Exit Only

I’m driving with Sarah when my dad calls, and my phone lights up. The road is just shifting into darkness now, my headlights spreading timid light on the pavement of the highway. The brightness of the screen is distracting, a tiny beacon pulling my gaze from the road ahead. Sarah taps the screen before I can stop her, and picks up the phone. I shoot her a look and turn my eyes back to the road. She covers the phone with one hand, and whispers, “You need to tell him we’re moving. Hurry up then.” Then she clicks on speakerphone and lays the phone down, where my father’s voice spills into the air between us.

He starts talking almost at once, telling me that he wishes he’d called me back sooner and he meant to tell me they’d thought it would be nice to have us over for dinner and they could really try to give Sarah another chance, as long as I wasn’t too silly about anything.

“Dad.” I can hear my own voice crackle on the line, little bits of static darting in like sparks.

“-you know how your mother is, of course we’ll get back to you on that. Nice to talk to you, Sam.” He’s still rushing over me, words clattering. Sarah moves the phone to slip into the cup holder and my dad’s voice is suddenly floating in the air by my ear, the sound thin and strained now.

“Dad,” I say louder. “Listen!”

He stops, and I stumble in the sudden silence. “I wanted to talk to you. I mean talk, can I talk for a minute?”

I can hear his sigh puff against the phone. He’s nodding, I bet. “Sure, sweetie, go ahead.”

“Um, okay,” I say, the words stark and loud now. The quiet stretches and stays. He sighs again.

How do I form the words? When he heard I had a new girlfriend he didn’t call me back for a week. He avoided asking where I lived or what I did. He pretended she didn’t exist, and now he wanted to have us over for dinner. Maybe, I thought, he would be okay with this. Maybe he would be okay with this if I weren’t about to move across the country with my girlfriend, hours away with a new job, a new house, and a new family.

I’m distracted now. I suck in a breath and let it slide out between my teeth, turning my attention back to the road amongst the gray shapes of the cars and the shadows enveloping everything. The lines between us and the rest of the highway are lengthening, coming together to block us off, and there’s a sign we’re about to pass – EXIT ONLY, it says, Exit 21 to Scarsdale. I don’t want to go that way. I signal and move into the next lane, fitting neatly between a clunky old car and a sleek little sedan.

My dad is still waiting on the phone, the silence stretching long and flat. “I don’t know, Dad,” I say. “I guess I forgot, we’ll talk later though. Sarah and I would love to come over for dinner. Can I call you back once I get home, since I’m in the car?”

“Sure,” he says, “talk to you in a little while then.” The phone beeps and goes quiet, and I can feel Sarah’s stare on me. I snatch a glance and she’s frowning. She doesn’t even need to ask. I know she thinks something’s wrong, because I didn’t tell him we were leaving.

“Oh,” I tell her. “It’s fine. I’ll tell him later.”

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2 thoughts on “Exit Only

  1. Walks that thin line between vignette and flash fiction doesn’t it? I think it falls on the flash side, but I’m sure I’ve judged that wrong before. Kinda gorgeous, kinda instantly comprehensible. Not sure if I empathasize or sympathasize but ize regardless.

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