The van was getting that road trip stink: unwashed bodies, peanut butter sandwiches, crushed crackers, spilled soda, Boyd hated to think what was growing underneath the seats. The kids were singing that stupid song for the thousandth time and the trip had barely started. Another day and a half of this and Margie would be back in charge, she knew how to settle them down, get them studying in their rooms while she and Boyd had their own reunion, grownups time, he could make it that long. He pulled up to the pump and hopped down to fill up the tank, popped his head back into the van to call back, “Okay, nobody get out, I’m just getting gas, we’ll stop for dinner in about an hour,” before padding around the back to unhook the nozzle, shove it home.
Boyd saw his reflection in the window, hair sticking up, wrinkled shirt, puffy eyes. He thought about Margie, her skin under his hand, her round bottom, belly tight with pregnancy, another person moving around in there, Boyd on the outside pressing his hand against the creature inside, pressing back, Margie one of those women who got bigger and brighter when pregnant, like the kid’s personality got added to hers for nine months, or something.
“Everybody here?” Boyd fell into the driver’s seat with the automatic question, “count off,” and started the engine while they counted, “One. Stop it, Jared!” “Two,” piping up from under a towel, “Three,” “I’m not touching you I’m not touching you I’m not…” “Four,” “Da-ad, make him stop,” “Five. Shutup, twerp.”
Five. It stopped at five. Boyd killed the engine and threw an arm over the seat to look into the back.
“Okay, who’s missing?”
“Not me,” said a sleepy voice, followed by a chorus of giggles and “not me”s.
“Very funny. Okay, I see Darryl, Ashley, Jared, Brianna, Andrew. Wait, that’s only five. Who’m I forgetting?”
“That’s all of us, Dad,” yawned Darryl.
“Yeah right.” Boyd sighed and grabbed at his hair. Margie would freak. No, she’d be rational about this, if she were here. “Count off again.”
“One.” “Two, I’m two.” “Three.” “Four.”
A Mercedes waiting behind them honked. Boyd poked his head out the window and waved him to another pump, then got out of his seat so he could face the back of the van square, crouching between the two front seats.
“This is not the time to play tricks on Dad. Okay? Okay. I see Darryl, Jared, Brianna, Andrew.” No, this is wrong this is wrong this is wrong. There were five a minute ago. Why can’t he remember the fifth one’s name?
“I swear dumbhead, if you poke me one more time…”
“Don’t call your brother dumb, Andrew.” Boyd rubbed his eyes. None of the doors to the van had opened while they were sitting there, the others had to be here somewhere. “Look under the blankets, maybe someone’s asleep under there.”
“Leave your sister alone, Jared,” Boyd was losing it. There was Jared, there was Brianna, there was Andrew. That was only three. Oh Jesus, oh Jesus God help me now. What was the name of the missing one? How could he forget his own kid’s name? He wasn’t even sure if it was boy or a girl.
“Look, look, sit still, for just one minute!”
The kids stopped wrestling for a second and looked up at him. Jared and Andrew. His sons. He thought there were more than two, but he wasn’t sure now.
“Goddamnit, you come sit up here next to me okay?”
The Mercedes honked again, and Boyd saw, out the back window, the driver flip him off. “Yeah, fuck you too,” he muttered, still holding on to Jared’s arm, Jared, his son Jared, Boyd looked at him, this kid staring back at him, and kind of laughing, and there was a pop, an actual – pop – and Boyd was holding nothing.
Boyd lurched forward, crouched awkwardly, and felt the van dip with his movement. It was empty, Boyd the only one here. He knew something was missing, something important, he felt sick deep in his stomach like he’d fucked up something big, but he couldn’t, couldn’t bring it into his head.
He turned to look out the front windshield then sat in the driver’s seat, looking out, down the road that ran past the gas station. Where am I going, wondered Boyd.
Founder of the Portuguese Artists Colony in San Francisco, Caitlin Myer regularly reads her work at Why There Are Words, Quiet Lightning, and other established reading salons in California. Her one woman show on Simone de Beauvoir was produced in Seattle.
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