By Paul Rinn
Lights from the dashboard illuminate the interior of the car with a hollow green glow. On the radio, a little boy makes a wish list for Santa Claus, one of those old time radio programs that only play on the AM stations. The little boy’s mother asks him to join the family for breakfast as I stare out at the road ahead of us. Steady hands on the wheel as I navigate through the billions of snowflakes that come rushing up to meet me, to kiss the windshield with their wet lips and be wiped away a moment later.
It’s my birthday and we’re headed into the city. The weather channel has called for up to eight inches of snow to fall overnight. The highway is dusted with a light coat of sugar. Cornflakes on either side of the road. The sky, a gallon of spoiled milk that’s been poured out some time ago. Chelsea sits shotgun, cowering in her seat, a bundle of frayed nerves dragged out into the night and shivering from the cold. The car starts to drift and slide along the road and Chelsea grabs the dash board until we regain traction. I keep telling her, its my birthday.
Drifts across the highway become a performance as the snowflakes dance before their audience, under the pressure of the spotlights. Curtains of black velvet have been hung up in the periphery, and fog machines create a haze along the edges, keeping our focus on the constantly fleeing center stage. Out there in the distance, a pair of red eyes stare back at us; demonic red eyes that flare up and fade out in a perpetual rhythm, like the slow heartbeat of a dying beast.
“Don’t get too close to that truck,” Chelsea pleads. Brows furrowed with worry, she turns to me, begging me to turn the car around and head back home. The tires are bald from making so many of these drug runs to and from the city, and with the highway paved in ice it makes the car handle as well as a pair of roller skates on a frozen pond.
“Don’t worry, I got this under control.”
The front end of the car slides to one side of the road, then glides back to the other. We hit a patch of ice and lose what little traction there is, and soon we’re skating through lanes of traffic, over a soft gravel shoulder, and careening off into the ditch. I grip the wheel tight and lock my arms as we plow into a drift that covers us with a blanket of snow. On the radio, the little boy plays around with his food before asking to be excused from the dinner table.
I unbuckle my seatbelt and turn to Chelsea, not sure if I should touch her. “Oh my god, are you okay? I’m so sorry.” My hands ease onto her shoulder and knee, a trepid embrace. She’s frozen, braced for impact, arms outstretched to the dashboard, face all in a bunch. One eyelid opens and then the other as she takes a look around, a hand held to her chest to measure the beating of her heart. “Honey, I’m so sorry. Are you sure you’re okay?” Holding her face in my hands, I kiss her forehead, her nose, her lips. She just stares out the windshield at the hood of her car, snow piled up over the bumper, the heat from the headlights peeling away layers of white like a good turndown service.
Her voice shakes when she tells me, “Can we please go home now?”
“Aw, baby,” I say, trying to figure out how I’m gonna get us out of this mess. “We can’t stop now. We’re almost there.” I tell her that nothing else can go wrong as I reach for the volume button on the radio. I turn it down as the little boy whines to his mother after she tells him it’s time to go to bed. “I mean, after all…it’s my birthday.”