Tayler Butters

July 8, 2022


He turns on the windshield wipers to drown the layer of gnats and dust on the glass. I watch as the fluid drips down, getting blown away by the thick air tunneling around us. My eyes snag on the low fuel warning as it flickers on, a bright orange. He tells me insect populations are dropping, that they’re slowly dying out. Something about global warming, which he doesn’t really believe in. I tell him I dreamt we died in this car — crashed into something. I can’t remember what. It was quick though.

He finds my premonitions exhausting — it's why he doesn’t reply — but he lets the car slow down, just enough to feel the light tug of the brakes, even though we’re in the fast lane. The minivan that’s been dragging along behind us finally passes, anti-abortion and babies-on-board stickers in its windows. I sit with the seat pulled as close to the dash as it’ll go, because if we die, I want it to be quick, and I read online that the airbag would snap my neck in a second.

It’s hot today, feels hotter than it’s ever been, and he keeps putting his hand on the exposed skin of my thigh. His palm is damp and heavy, and the air conditioning in this car never worked very well. The hot air just blows around, twisting in our hair, and I don’t want him to touch me. But my arms feel heavier than his hand, and I don’t have the strength to peel him off. Even if I moved his hand, it would be on me again before the CD ends, and he’d only move it himself to fumble for the next album. I suspect that’s when we’ll crash, because he’s distracted. He never lets me flip through the CD case for him. He needs to see all his options, he tells me, even though the car always drifts between lanes when he does.

We pass the sign for exit 48, and it’s the first sign I’ve seen in miles. It’s been so long since I ate last, I’ve forgotten I was hungry, so I ask if we can pull off. I’ll pay for the McDonald’s, I tell him, give him what I can for gas. He gives me nothing but silence, and I watch as the exit comes and goes. He thinks I’ll run if we stop. He knows I’m always thinking of running, even though I always choose to be here. I do consider running, finding someone nice with pretty teeth — people with pretty teeth always have money, a car with functioning air conditioning. I think about being in the car with them, driving until we reach the edge of the world or the nearest gas station. And yet I choose to exist with him because I know I can. And we keep going, even though we don’t know when the next exit will appear or if there’s enough gas in the tank. Wherever we’re going, I just have to trust he has enough gas to get us there.

The final track on the CD stops, and the only sound is the disk whirring. He lifts his hand from my thigh and reaches for the case.

Tayler Butters is a creative writing student at Virginia Tech. She is from Chester, VA, but usually lies and says she's from Richmond. When she's not writing, she spends her free time reading, listening to podcasts, and tweeting. Connect with her on Twitter @taylerbutters.