It’s ninety-five degrees and the car windows are down. I can feel the skin of my shoulder and arm burning no matter how much sunscreen I apply. The road is a bright zipper splitting my past and present: eastern Washington and childhood; western Washington and the life I live on my own.
It’s the first day of my fortieth year. I don’t feel any different than I did the week before. The face looking back at me in the rearview mirror looks unimpressed by the milestone.
Dry, plowed fields pass by on either side, khaki-tan under blue skies. Strong wind pulls at the wheels and I watch it whirl above the loose dirt of empty farmland. Dust devils begin to dance on the tops of hills just as my phone rings, faint in the noise of rushing air through the car windows.
“Mom?” If it wasn’t so loud, I’d hear the cautious tone of my daughter’s voice.
Her flight from Virginia leaves in an hour. We’re heading for the same small city, our shared hometown. I want to drive faster to make the time come sooner. It’s been a year since I’ve seen her.
“All ready to go?” I roll up the window to hear her better.
The tone of her voice is clear now.
She isn’t coming.
“It’s the storms in North Carolina. They’ve canceled all flights. I’m sorry Mom. And I had a present for you and everything!” She sounds close to tears and I squeeze the wheel hard to silence my own sense of loss.
I tell her it’s okay and hear the relief in her voice. I ignore the heat building up in the car in a smothering embrace and she begins to talk to me, she stuck in the airport and I on a road that suddenly feels very long. The hills change to pine forests as the hours pass, the sun dropping below the horizon, and the warmth is something inside now.
Somewhere my child has become an adult, entirely separate from me but still connected. I picture her sitting beside me for this trip as she has so many times before, feet braced on the windshield and the ends of her long blond hair lifting in the breeze.
When I hang up, nearly two hours have gone and I have the only gift I want.
I drive into my hometown, the past and the present held together in the feel of her still with me.
Kristen MacKenzie lives on Vashon Island in a quiet cabin where the shelves are filled with herbs for medicine-making, the floor is open for dancing, and the table faces the ocean, waiting for a writer to pick up the pen. Her work has appeared in Brevity, Rawboned, GALA, Extract(s) Daily Dose of Lit, Maudlin House, Blank Fiction, Cease, Cows; Crack the Spine, Eckleburg, Referential, Bluestockings, NAILED, Knee-Jerk, and Wilderness House and is included monthly in Diversity Rules. Pieces are forthcoming in Minerva Rising, MadHat Annual, Mondegreen, Prick of the Spindle and Crab Fat. Her short story, “Cold Comfort,” placed in Honorable Mention in The Women’s National Book Association’s annual writing contest.