by Phebe Jewell
She dropped him off at school and kept going, driving north through the city, past the suburbs, the farms, and up into the mountains. She came close to crossing the Canadian border to look out over Burrard Inlet, but she couldn’t drive over the Lion’s Gate Bridge without him beside her, counting boats in the harbor, the eagles surfing thermals overhead.
She filled the gas tank and sped back south, pulling into the school parking lot half an hour late for pick-up. He stood on the front steps with his teacher, face wet with worry. She was always on time. Wiping his cheeks, she told him work kept her late. He nodded, burrowing into her side.
They had a deal. Always tell each other the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Their pact against the boys who joked about his missing father. The mothers who fell silent when she arrived empty-handed and late to a PTA meeting. Her stomach churned. How far could she have gone? Prince George? Whitehorse? Across another border to Alaska?
She drove home in silence, biting her lower lip to keep from telling him she almost went to Vancouver but couldn’t go without him. What would he hear? That she missed him, or that she ran away?
She leaves work earlier now to make sure she’s there when he runs out from school. Summer arrives and school ends. Packing for a road trip, she slips their passports into her bag at the last minute. Just in case.
As they leave the city, she rolls down the windows and he stretches his hand out of the speeding car to catch the blur of green and blue spinning beyond the reach of his fingers. They count cows and fruit stands, eat burgers in gravel-road diners. He gathers kindling from the woods, insists he build the fire. Pretending to read at the picnic table, she watches him work, tenting the wood, allowing air to fuel the flame. Mornings she makes coffee while he sleeps, studying the mist on the shoulders of a ridge, imagining the view from the other side of the mountain. Afternoons they swim, diving deep into the lake together, surfacing far from shore.
The last morning they break camp early.
I’ve got a surprise for you, she replies each time he asks where they’re going.
They cross the border, drive through the Fraser Valley, a wind off the Pacific pushing the morning fog to the east.
You’ll see, as they navigate their way into Vancouver and finally Stanley Park, the forest a green shawl gathered around them.
Catching sight of the bridge towers, he whoops, The bridge! When it’s foggy you think you’re driving into space. Remember? The first time across I cried, sure we were going to die.
She laughs. I remember.
Approaching the bridge deck, she takes a deep breath. Suspended over dark blue waters, white-capped on this windy day, she breathes out and begins. You know, once I almost drove here by myself. But I came back for you.
Phebe Jewell’s work appears in various journals, including Monkeybicycle, Spelk, New Flash Fiction Review, Bending Genres, and The Cabinet of Heed, and has been selected for wigleaf‘s 2021 Top 50. A teacher at Seattle Central College, she volunteers for Freedom Education Project Puget Sound, a nonprofit providing college courses for incarcerated women and trans-identified and gender nonconforming people in Washington State. Visit her at phebejewellwrites.com.