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My dad is driving fast. His sizeable right foot encased in a dark brown extra-wide double-E sized work shoe presses on the pedal, heavy with impatience.
He always drives fast. As a kid, I thought it was because he was from New York. I had heard New Yorkers talk rapidly and move quickly. The car windows are open, and the wind whistles through the backseat where I sit like a rock in a stream of turbulent water. I hold onto the car seat’s edge with each hand next to my legs pressed into the floor. I know we’re speeding, and there’s nothing I can do.
My dad’s face is red and set in a grimace. I have seen this face before. It makes me anxious. I know not to say anything, but thoughts arise in my mind just the same. I wish I hadn’t asked to go with him. I was hasty, and in my desire for candy, I neglected to check his mood.
He reaches into his shirt pocket and extracts a pack of cigarettes. As he does this, the car swerves off the road, two tires on dirt interrupting the smooth whine of tires on asphalt to a vibrating off-kilter dissonance. On high alert, I watch him.
The cigarette box makes a crinkly sound as he pulls out the last cigarette, crumples it, and tosses it out the window. The wadded box almost lands in the back seat, stuck half in and half out on the metal between the windows for a second, then disappears, kidnapped by the wind. With his other hand, he jerks the car back on the asphalt. I allow myself to breathe. My thoughts drift.
I remember a recent incident, traveling somewhere with the entire family, crammed in the back seat of our car with my sisters. My mom was in the front seat. Dad was speeding on the freeway, passing other cars like they were pesky ants in his way, his face set in rigid determination. My sisters and myself on edge. Then suddenly, he broke his focused form and wildly looked around. There was a sudden alarm in the air like someone shouting “FIRE.”
“Was that the exit?” my dad said as he checked his rear-view mirror.
Before anybody could answer, he slammed on the brakes and feverishly backed up. The car’s wheels were half on the freeway and half on the shoulder. Cars honked and angrily shifted around us. I watched my mom as she stared straight ahead, her face white and silent. My dad half-turned, one hand on the steering wheel, the other down the back of the car seat, keeping lookout out the back window, his red-rimmed eyes wide and alert as he swept us into this dangerous illegal manoeuvre. I was in a state of frozen terror along with my sisters – a sticky clump of open-mouthed voiceless statuettes. None of us dared to look out the windows. My sisters’ eyes were mostly glued to the floorboards. After a few floating minutes, we arrived at the previous exit and continued on our trip.
We pull into a gas station. I jump out, skipping to the store to pick out my favourite candy – Cracker Jacks, Tootsie Rolls, and Bazooka bubble gum. I stare at the shelves of brightly-coloured candy positioned in line with my sight. I almost trade the Tootsie Rolls for Red Hots, but at the last minute, I change my mind. I lay my candy on the counter and look at my dad. He doesn’t bat an eye and pays for the gas and the treats. I could have gotten more, as he has never objected to what I pick out, but I know my older sister will chastise me if I get too much. She always makes me tell her exactly what I got.
Back in the car, I savour the sweet and salty Cracker Jack as the wind whips my hair around. Absorbed in my loot, I don’t even notice the car’s speed. After a while, I give in to my anticipation and dig for the prize in the box. It’s a tiny old-fashioned blue plastic car set in pieces within a frame. I twist them apart and put the car together. I examine all the details and wonder how they make these intricate prizes. I put it in my jeans pocket and decide what to have next, the gum or the Tootsie Rolls. I line them up on the car seat, fingering them both, then decide on the gum and save the Tootsie Rolls for later.
I look out the car window and see sunlight glinting on the water as we drive by. I look at my dad and can tell he is more relaxed. He is leaned back in the car seat. One large freckled hand with curly hairs on the steering wheel, the other dangling out the window with a cigarette attached to it. His tanned bald head with a fringe of grey and white short hair moves back and forth, enjoying the summer display of verdant trees, shimmering water, and variegated sunlight. I sigh deeply and relax too. For I know this is the only thing that my dad will drive slower for – to look at what he calls “beautiful scenery.”
Barbara Candiotti is a former High Tech Worker. She enjoys photography, collage, and writing. Star*Line and Eye to the Telescope have published her poems. Her photography has been accepted by Reservoir Road Literary Review and her digital art pieces have been accepted by Phantom Kangaroo, Zoetic Press, Utopia Science Fiction Magazine, Invisible City, Star*Line (Cover Art), Evocations Review, The William and Mary Review and Electricspec (Cover Art).