Joan Wilking

Night Trip

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.