chapter 1: on borrowed time {part 2}

Chapter 1, part 2 of my road trip novel. Part 1 is here: chapter 1: on borrowed time {part 1}

*West Virginia*

They crossed the West Virginia border at noon, and Mykaela asked Atsushi to look up the state symbols. He told her the state bird was the cardinal, the insect the Monarch butterfly, and the flower the rhododendron. Mykaela told him she loved the Monarchs with their gold and orange stained-glass wings framed in black and she once made a quilt full of them.  She couldn’t help but blurt out that West Virginia voted for Trump in the 2016 election and when she visited Fayetteville before the election, a man had been standing on a street corner with a sign that said, CLINTON – LOCK HER UP! Mykaela had yelled out the window at the man, telling him to go to fucking hell.

Atsushi didn’t bat an eye at her language, and she wondered if he even understood the curse words.


They weren’t in West Virginia long, less than an hour, before Mykaela pulled over to take a picture of the welcome sign: WELCOME TO PENNSYLVANIA: PURSUE YOUR HAPPINESS at close to 1:00. Atsushi looked on his phone and told her bird was the ruffed grouse, the flower was the Mountain laurel, the insect the Pennsylvania firefly.  “Another Trump-supporting state,” Mykaela said.  They passed through Masontown, Waynesburg, Mariana, Prosperity, Amity, Lone Pine. A town called, strangely enough, Laboratory.

A band called Hickory Wind sang “It’s a long, long road that leads to Denver, when you’re starting out in Virginia’s rolling hills.”

“This song is echoing our route — D.C. to Denver!” she said.

“I think it’s better when music tells our lives,” said Atsushi.  “It is convenient.”

Atsushi pointed to the median: “Look, another road kill!” This time the feathers of a dead turkey stuck up all askew. They passed Chrome Shop in Claysville, the Kruger Street Toy and Train Museum, Xtreme Cycle & ATV Store, and Gumby’s Cigarette and Beer World. Rough roads and potholes signaled they were about to cross into West Virginia again, and they passed through Bethlehem, Wheeling and Moundsville before escaping over the Ohio River twenty minutes later.


When they passed the WELCOME TO OHIO sign, Atsushi had drifted off again.  He slept, mouth open, in the light of the sun coming through the windshield. Mykaela hesitated waking him up, but he’d told her he didn’t want to miss any border crossings, so she nudged him. He looked up the symbols and groggily announced that Ohio’s state bird was the cardinal, that it had two state flowers, one cultivated – the scarlet carnation – and the other a wildflower, the large white trillium. The state insect was the 7-spot ladybug. Mykaela told him this was yet another a Republican-leaning state, at least in the 2016 election. “You can thank this government, and dirty NRA money, for our lax gun laws,” she said.  “It’s why every idiot and mentally deranged person in the country can pack a weapon.”

Atsushi looked down at his lap, seemingly lost in thought.

In Ohio, they passed Cambridge, Columbus and then a long sprawl of suburbia with chains such as Red Lobster, Buffalo Wild Wings and Lowes. A flashing sign warned that alcohol deaths were 26: DRIVE SOBER.

As they drove through the boring Ohio landscape, Mykaela told Atsushi everything important except why she was really taking this journey. She was talkative in a way she couldn’t have been with someone of her own culture. She told him about the places they had lived when Emre worked as a Consular Officer. She told him of the adventure of living in such exotic places, and how they fell into a routine in each place, and of their daughters Lena and Viktoria, and how 23-year-old Lena was an assistant chef at a farm-to-table restaurant near Denver and how 20-year-old Viktoria was majoring in Kinesiology & Health Sciences at the College of William and Mary.

She told him about her love of textiles and quilting and making art quilts featuring landscapes and nature. She told how she fell in love with Turkish music when they lived in Istanbul. She told him about her father Hank, a retired pharmacist who lived in a nursing home an hour’s drive away in Winchester, Virginia, and how she visited him once a week on Saturdays. She told him Lena had attended the Culinary Institute of America and was a talented cook. She told him of Lena’s Border Terrier named Jasper, and how her eldest daughter was taking up white water rafting since she’d moved to Colorado a year ago. She told him that Viktoria hoped to become a physical therapist once she graduated.

They passed Flushing and the Egypt Valley Wildlife Area while Bruce Springsteen sang about “The Promised Land.” Mykaela wondered if Quakers actually lived in Quaker City.

Chris Isaak sang, “Don’t get so down on yourself. Tomorrow’s another day.” And Hank Snow sang, “I’ve Been Everywhere,” listing the places he’s been: Reno, Chicago, Fargo, Minnesota, Buffalo, Toronto, Winslow, Sarasota…

Another billboard warned DON’T WIMP OUT: BUCKLE UP. They passed Senecaville Lake and the Zane Grey Museum in Zanesville. Atsushi frowned as he stared at the median strip strewn with mangled deer along I-70. In Ohio, the hills became flatter and Mykaela became drowsy. She wished Atsushi could drive, but she didn’t trust him to stay on the right side of the road. Besides he had drifted off again. They passed Adamsville, the Pepsi Bottling Company and the Licking River.

Mykaela felt like she was getting in the groove of being out of Emre’s orbit. Her mind felt more clear, less encumbered. I like who I’m becoming, she thought. They drove past Pataskala, Etna, Pickerington, Columbus, Dayton, London, Plain City and Springfield.

The land flattened out more, and shiny silver silos reflected the late afternoon sunlight. HAY FOR SALE was written in sloppy red letters on a board leaning on a truck in Catawba. Tom Waits sang “Come on Up to the House” in his soulful raspy voice. They passed Urbania, Xenia, Freightliner, Kenworth, Huber Heights, the Great Miami River, and flat-butchered fields. Dead bugs were smashed all over the windshield and even after Mykaela stopped at a gas station and tried to wash them off, their ghostly spots remained smeared on the glass. Trucks sped by hauling yellow dump trucks and farm equipment. Grain elevators punctuated the landscape.


I’m probably going straight to hell, Mykaela thought.

Atsushi said, “I believe we have no heaven or hell in Japan.”


They left Ohio at 6:00 and crossed into Indiana. WELCOME TO INDIANA: CROSSROADS OF AMERICA. LINCOLN’S BOYHOOD HOME.  Atsushi read from his phone: “The bird: the cardinal. Flower: peony.  Insect: Say’s Firefly.”

“And, yet another red state,” said Mykaela.

“What does it mean, red state?” Atsushi asked.

“The voters in that state mostly vote Republican, more conservative. In blue states, they mostly vote Democrat, more liberal. But before the 2000 election, the colors used to be reversed. We can thank all these red states for our current predicament.”

“In China, red is communist. More left.  I suppose your system is confused.”

Mykaela smiled.  Yes, it is confused all right. She told him how she was against war or any kind of violence; she equally hated the NRA, and had attended the “March for Our Lives” protest at the end of March, organized by the students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, where seventeen students were gunned down by an unhinged ex-student.

“I cannot wait for meeting with police in Colorado to find about Jiro details,” Atsushi said. He suddenly got quiet, and stared out the window.

“I’m so sorry about your son, Atsushi.  No one should have to lose a child.” She wanted to reach over and touch his shoulder, but she didn’t feel comfortable knowing how proper the Japanese were.

“I don’t see how it’s possible to be the person you were after your child is gone,” he said. “I feel I need to make some empty space in my brain.”

More billboards whizzed past: SHELTON FIREWORKS, ANTIQUE MALL. WARM GLO CANDLE CO. STORE. Finally, they pulled in for the night at the Red Roof Inn in Richmond, Indiana. The place looked like it was under construction, and not in a nice way. The building was derelict with tractor-trailers in the parking lot and shady characters – tough tattooed men and rough fellows – standing outside smoking cigarettes. Mykaela was trying to save money on her trip and had booked the hotel thinking it couldn’t be but so bad. She was glad to have Atsushi along with her, although of course they took separate rooms. After they checked in, she asked if he’d like to go to a restaurant the receptionist recommended, Clara’s Pizza King, for dinner, after taking a half-hour to freshen up.

At Clara’s Pizza King, they sat in a booth and perused the menu. A old-fashioned phone in the booth said CLARA’S DING-A-LING: YOUR PERSONAL TELEPHONE. ORDER – MAKE REQUESTS – COMPLAIN – COMPLIMENT – JUST SAY HELLO. PLACE ORDER WITH OPERATOR.

Atsushi picked up the phone and said, “Konnichiwa.” And then started speaking in rapid-fire Japanese. He hung up the phone. Mykaela burst out laughing and Atsushi, who hadn’t laughed once during their long day of driving, laughed along with her. Then Mykaela picked up the phone and ordered Sangria and a large pizza with mushrooms and black olives. They sat and talked over the lively “Despacito,” which blared over the sound system. Tiffany lamps cast wavering light and shadows. Children roughhoused on seats in a giant red double-decker bus parked in the middle of the dining room.  It said CLARA’S TRANSPORT CO. and on the top deck of the bus were paintings of grandmothers, babies, and a man reading a newspaper. A poster on the side of the bus said “TRAVEL UNDERGROUND INTO THE HEART OF THE SHOPPING CENTRES.”

“What does that mean anyway?” she asked Atsushi.

“Sounds like Tokyo,” he said, referring, she guessed, to the huge underground food courts in Tokyo’s department stores.

They shared the pizza and cheered each other with Sangria to celebrate day one of their road trip completed.

That first evening in their separate rooms in the Red Roof Inn, Mykaela realized how much she wanted her life to be what she told Atsushi it was. It was as if she’d described the sunshine but not the rain. She didn’t tell Atsushi that her mother, Naomi, had left her father as soon as his health declined and took off to live the life of a spiritualist and yoga instructor in Crestone, Colorado and was now living with an organic farmer half her age.

And this wasn’t even the true heart of the “rain tales” she avoided telling Atsushi. Emre, 16 years Mykaela’s senior, had been married before and had one daughter, Szonja, who had become addicted to heroin and had committed suicide in 2009, only a year after Emre had retired and they’d moved to the U.S., sending him spiraling into a depression so deep and so severe he rarely left the house or even spoke to her any more. Emre had had a vasectomy years before he’d met Mykaela, soon after he’d had Szonja, so Mykaela and Emre needed to use a sperm donor to get pregnant. Emre had barely agreed to go along with Mykaela’s desire to have children, and he’d been bitter for many years that he’d relented.  Eventually, he grew to love the girls, but he always seemed somewhat disconnected.

And then there was Lena, who struggled with bipolar disorder.  Doctors couldn’t seem to get her medication right, and she still suffered terrible mood swings. She was a brilliant and creative chef but had lost several jobs when she’d failed to show up for work during depressive episodes. And Viktoria, an excellent student at William and Mary, seemed to make bad decisions about boys and had broken up with an abusive boyfriend only to have him continue to stalk her. She had gotten a restraining order against him, but that hadn’t stopped him from making menacing appearances in Viktoria’s orbit.

Mykaela drifted off but it wasn’t a peaceful sleep. She dreamed about a house with infinite rooms, and confusing doors, a swimming pool in the dining room that was boiling with ocean waves.  She tossed and turned on a bed of rocks and when she opened her mouth to speak, broken glass spilled out.


phone in booth at Clara’s Pizza King


bus in the dining area of Clara’s Pizza King


“PROSE” INVITATION: I invite you to write up to a 2,000-word post on your own blog about a recently visited particular destination (not journeys in general). Concentrate on any intention you set for your prose.  In this case, my intentions for my Four Corners trip included the following:

  • “Bring a character to…” Invent characters and take them along on the journey, keeping a journal from the main character’s point of view. After the trip, write a novel or novella of the trip putting those characters into the tale (in the vein of Jim Harrison’s The English Major, and inspired by a creative writing assignment to keep a journal for a fictional character).
  • Pick random titles from poems or short stories as titles for each chapter and let those titles inform the tale.

It doesn’t matter whether you write fiction or non-fiction for this invitation.  You can either set your own writing intentions, or use one of the prompts I’ve listed on this page: writing prompts: prose & poetry.  (This page is a work in process.) You can also include photos, of course.

Include the link in the comments below by Monday, July 9 at 1:00 p.m. EST.  When I write my post in response to this invitation on Tuesday, July 10, I’ll include your links in that post.

This will be an ongoing invitation. Feel free to jump in at any time. 🙂

I hope you’ll join in our community. I look forward to reading your posts!

the ~ wander.essence ~ community

I invite you all to settle in and read a few posts from our wandering community.  I promise, you’ll be inspired!

Thanks to all of you who wrote prosaic posts following intentions you set for yourself.  🙂