Ray hoped to reach the Oklahoma border by mid-afternoon as he pushed the throttle of the Olds west on I-40 Sunday morning. He and Benny had stowed the camping gear in the trunk, then filled their bellies on biscuits and sausage gravy at the same restaurant they walked to the evening before. Ray could almost hear Virginia complaining about the salty meal and how she'd be bloated for the rest of the day. He and Benny would exchange a look and start snickering. Virginia would flutter her hand at them, "Oh, you two," and join in. The memory left a deep ache in its place.
The day didn't waste any time turning up the thermostat. Ray made it his mission to get through it as fast as possible. Benny slept sound after his nightmare, but sleep continued to elude Ray, leaving him more frustrated and on edge than ever. Powered by adrenalin and a gallon of coffee, he plowed through the floodplains of the Mississippi River, where heat, humidity, and miles of flat land made cotton and soybeans ideal crops. Benny had repacked the pockets of his cargo shorts and put his wild Hawaiian shirt back on. Wearing his Terminator sunglasses, he rode shotgun with his head out the window, chin thrust into the hot air. Ray smiled to himself and pressed the throttle down a fraction more.
From the Interstate, Memphis was just another city to get through. Business districts. High-rises. Benny snapped pictures of a steel and glass pyramid structure with his empty camera as they started across the wide, flat Mississippi River and into Arkansas. They covered more miles of flat and farmland, interspersed with tree- and brush-lined corridors. Ray figured the greenery was intended to contain the noise and grime from the Interstate. It sure made for a lot of boring sameness. Church bells rang the noon hour as they bought burgers and fries, root beer and more coffee in North Little Rock. They ate on the fly, staying on I-40, headed west.
Ray felt like he might never stop driving, just keep his foot on the throttle until they reached the Oregon Coast and had to start swimming. He didn't want to know where the feeling came from. Distance. That's what he focused on. Distance and speed. There'd be time to sort the reasons once he felt like he'd gone far enough and could —
"Look out, Dad!"
Ray jerked his attention back to his driving and saw a car door swing open in front of them. Too close. Too fast. "Hang on!" he shouted and yanked the steering wheel a hard left.
The rear leaf-spring suspension and stabilizer bar held the car on the road. A motorist in the center lane honked and swerved around them. As the Olds cleared the open door of the car on the shoulder, Ray looked into the wide eyes of a buxom black woman in purple.
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