The car smells like spring, those first days when the permafrost melts and the air fills with the scent of new earth. We have the windows down, the cool night breeze ruffling through our hair as we drive along the old road.
“Tell it again,” Jo says from the back seat.
From the passenger seat, Vic huffs a laugh full of sarcasm and implied eye-rolling.
Despite it all, I have to smile. We’ve had so many road trips together, the three amigos – us against the world, over and over and over again. None like this, though.
“Your car broke down, you called me to come get you and Vic was at the house. That’s why we’re out here in the middle of the night.”
Jo’s quiet for all of ten seconds. “What if they ask you to open the trunk?”
“For fuck’s sake, Jo,” Vic snaps, “they’re not going to ask her to open the trunk.”
“Only if you tell them there’s something in the fucking trunk!”
The giggle slips out before I can stop it, the kind of manic noise a person makes just before they break into a million jagged pieces. The girls go quiet and I take a deep breath, subdue my instinct to shatter.
“I’m driving normally,” I say, my voice far calmer than I actually feel. “There’s no reason for anyone to stop us.”
I immediately regret putting it out there as the car’s headlights catch on the legs of a moose in the near distance. I slam on the brakes and someone – likely me – screams. The car stops well far from the animal, wood and metal clanging against each other in the trunk as a reminder of why we’re out here in the first place.
The dash throws off a dull blue light in the pressing darkness, our profiles sharp and angular in the eerie illumination. The moose looks our way briefly, then wanders into the woods beyond. In that instant, I think a hundred thoughts: about the last two years of my life and the time I wasted with a man who never loved me but instead loved control and violence; about the scars no one sees, the stories I can’t even tell my best friends; about how, hours ago, I stood in my kitchen covered in the result of an impulsive decision, convinced I’d never be clean ever again.
What’s done is done…
These thoughts – and others – make me wonder if the monster I once loved didn’t, in fact, make a monster of me in the end.
“What the fuck was I thinking?” I ask, not realizing I’ve said it aloud until Vic answers.
“That it was either him or you,” she says, her soft voice far too loud in the quiet of the car. “Survival of the fittest.”
Et tu, Darwin?
“Well,” Jo says, her voice breaking through my thoughts, “I guess it’s true what they say.”
“What’s that?” I ask, hands tight on the steering wheel. The forest is a dark, living thing around us. Is that my heartbeat thudding in my ears or the memory of another’s?
“Good friends will help you through a breakup,” she says, “but best friends will help you bury a body in the middle of the woods at night.”
The hysterical giggle returns, unabashed and unwavering. The girls join me, the car filling with the kind of laughter that makes you cry, that pulls the air straight from your lungs, that makes people think you’re going crazy.
Maybe I am…
Eventually, the laughter subsides. I release the brake, hit the gas; metal and wood yet again thud and clang against each other in the trunk. It was quieter before, when there was something back there to muffle the noise.
My arms ache, my hands blistered and rough. Beneath all the discomfort, though, I feel lighter – all that weight I once carried tossed into a deep, dark hole where no one will ever find it.
“Thank you,” I say because it’s all I can manage and yet, I know it’s nowhere near enough.
“Worst breakup ever,” Vic says.
On that, at least, we can agree.