by Hannah Grieco
Once in a blue moon, Nissa remembers how she felt when she was fifteen and James, Jimmy back then, grabbed her hand and dragged her behind him as he ran, darting between the houses in the mansion part of town. Jimmy’s grip was so firm, a man’s grip she’d think about at night in her bed. His hands twice the size of hers even then.
They ran fast, breathing hard, until her muscles cramped and he pulled her behind some mom’s SUV plastered with honor society bumper stickers. The party was at a cheerleader’s house, a girl neither of them had ever spoken to, and the cops came and everyone took off and he’d crouched down behind that car and kissed her for the first time, the taste of Coors Light on the inside of his lower lip as he sucked her tongue into his mouth.
Now, when James reaches for her and she doesn’t turn away—because it’s her birthday and she’s had three glasses of champagne or because he got a raise and a good wife celebrates these things—when that happens, his hands are soft.
This morning, Nissa sneaks out of bed at four o’clock. Out into the hall, past the silent second bedroom, down the stairs. She sneaks like she used to sneak, when Jimmy picked her up out front in the dark and drove them to Gravely Point to watch the airplanes take off as the sun rose. They laid together in the grass. He wrapped her in a thick, sour-smelling quilt from his dad’s truck so she wouldn’t get cold. He kissed the side of her neck over and over to make her shiver anyway. My burrito, he mouthed against her.
Maybe I’ll get a breakfast burrito, she thinks as she passes the kitchen, no longer sneaking as she opens the door to the hall closet and grabs a sweatshirt. The navy and orange University of Virginia hoodie their son left behind when he decided to go to Los Angles instead, when James told him, “School or nothing, kiddo. You’ll be cut off.”
She pulls it on. Stops halfway with her arms above her head and inhales. She hasn’t smelled her son in seven months, but she presses her face into the soft fleece and wishes. Then pulls it on all the way and smooths her ponytail.
She takes the keys to James’ red Porsche Targa off the hook. His midlife crisis, she mean-jokes at parties, but really she’s the one who loves to drive it. She loves the round knob of the stick in her palm, loves to shift late to hear the engine grind. Maybe I’ll go all the way to the beach, she thinks, to that burrito place by the boardwalk. She could get there by seven, before James even woke up and noticed she and his car were missing. She drives to IHOP instead, but yesterday she got up early like this and didn’t even make it out of the driveway. Maybe tomorrow she’ll drive past IHOP and get on Route 50. Maybe by Friday, she’ll get all the way across the bridge and park at the closed oyster bar on the bay, walk down to the rocky water’s edge and watch the seagulls dive. It’ll almost smell like the ocean, almost feel like the ocean when she takes off her shoes, rolls up her jeans, and steps into the freezing water up to her ankles.
Maybe it’ll be close enough. Maybe baby, Jimmy used to say.
Today she decides on blueberry pancakes and then comes straight home. Goes upstairs instead of down to her office. Lays next to her husband and watches him sleep. His legs jerk like he’s stepped on something sharp and she runs her fingers down his arms to his hands, squeezes them gently, then tucks them back into his chest, pulls the blanket up, and wraps it around him tightly.
She lays there for an hour, softly tracing the muscles of his forehead as they tighten and loosen, his eyes speeding back and forth beneath his eyelids, as if every dream is him dragging her between houses and cars as kids, looking for a place to hide. Or maybe he’s chasing her, maybe begging her to come home, to forgive him. Maybe, baby.
Last night at dinner, he told her that he dreams about her every night. About the first time they fucked, wrapped in that quilt as the airplanes flew right above them. About eating ceviche in a converted convent in Puerto Rico on their honeymoon. About the second home he wants to buy her on the bay now that they have extra money on hand, tuition and textbooks a fading memory. So she can look at the water every morning, he said.
She falls back asleep as the sun starts to rise. But she dreams about driving, about the road ahead of her, about the sky huge and empty, about the floor and seat of the Targa shaking as she pushes third gear until it screams, shifts into fourth and jerks forward. A straight line out of the city and west, west until she sees farms and corn and mountains and finally the bigger, deeper Pacific. A breakfast burrito with her son on the beach, and then who knows where she’ll go.
Hannah Grieco is a writer in Washington, DC.
Find her online at www.hgrieco.com and on Twitter @writesloud.