After they had been driving for a few hours, they stopped at a rest stop on the side of the highway. The brick building was ugly, squat, with low ceilings and a smell about it that was distinctly bleach and urine and grease.
He said that he would order a hamburger. She thought that was probably the only thing that could be eaten in such a place. She also ordered onion rings, hopeful that they would taste good. He was not as optimistic as she was and ordered a side of fries.
They thought the building would be empty at this time of night, but children ran around, unsupervised. She thought they might not even be real children, just projections of the screaming banshees that were expected to be roaming the hallways of such an establishment. After all, she saw no one who could be their parents, except the tired servers who leaned on the counters of the various fast-food stalls that jutted from the brown tiled walls. Maybe they did just bring their children and let them run around like balls darting off the sides of a pinball machine in the large pit like dining room that sat in the center of a burger place, a pizza place, and a Chinese place. All the food smelled the same: beef fat grease. The fourth wall housed the home of the other two smells; the bathroom was all bleach and piss.
“Should we eat outside?” He was okay with the cold weather. After all, it was June and warm to him. He had a t-shirt on. It wasn’t summer as she knew it though and kept her body wrapped up in a jumper.
“It’s raining.” It was spitting.
“We’ll sit in the car.”
She didn’t want to argue, she was tired and it didn’t matter where they ate because they would still be sitting down and after all, he’d borrowed the car. It smelled nearly new.
The burger was not good and the onion rings were very soggy, like breadcrumbs that had been dunked in water. She ate the whole thing without noticing anything except the pickles, which were cold and slimy against the roof of her mouth.
When they were driving, she liked the way the trees went by so fast that they became a wall of green, padding the side of the car. Sitting still, she noticed the smudges on the glass and how the trees were a bit brown around the edges, dying from something. It was better when they were blurry. He was a very fast driver, lurching the car this way and that way, and they were getting to where they were headed very quickly.
He talked a lot in the car, and she listened. She thought that maybe it was better that way. Sometimes she got a bit of a headache when she tried to separate his words and his voice and make him stand out from the crowd.
She had asked someone about this once. She was twenty-one and had a best friend in college who had a lot of boyfriends and the two of them would sit on her single bed, legs crossed Indian style and ask each other questions. “Do you like him?” “Do you think he likes me?” There weren’t any other questions important enough to ask. So when she’d asked, “Do you ever lay in bed at night, trying to sleep, trying to count sheep, and instead you try to count the boys you have loved? Do you ever think they start to blur together and you start to forget who said what and then it’s all the same?”
Her best friend told her to smoke weed before bed and then she wouldn’t have to count anything.
She ate her last onion ring and felt around her lips with her tongue to see if there were any oily crumbs left on the skin or in the corners where her smile met her cheek. As she crumpled up the slick paper and put it in the brown bag the food had come in, she had to stop and think what car this was. It was getting dark and they were heading home.
“You’re lucky I waited so long. If it had been anyone else, so late, I would have left you. Would have driven up here on my own.”
She turned to him. His voice had been sweet. He was picking on her. She smiled. “But you love me.”
“Yeah.” He turned the engine on with a click of the keys and smiled back at her.