We were barreling down the mid-Cape Highway in 1973 in the rust bucket VW bug we bought from our friend LuAnn for five hundred bucks, when the scraping noise and fireworks began again. I took one hand off the wheel and punched Colin in the arm to wake him up as the car ricocheted off onto the roadside in a spectacular display of sparks and gravel. It was a good thing it was the middle of the night. We were the Lone Rangers of the highway. Colin grumbled, unbuckled his belt and pulled it out of his pants. He got out, shinnied under the car on his back and used the belt to secure the dragging leaf springs. In the back seat the baby slept wrapped in the quilt my friend Jane made for her.
The party in Wellfleet that night was a bust. The New York stiffs looked at us like the hippie-dippies we were. The host, some famous jazz musician I never heard of before, and his wife, a writer, had dressed up their preteen sons in seersucker sports jackets and bowties and had them serve the hors d’oeuvres on silver trays. The older kid kept pushing the scallops wrapped in bacon at me, the one thing I won’t eat, then or now. We lived with the biologist who checks the bacteria count at the Cultured Clam the previous winter. It was a record haul. Every night she brought home a five-pound bag. We ate so many scallops that even the thought of them still makes me gag.
Colin climbed back into the passenger seat and said, “You want me to drive?”
I said, “I’ve made it this far,” turned the key and peeled out.
It was another thirty miles to Brewster. I hoped his belt would hold. The baby murmured something in her sleep. I’d worn her in a sling across my chest all night. My shoulder was sore where the fabric cut into me. Even so, some guy in green linen pants with a crew cut tried to hit on me.
“I’ve got a nursing baby here, man,” I told him, and he said “Yum.”
That’s when I grabbed Colin. He was drunk, pontificating something unintelligible to a thirtyish looking woman wearing a Lily Pulitzer print dress. She was one of those waspy types, pink polish on fingers and toes, a lady’s Rolex on her wrist. She looked relieved to be rid of him.
Colin was asleep again in the front seat. The highway was strangely magical in the Cape Cod night. Where it narrowed down to two facing lanes the unbroken centerline dragged me the rest of way to our exit.
When I turned onto our street, the funk of low tide was just starting to rise from the bay. I pulled into the driveway. The phone was ringing in the house. Colin jolted awake and bolted inside. My stomach twisted with the apprehension that only a ringing phone in the middle of the night can bring. I gathered the baby up and headed for the doorway. Colin was standing in it.
“Wrong number,” he said sheepishly.
I put the baby to bed and undressed in the dark. Colin was already under the covers, still wearing his jeans. I climbed in next to him. He rolled over and pulled me to him. The room filled with the smell of stale beer when he nuzzled my neck and said, “No one will ever love you the way I do,” which was exactly what I feared most, as I lay awake, listening to the night birds screaming in the trees.
Joan Wilking’s short stories and memoir pieces have appeared in many literary publications in print and online. Her story, “Deer Season,” was a finalist for the Nelson Algren Short Story Prize. Her story, “Clutter,” which appears in the current issue of the Elm Leaves Journal, has been nominated for a Pushcart prize. She lives in Ipswich, Massachusetts in a house that overlooks Plum Island Sound.