Amanda Carpenter, St. Catherine University, Minnesotta, United States
Snow-covered fields stretched beyond the horizon, bisected only by a flat stretch of freeway teeming with interstate truckers and fun-seeking motorists escaping the city. Beyond the closed space of my stopped car, the wind whipped the bare branches of trees, curling them like the bony fingers of a specter, beckoning in the watery last rays of the day.
Thirty minutes earlier I had been driving down the road, my husband my passenger. His words came out, fueled by the alcohol he had guzzled at the bar that he thought he’d hidden from me. He couldn’t hold hard liquor, it did something to him. He was supposed to behave – we were on our way to meet my friends.
“I want out.”
“I’m sorry?” I asked, thinking I had misheard him, “do you have to throw up?” I glanced at him while merging onto the gray, four-lane interstate, falling in place between monstrous semis.
“You have life insurance on me, right?” he asked, his eyes open too wide as he turned to me.
“Huh?” I tried to keep my eyes on the slightly uneven road as a semi braked before me.
“You’ll be better off.”
When I swerved to avoid a pothole on the overhead light came on and the seatbelt alarm dinged.
“What are you doing?” I yelled, jerking hard left, praying no one was next to me as his door slammed shut.
“I’m getting out of the car. This is the nicest thing I can ever do for you.” The look in his eyes was different, a calm lucidity behind a manic, alcohol-infused veneer. His eyes never left mine as he opened the door again and I aimed for what I hoped was the shoulder.
“I’m going 65 miles an hour and we’re surrounded by semis,” I screeched, my tone matching the scalding tires on the frozen pavement as I skidded to the shoulder, kicking up sand and road debris. The car jerked to a stop. But he was already out, his door left open to a snow-covered field. Another semi roared past, rocking the car with me still inside.
“Get back in the car!” I screamed to his fading back.
He walked unsteadily. The snow, higher than his knees, didn’t stall him from leaving me. I watched him raise his hood while I dialed his number with shaky hands. I was dismissed to his voicemail. “Hi, you’ve reached Tim.” He sounded normal. He sounded like my husband.
Tears of frustration and confusion welled. I would never catch him. Hip-high snow stood between us. I needed help. My friends were still an hour away. His friends were still at the bar, just a few minutes back.
“Tim just jumped out of the car – he’s walking through a field.”
“Yeah, right. Tell Tim he’s an asshole,” friend number one laughed, disconnecting.
Panicked I looked to the field, he was getting smaller. Too much adrenaline surged through my hands, I misdialed. “Don’t hang up,” I screamed at friend number two. “Tim really jumped out of the car and he’s walking through a field in the middle of nowhere. We’re still an hour from home.” The tears began spilling out of my eyes, frigid tracks on my cheeks as the wind howled through his open door.
I listened to the apologies. I must have given them directions to the dirt road I was now on. I could drive no farther into the field. Tim’s door still stood open. I watched as he trudged further through the hollow field as I sat in silence. Wherever we were it didn’t smell like cold snow. There were no smells of pine or spruce, of wood burning beneath the smoking chimneys of the farmhouses surrounding me, not even the smell of diesel exhaust from the semis thundering down the highway. We were in a void. A scentless void on the side of a highway. Hopeless thoughts flooded my brain: who jumps out of a moving car on a highway? The tears fell again. My husband, that’s who. My husband jumps out of a moving car on a highway. A busy highway.
The sun settled farther in the horizon, making way for the moon’s solace. The branches of the barren trees gave him safe passage while snagging the coats and the hair of the friends and farmers running through the field after him. From a distance they looked like children frolicking joyfully, ready to build a snowman. In reality my husband leapt to evade the people trying to catch him, ready to end his life if they would have just let him be.
Someone called the police – the phone was warm in my hand. A police car and an ambulance sat behind me, the lights flashing blue and red in the twilight. He would be so angry if he ever came back from the field. The dusky white field. Frozen. Solitary. Deafening with silence, devoid of smell. Waiting for the appearance of the distant stars and cover of the cool darkness. More appealing than marriage.
We said good-bye.