by Gay Degani
The aunt, she’s always right. Don’t interrupt her. Don’t contradict her. Don’t defy her in anyway. When she says, ‘Darling Viviana, wouldn’t it be fun to take a road trip, just you and me, sometime this summer?’
Viviana bends her head down, clears her throat, coughs.
Aunt: Well, why not? Do you have anything better to do?
The aunt, 86, has an infinite amount of time to take vacation. Her life is a vacation. Viviana not so much. She’s in summer school having failed biology, she’s in an SAT prep class because she has to earn a high score so she can go far away from home to college, maybe the East Coast, maybe somewhere in Maine, maybe the Sorbonne. Besides, she’s on a girls’ softball team, she’s the catcher, not easily replaced because she’s got iron knees. She can squat for hours.
Aunt: You can miss one or two things. Who needs biology? And you’re really smart if you just apply yourself. You don’t always apply yourself. You can study in the car. You can listen to lectures on your phone. You have those things you stick in your ears—those beet things? Why do they call them that anyway? No one eats beets. You can drive and I’ll point out the scenery. And I’ll help drive.
Viviana rolls her eyes. The very last thing Viviana would ever do is let Aunt drive. And it would be Viviana’s car because Aunt hasn’t owned a car since she crashed her pink Seville, and Viviana still remembers the Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride of 2011 when Aunt careened their way up Highway 1, waving at Hearst Castle, stopping at every vineyard to sample wine, almost going off the road when Aunt spotted a “giant whale” which turned out to be an oil tanker. Then there was the 17-mile trek to take pictures of seven golf courses, stopping in the 19th hole to chat with old men in plaid pants. By the time they reached San Francisco, Viviana was total wreck.
Now she tells her aunt, no, nope, nyet, no way Jose. Never happen.
They start at 4:30 A.M. on a Saturday morning, Auntie, of course, playing out her “summer adventure” routine from which she will never vary. Dandy Donuts is their first stop, of course. A giant box of donuts in the backseat, coffee in the cup holders, and they’re on the road again.
It’s a long drive through the desert, summer temps sweltering around a 100, and Aunt is nothing if not prepared. She’s packed two large, insulated carryalls with sandwiches, diet Coke, and Iced T, bags of treats, Fritos, Oreos, and diet popcorn. She’s prepared for hydration, caffeination, and with her rolls of toilet paper, the inevitable roadside potty break.
Viviana adjusts her Beats and turns on “The Official SAT Prep.” Stored in center console are “SAT IntelliPREP,” “SAT AudioLearn,” and “SAT Words to Go.” It’s hard going though because Aunt has the radio cranked to Rock ‘n’ Roll Radiodiddely. The DJ’s delivery is as fast as a carny pitchman, ‘Hello, Daddy-O and Mommy-O. This is Jocko. Lemme grease your wheel—’
Soon they’re crossing the Colorado River heading east toward Phoenix, Tucson, Las Cruces, El Paso, San Antonio, Houston, Baton Rouge, Auntie folding and unfolding giant paper maps because she doesn’t trust anything on the internet.
‘It’s a conspiracy,’ she says, and Viviana rolls her eyes and turns up the audio on her phone. Aunt settles back in her seat, closes her eyes, and smiles a wide satisfied smile.
Viviana turns to look at her aunt. Thinks, she won. She always wins.
Of course, this time Aunt offered her most persuasive argument. ‘Could be our last trip, Vivi, and we do have so much fun.’
Viviana takes out her earplugs. “Splish-Splash I Was Taking a Bath,” cranks out of the radio. She and Aunt glance at each other and join in, laughing out the words.
Gay Degani has received nominations and honors for her work including Pushcart consideration, Best of the Net, and Best Small Fictions. Her work has appeared online, in print journals and in anthologies. She has published a chapbook about mothers, Pomegranate, a full-length collection, Rattle of Want, (Pure Slush Press) and a suspense novel, What Came Before (Truth Serum Press). She occasionally blogs at Words in Place.