The road trip, they agree, is a last chance. They haven’t made love in months, mainly because he drags himself in like a sack of lead fishing weights and plugs, first thing, into cable news. Plugs himself in: brain and breath, and apparently, she concludes: penis (stem to stern as well) and is lost to her.
When she decides to sharpen every knife they own with determined swipes, back and forth against the chef’s steel (sitting at the dining room table across from him) he unplugs. Tells her he’s an expert in body language and wants to know if there’s anything wrong. She is still young-ish and he is still young-ish, and she is keen to that fact. She is wearing a sundress with a floral print and takes her yoga-supple body and does a headstand against the wall. Her dress falls down over her face. She says through several tulips: “Okay, expert, what language am I speaking now?”
Traveling through California they find an away-from-it-all motel with a hot tub and swimming pool situated in an amphitheater of high pines. They are putting on their bathing suits when the room begins to shake a bit. It is their first earthquake experience, and they stand rooted as a print of a lake in moonlight tilts on the wall and a Bible on the nightstand slides some. He grabs her hand (with the bathing suit still around his knees) and hops to the bed and they slip under it. The earthquake is a small one, but they remain there. After a time of stillness, they create their own earthquake amid the dust bunnies.
As they lie there in the dark, she tells him how (after her father died) she found an old shoebox of his filled with friction cars. How he was a stern man and picturing him young and playful was alien to her. She told him how she brushed the back wheels again and again against his hardwood floor and watched them, one by one, crash into the walls, and for the first time since he passed, she wept. He comforts her and they nestle. He shares how he hates his work. All those numbers riotous to him: the emails and cases on the computer blurring at times. Tells her how there are lives represented in those numbers in an avalanche they will never dig out of. “Technology has made us slaves to it,” he says, and how he often longs for a simpler time, when the latest technology was fire. He smiles. She cannot see it, but feels it. “You know, like smoke signals you saw from a hilltop, or a drum beating out a message in the jungle, like in an old Tarzan movie.” She laughs. They both do. She sees him in the dark clearer than she ever has.
They drive to Washington State, are in a rustic lodge bar with elk heads on the walls. They are at a table, a bit drunk, and the subject comes up again about them having a child via a surrogate. She is infertile and they have both, long ago, ruled out adoption. They are financially secure and young enough to parent. The notion of harvesting his sperm and impregnating a surrogate has at times passed by them only as a zephyr. Now it is a music in the wind chimes they both hear. He asks if his sperm being used in that way, growing in someone else, would be okay with her. She nods that it would. “Very much so,” she tell him. Then she looks up at one of the elk heads above him on the wall.
“I have a confession,” she tells him. “For the last half hour or so, I’ve had this strong, and I mean strong urge to slip out of my panties under this table and toss them onto those antlers.” He follows her eyes, turns back. He looks at her for a moment, then laughs hard and long. Her expression doesn’t change. After he guzzles some stout, he pats her thigh like a dog under a table. There is a TV on behind the bar tuned to a cable news station. She watches as he turns to watch it, to watch it, to watch it. Then (smeared with a sense of folly) she gazes up at that elk’s head. Is drawn to those startled glass eyes peering back at her.
Robert Scotellaro’s work has been included in W.W. Norton’s Flash Fiction International, NANO Fiction, Gargoyle, Matter Press, Best Small Fictions 2016, 2017, Best Microfiction 2020, and others. He is the author of seven literary chapbooks, several books for children, and five flash and micro story collections. He was the winner of Zone 3’s Rainmaker Award in Poetry and the Blue Light Book Award for his fiction. He has, along with James Thomas, co-edited New Micro: Exceptionally Short Fiction, published by W.W. Norton & Co. Robert is one of the founding donors to The Ransom Flash Fiction Collection at the University of Texas, Austin. Visit him at www.robertscotellaro.com