It all started with boredom. That's what Ray told himself. He retired five months ago, on his sixty-second birthday, and became a widow three months later. His life yawned dark and sleepless ahead of him. Slouched in the worn cushions at one end of the sofa, the drapes drawn against the leaden midday August humidity, he watched Thelma and Louise clasp hands and fly off the edge of the Grand Canyon in Louise's green convertible for what felt like the hundredth time. He longed to be in the car with them. He longed to put an end to his insomnia.
His eleven-year-old son, Benny, sat cross-legged on the carpet a few feet from the screen, rapt in the movie as if seeing it for the first time. The boy's short brown hair clung in damp spikes to the back of his broad neck, his rounded shoulders hunched, a line of sweat staining the back of his Terminator t-shirt. It troubled Ray that his son spent so much time watching movies, but it was something Benny and his mama had done together. Ray hesitated to take that connection away so soon after Virginia's death.
And he hesitated to leave Benny alone. He wanted to reassure his son that Dad wouldn't die in his sleep like Mama did, that Dad would always be there, even if it meant sitting through movie after movie. Even if it was a lie. Ray had no reason to believe Benny wouldn't outlive him, in spite of doctors who warned him of the health risks associated with Down syndrome. He knew his daughter, Karen, would take care of her little brother when the time came. She doted on Benny and had been his fiercest defender from day one.
Maybe it's myself I'm protecting. Maybe I don't like being alone with my boredom.
Or I'm afraid to be.
Pulled from his thoughts, Ray focused on the soft, heavy contours of Benny's face. "What, son?"
The s stopped short of making its way around the boy's tongue. His thick speech had a pronounced lisp, but Ray understood him fine. The words, at least. "Go where?"
Benny gave the montage images of Thelma and Louise with the credits rolling over them a quick glance. The intensity in his crescent-shaped brown eyes tingled up Ray's spine, as though the boy had opened a door and looked inside his head.
"The Goddamngrandcanyon," Benny said, his answer shooting out as one long word.
Like he'd heard Louise say it in the movie again and again. Ray gave a brief smile. "Just the Grand Canyon. No swearing."
Benny's cheeks reddened. "Sorry." He glanced at the TV screen, then back at Ray. "Let's go," he repeated with a huff of impatience, as if needing an answer before the movie credits ended.
Ray hadn't been to the Grand Canyon since the time he borrowed a buddy's Harley and headed east on leave from Edwards Air Force Base forty years ago. He drove through the Mojave Desert and spent a week camping along the south ridge of the canyon. There'd been a time when he and Virginia planned to buy a Harley and tour the states, once Karen was old enough to be on her own. But then Benny came along. With a wife and two kids to support on a maintenance supervisor's salary, family vacations became few and far between.
Benny continued to stare at him, waiting for an answer. Ray thought of the nightmares the boy had been having since his mama's death – two months of ranting and slapping himself awake. He thought of his own insomnia, the fear that clawed up his back when unconsciousness closed in. Maybe getting away for awhile, putting some distance on the memories that haunted them here in this house, would do them both good.
Ray asked, "Are you sure?" and realized Louise had asked the same thing of Thelma before she tromped on the gas peddle and hurled them into the great beyond.
The movie ended and Benny hoisted himself off the floor with a theatrical grunt. Shuffling his squat legs as though he had feet of lead, he plopped onto the couch hard enough to pop Ray up from the cushions.
"Yeah, Dad. Let's go."
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