Brilliant sun and the force of all the days coming at her. The car hums and in humming lulls Joyce into a false sense of calm–into the placating idea that she knows what she’s doing. Her hand on the wheel, her arm resting in the window—the breeze blows through the car to air out its troubles. They bounce out into the cornfields one trouble at a time.
Stretching forever those fields. Into a kind of infinity that Joyce herself wants to be stretched into. Instead she chews some candy–hard red ovals that crack if crunched hard enough, splintering like glass. She has a root beer, sickly sweet, and she has this hat on the seat beside her, the only reminder of last night’s transgressions with Neil, of yesterday’s hope.
It was more like a volley with possibility. The dinner, the bar, the bed, the breakfast. All leading to this moment in the car, speeding down highway 30, birds stretched out on a high wire. A fox sniffling the side of the road. The hat.
Joyce fingers the hat’s ribbed edge, remembers Neil who she visited before Joe and Patrick before that. Her trip across the country with a list long enough to keep her busy for a while. Next, Bobo in Memphis. She hadn’t seen Bobo since freshman year of college. His fresh young face and infectious laugh. Skinny and punk and ready to love her up back then.
Now, on the phone, Bobo sounds large and rough. So many years and imagine all that could have happened. Joyce follows the directions, turns left down a rutted lane. The house isn’t a house, she has to admit, but is instead a trailer. Something she hadn’t put into the formula of Bobo, whose family had surely come from money as she remembers his stereo system in the dorm, his knowledge of grammar and table manners. Garbage strewn here and there and here Joyce is perched in her pretty Honda. Still pretty trim, feeling okay about the world except that it won’t stay still for her anymore so she just rides it on in, follows its curve, plans to keep moving until the car just kicks the bucket, right there under her foot pressed to the gas pedal.
Bobo. What had she known about him then? Big smile. Smart. Awkward and all angles in bed. A little wild, and then after a few raucous nights they’d switched off to others, sometimes meeting up for lunch, comparing notes as everyone did back then. Sex like a public event reported on in bars and coffee shops all around campus.
Joyce slows the car. A dog naps tied to the porch railing. Not dingy, she notices, but instead maybe just old and tired. A potted geranium there on the cement steps, in a nice celadon pot. That pot—she tells herself later—is why she decided to get out of the car. The pretty pink petals draw her forward and up the stairs to the door where she knocks on a screen and puts a bright smile on her face, makes sure her eyebrows aren’t doing any of the furrowing that she is sometimes famous for. She doesn’t remember grabbing Neil’s hat from the car seat, but there it is in her hand, like a little shield.
A grand thumping and then Bobo at the door’s frame hidden inside this burly body. This big, solid muscular thing of a body that seems to house his old self instead of own him. He smiles and laughs and hugs Joyce hard, pulling her slightly up on her toes and setting her back down. “Come in! Jesus you’re really doing this,” he says, laughing again. “Jesus.” Shaking his head.
Joyce follows him inside. He has a nice set up. Clean in contrast to the yard, the rutted drive. Modern furniture that cost something. Sleek table and chairs, a couch covered in colorful pillows and a little dog–cute and barking–perched on top. Bobo yells, “Stop it Linger. Put a hat on it, okay?” And the dog–without any more provocation–back flips from the back of the couch to its cushions. “God, she loves to show off,” he says, and then adds, “You can’t imagine how long it took to teach her that.” Bobo takes Neil’s hat, sets it aside, takes Joyce’s arm, guiding her through the trailer to the back patio where a grape arbor stretches around its perimeter.
Bobo takes her tiny hands in his. Looks into her eyes in a way Joyce suddenly remembers from years before, suddenly remembering the kind of lust and love she’d run away from in him back then. Not ready for such emotions, not ready for anything this intense. Joyce sighs. “Wow,” she says. “You just might make this little experiment worthwhile.”
Bobo smiles, a little sadly this time. “I doubt that,” he says. “But I want to tell you my life story. I want to start at the beginning.”
Sherrie Flick is the author of the flash fiction chapbook I Call This Flirting (Flume) and the novel Reconsidering Happiness (University of Nebraska Press). Her flash fiction appears in many journals and anthologies including Norton’s Flash Fiction Forward and New Sudden Fiction. She lives in Pittsburgh, where she teaches in Chatham University’s MFA program.