Claire had known hard times—a stint in Shelby County jail, drug rehab, family reunions—but she didn’t think bad luck would stick like the thirty pounds she couldn’t lose. Yet there it was: only two hours into her road trip, and the air conditioner of her ’76 Pacer went out. Claire rested her arm in the opened window. The hot air blowing into her car whipped the style out of her hair, style that had required careful attention with a curling iron. Her peasant blouse snapped in the breeze as though her shirt were a mainsail on a sloop. Or a sheet in the wind. Claire smiled. What a three-sheets-to-the-wind idea it was to take a one-day drive east on I-40—Nashville to Raleigh less than 600 miles—and set out to make it a memorable experience, a 1600 mile back-road scenic odyssey.
The original plan that Claire made for her self-discovery journey involved cruising along California’s Highway 1 in a Pontiac GTO convertible. With the Pacific coast as a backdrop, she felt she could review her wild years. There, locked-up memories could be allowed to surface; because they’d fade in the California sun and recede with the tide. She’d emerge from her cocoon a surfin’ girl. “Long Promised Road” by the Beach Boys would be her theme song. With shackles off and roadblocks down, she’d be able to conquer Step Five of Alcoholics Anonymous and confess “the exact nature of our wrongs.”
So, Claire decided, the exact nature of this wrong was getting talked into driving east. No, the first wrong was going to Monty’s Sure Ride car lot and getting duped by brother-in-law Monty into buying an AMC Pacer coupe. Then, while in a celebratory mood over the new car and raising a glass or two with Monty and his better half, Gracelyn, the next wrong was getting suckered by Gracelyn into driving to Raleigh. Duped and suckered. Gullibility was the defect of character that Claire was entirely ready to have God remove—but that was Step Six.
It began to rain. Rain in the Cumberland Plateau did not fall gently from an opened sky. It deluged from an overturned heavenly wash bucket. Claire cranked her window shut and turned on the defrost fan. The defrost fan didn’t work. As the windshield fogged up, she looked for a place to pull over. There were no shoulders along the two-lane road, just deep trenches on either side to carry storm runoff. Claire struggled to clear the fog with the palm of her hand, but the windshield bowed beyond her reach. She rolled her window down, followed the taillights of the car ahead, and gripped the steering wheel with both hands until the fog cleared. So this is what it’s like, she thought, to go through a car wash with a window open.
As her bucket seat collected water and her rain-soaked blouse clung to her skin, Claire realized the irony of it all. The Pacer truly was a fishbowl on wheels.
Also realized: Monty truly was a son of a bitch.
And Day One of the road trip was fast becoming an experience just as unpleasant as waking up in a strange bed next to a man whose name Claire couldn’t remember.
To read the remainder of Susan Sorenson's story, purchase a copy of the 2014 edition.
Susan Sorenson received an MFA in Writing from Hamline University in 2012. Her short story, "Road Trip," is one that she began while taking a philosophy class at Hamline--her goal was to explore moral themes. Since she received her MFA degree, she has been working on a novel. This is her first publication.