I get a driver’s license, and then I open a bank account, depositing most of my mother’s money and a stack of my paychecks. I keep five thousand dollars in a rolled up sock in my purse. On an almost sunny day in late August, when the wild blackberries hang heavy and ripe on their branches, I climb into my Jeep and leave the Bone behind forever.
HOW DO YOU JUST LEAVE the place you’ve always lived and not know where you’re going? HOW DO YOU JUST LEAVE THE PLACE YOU’VE ALWAYS LIVED AND NOT KNOW WHERE YOU’RE GOING?!
I jerk my steering wheel to the right and cross two lanes of traffic, cutting off a Subaru and a semi before the Jeep groans to a stop on the shoulder of the highway. I flick on the Jeep’s emergency lights and hop out. This is crazy. What am I doing? The gravel crunches beneath my shoes as I race to the opposite side of the car and lean against the passenger side door, bending at the waist. I just need to … breathe … without … anyone … seeing me. I try to look calm, even as my heart rages. I am nothing. I have no one. The world is big, and this is all I’ve ever known. I cover my eyes with my hands and feel fear crushing what courage I worked so hard to cultivate over the last few weeks. I’m following signs to a city I’ve never even visited. I have no idea where I’m going to sleep tonight. God, I’m stupid. Following a pipe dream that Judah laid the foundation to. Before he left me.
What makes me think I can live this fray?
And then there is a voice that comes from deep inside me; it is what I imagine the eating house sounds like: rumbly and old. “You’ve killed people. What makes you think you can’t?”
I say it out loud, with car engines roaring behind me, and suddenly I’m sober. Sober as the night I smashed Vola Fields’s head on the side of her dresser for beating her baby. Sober like the day I used Gassy the gas can to douse Lyndee Anthony in two dollars worth of premium before I tossed a match her way.
Of course I can do this. I’m deranged. I am capable of murder. I’m like my grandmother who pushed my mother’s head under the murky bathwater and tried to drown her. Surely, somewhere inside of me dwells the ability to survive in a city larger than the Bone. I survived aloneness, I fed myself, I clothed myself, I graduated high school, I read books to make myself smarter. I’ll do it all again, because that’s what I do. Right? Right.
I am almost put back together when a highway patrol car pulls up behind the Jeep. Fuck. Running my hands through my hair, my mind immediately goes to the contents of my car. Is there anything in here that can get me in trouble? I think of the knife set that I took from the kitchen when I was packing up, and the pink Zippo that I never gave back to Judah. No. I can’t get in trouble for having those. But Nevaeh’s bear sits on the passenger seat. The bear from the picture that was on every news station in America. The bear I took from Lyndee Anthony’s book bag before I burned it along with her.
I straighten my spine.
“Hello,” I say. I notice that his hand rests lightly on the hilt of his gun as he walks over. Something they teach them to do in the police academy? Just so you know, I have a gun! Hey there, I can blow your head off!
“Ma’am,” he says. “Are you having car trouble?”
“It’s overheating,” I say quickly. He bends down to peer into the Jeep, even though the removable top is off. “Are you headed somewhere?”
“I’m moving,” I say flatly. “To Seattle.” I eye Bambi. Why didn’t I stuff it into one of the trash bags?
He eyes the bags stuffed into my trunk in a hurry, then opens the driver’s side door.
“Seattle,” he says. “Big ambitions. See your license and registration,” he says. I fumble in my wallet, then the glove box, and hand them over. I study him as he looks them over, carrying them back to his cruiser to run my plates. I consider putting the bear away, but if he’s already seen it, it will look suspicious.
“Start her up,” he says. “Let’s see.”
I walk past him, my hands clammy and shaking. You’re fine! I tell myself. He’s trying to help.
I slide into the driver’s side and turn the key. The Jeep grumbles to life. The officer eyes the dashboard. “Seems to be fine now,” he says. “But you might want to turn around and head back into town to get it checked out.”
I nod, pull my door closed, and grip the wheel ‘til my knuckles burn white.
“Do you have children?”
His eyes are on Bambi. I can’t read them because he’s wearing sunglasses. Big, reflective things like a fly’s eyes.
“No,” I say. Just a childhood toy. Can’t bear to let it go, you know?”
“My daughter has one of those,” he says. “She’s eight. Didn’t know they’ve been out that long.” Bambi has bulging eyes. I didn’t know that she was a type of toy that people could recognize. That was stupid to assume. I breathe a sigh of relief when he steps back, allowing me to pull forward and back onto the highway.
“You have a nice day,” he calls over the engine. I wish I could see his eyes. I lift my hand in half a wave and pull away. My heart, my heart, my heart. When I look in the rearview mirror, he’s still watching me. People have looked at me like that before: Judah, Lyndee, even my own mother. Maybe there’s something about me that others can see. I try to imagine what they think when they look at me that way. A strange girl. Something about her … She creeps me out. I laugh at the last one.
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