I sat in the passenger’s seat tapping on the arm rest and humming along to the radio. There was a cloud of Southern strings and country lyrics insulating my thoughts in beer or fishing or whatever else it was that those country-pop stars liked to sing about. In the back seat there were two dry-cleaned black dresses draped over clothes hangers perched on a grab handle. They reminded me of shadows under big, meaty pork legs hanging on hooks at the butcher shop. I tried not to look back at that ominous silhouette of black satin and tulle. Resting my head on the window instead, I gazed at the passing green blurbs of trees beside the highway, as my sister and I headed towards our aunt’s funeral.
I had seen my aunt in pictures, smiling from a lawn chair next to my mom on the patio, or holding me as a baby. She had moved to North Carolina when I was little, and I never went to visit. My mom went to visit every few years or so, and always returned very quickly. I was never the kind to pry about that sort of thing, especially not at such a young age, but I had always eavesdropped on stories about the terrible fights between the two, and heard my other family members make slight, passive-aggressive comments towards my mother about her sister. At least now my mom wouldn’t have to deal with her sister anymore, I remember thinking to myself.
“Are you excited?”
I asked my sister this halfway through her rolling her window down. A lick of wind flicked the bangs off her forehead and sent them dancing into the air, so that I could see the way her eyebrows slightly furrowed as she thought about my question.
“Why would you ask me that?”
There were a few seconds of silence, wedged neatly between the humming of the engine and the uneasy air between us.
“I thought it was funny.”
The truth was, I did find it funny, but that wasn’t really why I had asked. I asked because I was excited. I understood a funeral was a somber affair, but it was my first time going to one and morbid curiosity could not hold back those guilty feelings of excitement. I had never seen the cold, still face of a person in a casket.
I turned up the radio a bit hoping to dissolve some of the tension, and we spent the rest of the car ride in our own thoughts. My sister wasn’t mad at me, I knew that. Hopefully my aunt wouldn’t have been mad at me either, hopefully she had a decent sense of humor, but I wouldn’t know.
My sister and I got off at a truck stop to use the bathroom and get snacks from the vending machines. I didn’t realize that I was zoning out while I peed, so the flush the toilet made when I got up sounded particularly loud and consuming, and it startled me. I got Doritos from a vending machine when I went out and waited for my sister.
Licking the salty seasoning off a chip, I let it sit on my tongue as it melted and bit into my taste buds. I savored that taste, letting it sit hot on my tongue and throat before it disintegrated, the way flesh disintegrates into dirt, or the way pixels disintegrate into the yellowing borders of a 6×4 photograph. Looking up into a clear, bright sky, I had a personal moment of drama while I thought about those Dorito chips and the way they melted so fast on my tongue and slid down my throat, one after the other. I thought about that, and life in general, at least as far as I could comprehend it at that time. What I didn’t understand about life I understood about the loss of life, how quickly a final breath can dissolve into the atmosphere and how Aunt Ruby can become the departed Aunt Ruby. I threw away the empty bag of chips and got back into the car with my sister when she came out of the bathroom.
As night started setting in, I continued tapping the arm rest and humming along to green blurbs of trees outside my window and the air rushing around the car, the final rays of sunlight glinting off the silver hood. Soon the crickets would come out and the lights in houses would pluck off one by one, my eyelids following suit. It was a great harmony between everything around me, overlapping, uneven movements and sounds weaving together. Like the land was a giant lung, like the Earth breathing in and out in synchronicity with my chest as it has fallen, and as it continues to rise, for now. In that moment, now was all I needed.
Bonny has been creatively writing since as long as she can remember. She is currently a seventeen-year-old senior in high school and hopes to pursue a career in novel writing in the future.