Phantoms on a Forever Road

Serena Keenan

Smith College, Northampton, MA, USA

She sat in the passenger’s seat of the car, feet propped on the dashboard, all sunshine orange and summer regret. Lazily shifting her head to the right, she moved her hand to brush a long strand of hair out of the other girl’s face as she drove, the wind whipping through the convertible on the freeway. “I think we should make a stop soon,” she said, drowned out partially in the chaos, which she supposed was fitting for the two of them, speeding on the open road like a teenage dream. 

“Okay,” the other girl mouthed, red lips parting and then closing, the sound eaten greedily by the wind. She tapped her head softly to the music they couldn’t hear anymore, the ghost of a rhythm still haunting through the steering wheel. 

It was summer and it was not summer, the sunshine still here but the forgiveness gone. It was liminal now, just the two of them, but in theory they were infinite, phantoms on a forever road. 

In reality, she didn’t want to stop. Out here they were just Lila and her, red and orange, and out there they were anything but. Forever isn’t really forever, though, even in this stretch of road down the Midwest, because sometime they have to find the East, no matter how hard they tried not to. Maybe if they stopped somewhere first it would last longer, this honeymoon period of the suspension of disbelief.  

“I think I love you,” she said, and it’s over. 

“Yeah,” the other girl said quietly. She did not look away from the road, but her fingers on the steering wheel shook. “I don’t think I can answer you here.” 

Why not, she screamed, why can’t it be here, the only place we ever exist. Why not here, where I love you without anything, where I love you uncontrollably. Why not forever, out here, where we last until the ocean. 

“Okay,” she responded, fingering the necklace on her swollen throat, and they were quiet for a long time. 

They eventually pulled off the road where there is nothing except a diner with a name they’ll never remember. Inside, they sat down, neon lights flashing, facing each other in a worn down booth with stuffing sticking out of the vinyl. 

Lila, with her red hair and her almond eyes, faced her, looking both lost and found, alone and together. 

“Can you answer here?” She choked out, barely audible, legs wrapped around each other under the table. 

Lila closed her eyes, her beautiful big eyes, and said nothing. She inhaled slightly, holding on as if she were savoring it, as if this last breath would end her completely. “I don’t know. I don’t know if I can answer anywhere.”

In this truth, this ultimate, painful truth, she felt the break most completely. It was more real here where she was herself, where Lila was Lila, where they were meant to be forever, or until the East and its sun swallow them whole. It hurts less later, as most things do, but when has that ever mattered?

“Okay,” she said, and she ordered a milkshake. 

Lila ordered a strawberry one, and everything about her was red, red, red. Red like hearts and red like blood, like heartbreak and stop, like berries and like bricks. Red like cherries, red like love, red like everything in sight, everything that will ever matter. Red like forever. 

After a while they leave. It has been quiet, conversation not quite gone but not quite needed. Lila handed her the keys and they switched places, she propped her boots up on the airbag like a mirror image of three hours ago, hands on the steering wheel but her nails were orange. 

Lila turned up the radio a bit louder, but she couldn’t find anything except 70s music, the kind that makes the world seem a little bigger, a little less connected, and a little more free. 

In this space, the red gold desert, the plain wheat fields, there was no one for miles. Being the last person on the planet would be lonely, like blue. Blue for the ocean and blue for the end.

The heat bore down on them and Lila put her hair up before looking over at her and then softly trailing her fingers down the side of the other girl’s hand that was resting on the compartment in between their seats. 

Lila sighed, and slid her round sunglasses from her forehead to the bridge of her nose and she leaned her head back, slipping her fingers in between the other girl’s. 

They kept driving, Lila singing the words to the songs under her breath, and she remembered when they could talk through the silence. Before her and Lila were this, whatever it was, before they were infinite. Those girls might still be inside, but there is only so much you can go through with another person without it changing you. 

They still spoke, though. It’s just a little harder now, with this great beast of heartbreak in between them. 

She supposed that they were never meant to last. They were and they weren’t, their names spelled out forever in this car and on this road, but never inside a house or in a mouth. Secret, forever. A secret between two people and a car, two people and two graves. 

So soon, too soon, they were under the gray sky, still in hot desert but outside the houses. They were out of place now, somehow. Lila used both of her hands to pull her ponytail out, and left them both quietly in her lap, her form of soft shade. 

She sighed and it’s over, pulling up in front of a blue house with white trim and a white fence. She switched the car into park, the click of the transmission echoing forever and ever and ever. 

Lila turned to her, mouth pursed, hands shaking as she quickly squeezed her hand. “Goodbye,” she said like a promise.

“Goodbye, Lila,” she said softly, mouth full of cotton, and it’s all she could see. 

Lila, slightly taken aback at hearing her name, looked over her shoulder, not entirely out of the car. Opening her mouth only to close it again, she nodded before subconsciously tugging at the hem of her yellow shirt. “Yeah,” she said. “Goodbye.” 

Lila, in all of her warm glory, walked into the blue house like a funeral.

She drove away.