something standing in the road. Her hand automatically turned down the radio for comfort. She slowed the car down hoping it would move, but the dark figure remained planted.

It was a woman, a hitchhiker. She was dressed in jeans, hiking boots, and a dark, flannel shirt. Lanie pulled the car over, shining the headlights directly upon her. The woman approached the car and tapped on the window. Lanie’s hands froze on the steering wheel.

The woman had long brown hair matted down from the cold wind. She wore a knit cap that rested right above her thick eyebrows and tired eyes. Those tired eyes looked desperate, something Lanie knew all too well. She looked younger than her, maybe twenty-four at the most. Her heart reached out, and she rolled down the window. The car’s warmth immediately fled into the open air.

The woman didn’t say a word for quite a while. Lanie didn’t know what to say either.

“You headed to Salt Lake City?” the woman asked loudly, hinting a southern accent.

Lanie didn’t want this woman in her car, but she didn’t want her to freeze either. Her main worry was getting home not a minute late. She felt the sting of her bruise.

She nodded.

The woman opened the door and rolled up the window. She smelled like warm tea and leather. She carried a large duffle bag that she shoved between her feet, and then she quickly crossed her arms and leaned against the windowpane.

Lanie remained silent, waiting for the stranger to speak first. There was something foreign and curious about the woman, something that made her worry less about time.

“We don’t have to talk,” she said bluntly.

Lanie was taken aback. There was silence between them again for a couple of minutes.

She thought about what could go wrong. She thought it was sad that the only thing she worried about was getting home late and explaining to him why. It made her angry with him, with herself.

The woman shifted her feet, her boots scraping against each other. “Never been to Salt Lake.” The car sped down the highway, getting faster with every minute.

The woman fiddled with her hat, pulling it up her forehead. “I’m sure it’s nothing special.” She laughed and looked over at Lanie. “I’m sure you got no reason to say otherwise.”

Lanie thought about the café, the snow, and how the time was still slipping away from her. The frost on the windshield started to grow thicker and the wipers skidded against the icy crust. She gripped the steering wheel until her knuckles turned white. She was late, and now she had nothing interesting to say about herself or where she was from.

The woman seemed to be getting comfortable. She stretched her arms and glanced in the backseat at her apron. “Coming or going?”

The car started to slow down as Lanie let off the gas slightly. She didn’t need to speed. She was already late.

 

The woman looked over at Lanie’s face that was illuminated by the dash lights, making her look extremely pale. She slowed down even more. The flurries against the windshield put her into a trance, one she didn’t want to escape.

There was silence. Lanie glanced at her curiously, feeling self-conscious. She could feel the woman’s eyes on her, making her instinctively tousle the hair around her neck.

The woman sat straight up in her seat, turning her whole body to face her.

Lanie continued staring at the road, still lost in the trance. She felt like the woman was looking through her, seeing everything she had meant to hide. She made a second attempt to make sure her hair was still covering her secret, ultimately revealing everything.

The woman reached for her hair, brushing it away from her face. Lanie swatted her hand, but she brushed her hair back again, this time slowly.

No one needed to know about her life; no one needed to give her pity. She pushed her foot down on the accelerator. Nothing happened. There was a loud rev, and the car suddenly lost power. She groaned, scrambling to read the gauges. She veered over to the side of the highway, crossing the rumble strip. The car slowed down until it stopped. The lights went out. It became dark.

The woman relaxed in her seat once again. “Henley.”

Lanie sighed, resting her head on the steering wheel. She shrugged her shoulders, feeling a tremendous weight resting on top of them.

The woman started digging through the bag between her feet. “The Eagles?”

Lanie listened to her ramble as she continued to rummage. “My momma loved Don Henley. Wouldn’t ever stop playing his damn songs. Course I loved him for her.” She stopped moving the bag and paused. “I was her little Henley. And now, well, that’s who I am.”

She thought about her Dad and how much she missed long truck rides, singing along with the radio. Those memories were miles behind her now.

Henley pulled out a blanket and covered herself, settling into her seat. “You going to call him?”

Lanie thought about it. He wouldn’t be happy, and he sure wouldn’t come help her either. She shook her head no. She wanted to curl into a ball.

Henley suddenly reached over and grabbed her wrist. “You like this feeling?”

She tried pulling away, but her grip grew firmer.  

The air was tense. She let go a whimper. Henley finally released and shook her head.

Lanie’s anger was at its peak. She bashed the dash with her palm and exhaled heavily. She punched it again and again, trying to feel some kind of pain. She wanted to feel like her old self, the person who never thought about time. She started to sob.

Henley reached over and jerked the rearview mirror upon Lanie’s face. She gripped it tightly, forcing her to look at herself. Lanie stared blankly, ashamed. She whispered in her ear, “Leave.”

Lanie wiped her eyes and paused. She realized she knew nothing about leaving.

Suddenly, the car started. The gauges started to glow, and a soft hum of the radio smoothed over the dense air between them. Maybe Henley was right.               

She put the car in drive and slowly eased onto the road. The wind seemed to howl just a little less.

Henley smiled and curled back under her blanket. “I’m always leavin.’”

Lanie drove on, eventually coming up on the frost of flickering lights, and slowly passing them into an unknown darkness. The two sat in a calm silence, and Lanie not once looked at the clock.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

About the Author:

Beth Mader

Beth Mader holds a Bachelor’s Degree in English from Schreiner University and is currently a writer and editor at a publishing company in the Texas Hill Country.

 

 

 

 

     
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