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Driven

Monday, 30th January 2012

Categories: Moving Stories

Author: Peter Barry

This is the winning entry to the Peter Barry Short Story Competition

Written by Paul Weidknecht

The keychain—the one he’d given her months ago when they’d picked up that package at the Fort Pierce truck stop—hung from the ignition, vibrating with the idling engine. F-L-O-R-I-D-A, each letter a different color, arched over a pair of tiny crossed palm trees. It was one of those simple gifts people in love give to show they’re thinking of each other, and for the briefest moment Chloe imagined Jarrod not as he was, but as a real boyfriend. Now parked at the curb, she looked over to the empty passenger seat and frowned: there was no reason ever to confuse sentiment with fear.

She’d made plans, good ones. She was the one with the straight part-time job, the car that ran, the high school diploma. Getting between Jarrod and his meth wasn’t going to happen, but throughout their nineteen months together she had convinced him to allow her fifty dollars for the small vice of lottery each week. Of course he tweaked through a whole lot more than that, but those fifty bucks were enough to keep her in cigarettes and fantasies. Somehow she had found herself in this world, but hadn’t given up on making her way to another.

For certain, when Chloe was younger, her mother could have used another world, one without a husband who had somehow gotten it into his head that bourbon was the cure for a low-paying job with a rotating shifts. Their fights had become bunched in Chloe’s memory, a cluster of screams and crashes, highlighted here and there by images of dinners raked onto the kitchen floor, bloody gauze plugs twisted into her mother’s nostrils, and her father’s hunched profile from the back of a police car.

Her mother would call every so often now, but the conversations were stilted, filled with long pauses punctuated by nonsense topics like the weather or recipes she knew she’d never make. Chloe let herself believe this could be fixed by time together, and because they had both made bad man-choices, maybe this sad link might be enough for a do-over.

A passing fire truck bleated its siren and she flinched. A bead of sweat broke free from between her shoulder blades, and when it reached the small of her back, she quivered; this wasn’t a midnight handoff a thousand miles away from some guy in bib overalls and a Peterbilt cap. She looked for any tagalong vehicles; a cop, an ambulance, some guy in a pickup with a flashing red light on the dashboard. There were none. 

Chloe remembered Jarrod saying that most people got caught because they hadn’t put together a plan, that they deserved everything they got because of disrespecting the process. He said they didn’t know the times to make a move (those two soft hours between 9:30 AM and 11:30 AM). They didn’t know the right day (Friday). Have to trust your partner, he’d said. She recalled being amused, then annoyed, at that word.

A gunshot rang out from inside the bank.

She snapped a look at the tinted glass of the bank’s entrance, but saw nothing except the disjointed reflection of her car, the ghostly image of her face resting above the door. She reached out for the column shifter with her right hand, her forearm inked thickly—J-A-R-R-O-D-S, each letter the same color—bringing it down with a click. She tapped on her turn signal and glanced in the side mirror, pulling slowly from the curb. Jarrod was right; it all had to seem normal.

At any moment he would run outside, panicked. He’d search for the car, and if she hadn’t gotten too far away, he might recognize it by the make or color, maybe the taillights. He’d wave his arms, all kinds of crazy thoughts ricocheting around his mind. His chest would heave, and he’d breathe through his mouth even though he wasn’t exhausted, overwhelmed by it all. He’d run down the sidewalk, thinking first about escape, then of the beating he’d give her. But people would see his clothes, his face, and, of course, his direction. Chloe could see the line in the paper before it existed in the mind of the reporter: apprehended five blocks from the scene.

And she would drive. Jarrod and the town and the memories of each falling away behind her. With the thirty-two hundred and change she had saved from lottery tickets she’d never bought, she would head to some place that resembled another world; she didn’t think that would be too hard to find. She thought she might visit her mother, who’d managed to replace a husband with a Jack Russell, and an apartment with a house, inside which—if the pauses were to be believed—was a spare room and a pretty decent futon.

Written by Paul Weidknecht

This is the winning entry to the Peter Barry Short Story Competition