by Sophia Kumin
Ohio state border: one lone, rusty-white metal stick with a green sign stacked on
top like a highway diner pancake. I wish we got radio reception out here. Camille is sitting
there next to me, reading a joke book and admiring her ring. She thinks she’s discreet,
looking over the top of her book at her hand, or pretending to look for something on the
floor. She stays down for at least ten seconds, until she can see her blue eyes staring back
at her through the sparkling diamond. I’ve pleased her, I know.
“Did you bring a nice suit for the dinner?” she asks.
“How should I know? You insisted on packing for me.”
“Oh, that’s right.”
She giggles, twists her ring. I grip my cheap steering wheel in my cheap car, with the
cheap faux-leather seats and the cheap bobble head doll on the dashboard. I never wanted
a cheap steering wheel, or a girl who enjoyed long trips to see her parents to announce an
engagement. I thought that was what phones were for. I tap my finger on the wheel.
Tap, tap tat a tap, tap tat a tap, tap tat a tap.
“Stop it.” She bites me with her eyes, sharp and annoyed.
“There’s no music.”
Tap, tap tat a tap, tap tat a tap, tap tat a tap.
“Just stop, it’s annoying.”
Cars: silver, red, blue, black, white, faded orange, pastel green, red, blue, black, pass us.
My foot gnaws the gas pedal, wants to move. Press.
“We’re barely faster than a bike!”
“You could kill us!”
“There’s four lanes, and nobody gives a damn about Ohio. There’s nobody to hit.”
“I swear, if you don’t slow down, I’ll-“
My foot grumbles in compliance and softens slightly.
“Well, the next exit isn’t for another mile, and I want to make good time.”
“I need a snack or I’ll get cranky.”
“Right. Get cranky.”
She taps her fingernail impatiently. Fake nails. Who is this woman? I pull into the
gas station and she asks for my wallet. Sure, not like I paid for that shiny rock on your
goddamn finger. The sun is fading into denim skies and painting it watermelon and thick,
pink rouge. Slight Eastern winds blow tufts of my hair that tickle my neck and make
those Ohio-green leaves, tinged with sand-brown at the tips, rustle. I’m leaning against
the car, ignoring how cold the metal feels through my cotton shirt, my arms and ankles
crossed, leaning back, facing towards the star that sets soundlessly.
“Hi,” says stranger boy, looking clean and berry-stuffed.
“How’s it going?” Nosy kid.
“Where’s the girl?”
“Off with my wallet.”
“Where’d she go?”
I point to the snack shop.
“I see. Where are you guys headed?”
“Nice. I’m trying to get to Findlay, actually.”
I think on his words for a minute. He looks at me expectantly, wanting me to offer. I was
never one to let kids down. Findlay is near Tiffin anyway.
“Want a ride?”
He gets in the back seat, and pulls his backpack close to his body. I wait in the
driver’s seat. When she opens her door, she gives me a look and slides in. We sit in
silence for a few seconds, until she snaps around to look at our guest and says
“I’m Camille. Who are you?”
“Well, Charlie, what has my fiancé said to you, exactly?”
“He offered me a ride.”
She smiles at him, turns to me, and:
“He’s going where we’re going. Nearby.”
“You know how I feel about hitchhikers,” with a side note to Charlie, “No
“Camille… Not now.”
She sits back, angry.
“So, Charlie, is it?” I ask. “Do you know any radio channels that work out here?”
“No. But I have a CD.”
“What is it?”
“Let’s hear it, then.”
I slip it into the CD drive and hear it whir and click.
Road trippin’ with my two favorite allies,
Fully loaded we got snacks and supplies.
“Chili Peppers.” I smile.
“Oh, I hate this band.” Camille frowns.
“How can you dislike them?” Charlie pipes in.
“I just do!” Snappy, alligator woman. Next track, sweet jazz fills up the car.
“So, Camille. Not a fan of the last band? Why?”
“They’re so loud.”
Find your blue reflection in polished stone and flex your alligator woman skin. I
think she is scared.
“Charlie, what brings you to a shithole in Ohio?” Make conversation, I tell myself.
“It’s not a shithole!” Shut up, alligator woman.
“I got a couple friends there.”
“Where are you coming from?”
“How’s the weather?”
I guess she felt an awkward silence, ‘cause she said,“Honey, I’m a bit uncomfortable.”
So she did. She has always been a deep sleeper, and she’s out in an instant. I wish I could
do the same about her talking, constantly yapping at me like a hairless, helpless dog.
“You got family, Charlie?”
“As good as any.”
“Got a woman?”
“Had. She took my wallet and left.”
“Maybe your woman and my woman should have a convention.”
Short burst of laughter. We look at Camille nervously; we don’t want to wake her.
“How much longer we got?” I ask Charlie.
“So you’ve been before?”
Charlie doesn’t answer.
“Hey, why are marryin’ this lady?” Oh, so he’s an observer. Nosy kid.
“I love her.”
“Really though, why?”
“It will make her happy.”
“What about you?”
He’s young. He doesn’t get it, I don’t think.
“How old are you, Charlie?”
“Where’s your life? Lost your girl, got no car, no answers.”
“I have answers.”
“I haven’t asked.”
“Well, how old are you? Picking up hitchhikers to spite your fiancée, who you
don’t want to marry, by trusting some stranger in a gas station.”
“You wanna grab some dinner?”
I’m not hungry.
“Sure,” I say.
We walk into Denny’s, hands in our pockets, goosebumps dotting our forearms.
Charlie. Young, ruffled brown hair and brown eyes. No wrinkles on his soft knuckles.
Hairless. Strong shoulders. I want to watch him.
“What are you going to have, Charlie?”
“Bacon, eggs, sausage, toast, maybe some pancakes, coffee, and orange juice.”
“When’s the last time you ate?”
“What are you gonna have?” he asks.
But when the waitress came, I got hungry. A tower of food soon stood before me.
“Munch like a man.” Charlie grinned.
His knee bumped mine and stayed. His foot was touching mine and all I could hear were
forks scraping runny eggs.
“Am I going to have to pay for you, Charlie?”
Back in the car, Camille is still sleeping. Back on the road, I set things straight.
“I’m not into all the gay boy stuff.” The image of his knee on mine gives me
Settled. That was easy.
“You ever tried it?”
I nearly swerved.
“Of course not!”
“Then how do you know you don’t like it?”
“I think I’d know after thirty-eight years!”
“Of course you do. Sorry.”
I wish I had him back home with me. Just for conversation, without Camille
making us nervous.
“Where did you guys meet,” he asks.
“Mutual friend invited us out to a bar. She was fun once, you know.”
“I believe you.”
“She got drunk and asked me not to tell her parents, who live God knows how
many miles away.”
“Are you gay, Charlie?”
“What’s it matter?”
“You’re in my car. You claim you have answers, and I’m asking.”
“Yeah, I might be a bit queer.”
“You can’t be a little bit queer.”
“Oh, and you can?” Attack. Defense, where are you?
No words come out when I open my mouth. Maybe it’s better that way.
“I have to pee,” I say eventually.
I pull off the road and survey the dry grass behind the metal bars. Safe to walk, so
I do. A few yards down, away from the sounds and smells of the highway, hidden behind
a bush, I finally feel alone. Zipping up my pants afterwards, I hear a familiar voice
A voice next to my ear. Good old Charlie. He grazes my arm as he comes from
behind me to stand by my side.
“Dark,” he says.
I like his feet, stuffed into brown hiking boots and laced tightly, but not carefully.
“There’s a moon.” I don’t feel comfortable agreeing with him.
“There’s a guy I know.”
“Not as strange as I’m used to.”
I turn to face him.
“What are you used to?”
He steps toward me.
His face is closer to mine now. Close enough so that I can see his very short stubble and
nostrils flaring as he breathes. The marble moon is hitting his face like the spotlight he
avoids. He leans in to kiss me. I cough, and step back slightly. My heel catches on a root
and I stumble. He catches my arms and holds on, doesn’t let me get away from him. I
don’t know this from anything else. I pull back.
“I’m not into that gay stuff,” I whisper.
He takes my hand in his, and our fingers entwine familiarly. I promise to
“I’ll be in the car,” he says, clearing his throat. I nod, I think. Shove these hands
into my own pockets and rock back on my heels. Eyes adjusting to the dark, I can see the
sky for what it is, glittering with a million engagement rings.
I kick a rock and throw a stick out to where I can’t see, where the infidelities of
strangers melt into Hell and children in the womb protect their greedy mothers from
settling with a man who can’t love them the way they need to be loved. I walk back to
the road. Camille is standing, hands cupping her face, resting her elbows against the
metal bars, wind blowing strands of her hair like birthday candles. The car is gone.
“I’m so sorry,” I say.
I wrap her in my arms and promise not to leave. The car is already far away, and he left
her with me.