“It’s not the same,” you remind her gently, still several dozen miles from your destination.
Even though you can’t look at her, you can feel her eyes scanning the horizon, miles upon miles of sun-baked earth and yellow grass, mesquite bushes and cracked asphalt patched once, twice, a thousand times, the sealed lines spreading out with the intricacy of a spider’s web on the highway beneath you. Every so often you’ll pass a herd of cattle grazing on the land or a band of horses given the freedom to run, but there’s no one here and you find yourself thinking that’s the way it’s always been.
“I can tell,” she says. You aren’t certain if she really can, though. You love her. You love her more than anything, but this is something she might not ever understand and so you can’t help feeling like there’s something missing. Like there’s a gap between you that you can never cross.
“I’m just scared it’ll disappoint you,” you admit.
You aren’t a proud Southerner in the most formal sense—you’ve never fired a gun (never even touched one) and none of the men in your family wear cowboy hats—but you’ve always had a connection to the land and the beautiful seclusion of it all. When you told your mother you didn’t mind long drives she laughed at you, but you could tell she felt it too, if only just. She knew what it was like to be out there in the middle of nowhere, the voice on the radio fizzling out as you crossed invisible county lines, only to be replaced by another, almost indistinguishable from the last, in time.
“It’s a lot of nothing,” she says. Your shoulders tense, but you give her a moment because this is what she does. She frightens you—always has—since that first fluttering two years ago when she smiled and all the world seemed to condense to two rows of white teeth and a pair of coral-colored lips. “You always said you hated it.”
This you can’t refute. When you met you were a fugitive running wild in the wide world you were never given a chance to see. You resented that all your life; you seethed green with envy when your friends, your extended family, even strangers publicized their vacations in California, Mexico, New York, and beyond. For almost two decades you felt like your life was tethered to the dust in your lungs.
But in the end when your running was done—when you found yourself standing among buildings a thousand miles from home, spires dizzyingly tall—you realized you were short of breath and suddenly it felt as though all that once-glorious concrete and steel was collapsing upon you. She found you there, on your knees in the shade of a building tall enough to block the midday sun, and she promised one day soon you could go back, together.
“I can learn to love it,” she says, making a point to squeeze your hand where it rests on the console between you. She loves you. She loves you more than anything and so you believe her because, in a way, you had to learn, too.
(Flash Fiction and Photography by Kayleen Burdine)