It is so quiet that I can only hear the familiar roar of my Toyota as we enter Santa Vallejo this morning. The morning after. No pill for this. We both awoke early and hit the road again. I stopped at a fast-food restaurant that looks just like all other fast-food restaurants for a breakfasty egg sandwich thing that he actually ate. They don’t put lettuce on their breakfast sandwiches, I guess.
Now we are here. The town in the brochure I received when I attended a free lunch seminar, a town pitched to me as the best place in the world (the food was really good, too, and you know me, starving grad student and all). We pass by remarkably quiet street pavers crushing something blue-green on the road, smoothing it with a hypnotic rolling-pin-like back and forth motion. I’m mesmerized by Santa Vallejo, as is my passenger, who looks around, placing his hand against his mouth, where he sucks on a knuckle quietly, meditatively.
The blue-green pebbles—surely it’s not asphalt—lack that burning smell here, that odor that gets caught at the back of your throat, tickling you in a tortuous way. Morning in Santa Vallejo smells nothing like San Diego. Despite the freshly trimmed hedges and lawns, despite the trees that are in bloom in December, there’s no aroma here whatsoever. There’s literally nothing to sneeze at.
Still, the criminality of what I’ve done glimmers slightly in the corner of my eye as the sun comes through the windshield. I’m teased by the threat of imposing migraine along with little pinpricks of recognition: Not only have I stolen a child, brought him many counties to the north, but I don’t even have him properly confined in a primary-colored car seat, as I see other children all around me in their families’ brightly colored minivans. That alone, I know from my last test at the DMV, is a major traffic ticket item, although it’s probably not my biggest worry.
A living, breathing child, Patty. Imagine the fine.
“Pretty,” I say, pointing at one especially happily blooming bush.
He nods and widens his eyes at me, which I translate to mean “impressive.” I smile. We understand one another. I so rarely drive with anyone in the car.
He goes back to biting his hand. I think I hear him whimper at the pain.
Linda Lenhoff’s latest novel, *Your Actual Life May Vary, was a finalist for the SFWP Publication prize, Top 6, and also made the final 6 for the Galileo Prize from Free State Review and the Orison Books prize. The first chapter, “Your Actual Life May Vary,” was published in This Side of the Divide by Baobab Press in 2019. She is looking forward to having her first collection of short stories, You’ve Got a Problem, published by Propertius Press. Linda published two novels with Kensington Books, Life a la Mode and Latte Lessons. Life a la Mode was her thesis for an MFA in Creative Writing and was translated into four languages. She lives in California’s Bay Area.