January 5, 2012: Dashboard

Letter: M
CD Number: 27
Track Number: 2

Song: “Dashboard” by Modest Mouse from We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank
Listen to it here

Hands on steering wheel, 10 and 2 is a lie!!!

(Picture taken from http://www.surfnetparents.com/760/cell-phone-restrictions-for-teenage-drivers/)

Sarah and Marty clamored into the car, like always, Sarah in the driver side, Marty to her right. It was Sunday and it was driving time.

Sarah adjusted her seat, like she always did, even though she was the only one to ever sit in it and it always ended up in the same exact spot as it started. Marty clicked his seatbelt into place and poked at Sarah until she did the same. She hated the feel of the belt. This was supposed to be about escape and that piece of nylon just made her feel trapped. But Marty asked and so she did it. He smiled widely and she felt free again. One look at his happiness and that piece of nylon was forgotten.

And they were off. Down the driveway, banking right on to Pine. West on Pine until the pass the factory that smells like bread and it is another left onto Main. They don’t blow the light, but their right hand turn on red follows what could be describe, in the most charitably terms possible, as a rolling stop.

Town fell away and they are out on the state road, zipping down cracked back asphalt, trees lining the road on one side, a long since gone fallow farm on the right. Marty flips on the radio and turns it to that station where all they do is talk all the time. Sarah glances at him out of the corner of her eye and frowns a bit. He shakes with laughter in response, failing to sell the gag and not caring. He flips the dial once he gets his giggles a bit more under control and the sound of rhythmic bass and a serious guitar lick smother them. This is freedom.

The top is down and Sarah feels the wind grab hold of her hair and toss it about like a cat with a skein of yarn. She delights in it. She knows it will make a mess of things but for now, she gives herself permission not to care. It somehow stay out of her face and that’s all that matters.

Next to her, Marty alternates between leaning out the window and learning close enough to her that they almost touch to see around the crack in the glass that spreads outward over most of his side like ripples on a pond. Each time he gets close to her, they both breathe in deeply the smell of the other mixed with the smell of the road. Both notice, both pretend not to, both will not admit to the other they are doing the same.

A new song begins and Sarah smiles wide. She screams what she imagines is a fun sound, a Tarzan shout of joyful triumph and throws her hands skyward. She shimmies in her seat to the music. While Marty would like nothing more than to appreciate the view and her joy, he’s just too tightly wound to. He knows it and sometimes wishes it was not so. But it is and he knows that. So he reaches out and grabs the wheel while she dances and tries hard not to scold. She catches his look, somewhere between panic and sadness and brings her arms down again, taking control back. She mumbles and apology and he only nods in response. She can feel that piece of nylon again, digging in.

Then the chorus kicks in and she finds herself singing along. And she hears Marty join in, in that voice she thinks is beautiful but he cannot or will not agree, will not share it with anyone else. She leaves her hands on the wheel, but dances in her seat. She feels Marty look and dances harder, enjoying his eyes on her, enjoying how she know it makes him feel. He blushes, laughs, and takes it all in.

The highway, the real one, the big one, stabs into the sky in front of them. That is their destination, their goal. Sarah’s thinking Chicago. Or, dare she dream, New York. Big places. Faraway places. Places where a girl like Sarah and a boy like Marty could blend in and stick out. Places where “the same old same old” was anything but. She sees that highway and pushes the pedal harder. Today’s the day.

Marty sees her determination and cheers her on quietly. He does not care as much for the idea of those places beyond where he’s been, but he knows she does and that’s enough for him. He’s sure he can make home be wherever. And, maybe someday, Sarah will grow tired of Chicago or New York or—god forbid—Los Angeles and they could follow that big highway back, returned as conquering heroes and that be enough for Sarah to feel freedom there, anywhere, and not need to leave again.

The highway drew closer. They could make out cars on it now. Cars that seemed impossibly shiny and impossibly fast. Adrenaline flowed thick like honey into Sarah’s veins. She bit back a welling in her throat and eyes. This. Was. I—

“Sarah!” her mother yelled from the front door, “Now what did I say about playing around in that death trap? You’ll get tetanus or something. And Marty, I thought you were a sensible boy? Why you keep going along with her, climbing into that useless husk of a car.”

Sarah’s mom walked back inside, the screen door slamming like a thunderclap. “Rick, please, please get rid of that hunk of junk. It’s got no wheels, a broken windshield, and God knows what else. Just admit you’re never going to fix it up,” they heard her yell.

Rick, her brother, Sarah’s uncle grumbled back, “Radio still works.”

Sarah’s mom sighed and the argument ended like it always did.

Meanwhile, Sarah and Marty’s fast car to freedom was back to being the rotting lemon it always was. Sarah unclicked the seatbelt, the sour feeling of a fantasy ending eating at her stomach. Marty tried hard to look at her but not look at her, be there but not be stifling. She sighed, not unlike her mother, though she’d strike you for saying it, and pushing open the creaking door. Marty just stepped out as the passenger side had yielded its door to the ages some time ago.

Sarah kicked a pebble and pouted. Marty sat on the ground. After a moment, she sat down next to him, placing her head on his shoulder. Her sadness became a cloak over them both.

After a moment he spoke, clear and confident and very un-Marty-like, “For now, we’re 13, no car, no money, no job. But soon we’ll be sixteen and things will change. And we’ll leave. I promise you we will.”

“Until then?” she asked, voice just this side of shattering.

“Until then…” he paused, searching for something, anything hopeful. “Until then…we ride our bikes to the movies, buy one ticket, and spend all day theatre hopping.”

“What if we get caught?” she said, skeptical but perking up.

“We won’t get caught,” he assured her. “Marty and Sarah don’t get caught. We’re too darn fast.”

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