I am adding a new segment to my blog: Fiction Fridays!
I enjoy blogging. It has been very healing for me; it has helped me connect with others who live with PTSD, and to educate those who don’t. I am still really hoping to be able to make some money doing it, because I very much need to. But my first true love is and always will be creative writing.
Keeping up with blog posts, promoting my blog, and reading other blogs takes up a LOT of time! That’s not including all the time that goes into parenting (oh yeah, that other thing I do), and unwinding, which I have realized is a REQUIREMENT if I am going to be a good mom. I used to read a book a week; it’s taken me like three to finish one, and it’s a book I like. Just because I have had to spend so much of my free time blogging.
But what has suffered even more than my pleasure reading is my fiction writing. And it’s important to me. It’s what I went to school for, first of all. It’s the reason I am even able to write many of the posts on this blog; if I hadn’t spent the past nine years exploring my abuse through fiction, there’s no way I would be able to write any of the memoir pieces which have received the most genuine responses here. Fiction has gotten me through some of the worst times of my life. It has allowed me to escape, to explore, and to understand my experiences, as well as those of others. Because of my ability to write fiction, I don’t have to experience first-hand every terrible thing this world has to offer in order to empathize with others who have. Fiction is limitless. Fiction makes me free.
So, to give myself an excuse (and a demand) to write fiction, I have created “Fiction Fridays.” Every Friday I will post a new work of fiction. Except today, because I just created it, so I am posting an older work of fiction which I love but has never been published. Next week whatever I post will be much less polished, but also more current. This week, I’ll introduce you to my fiction with something which has been edited a bit. As always, I appreciate any comments or shares. And don’t forget to subscribe so that you never miss a post or story: Just enter your info in the box that says “Join Betty’s Army.” It’s on the sidebar!
Without further ado….I give you ‘Highway Drive.’
by Elizabeth Brico
The baby was moving a lot. Cartwheels and eight-armed elephant yoga and stuff. Izzie wondered if she was gonna be seeing all that at the appointment, and what it would look like. She’d seen the baby once before, when she wasn’t sure yet what she was going to do, but it had been so little then. It hadn’t even looked human. Just a grey splotch on a big screen. Now, it would have fingers and toes. It would be a boy or a girl. A person. Izzie squirmed and twanged the seat-belt across her waist.
“What are you doing?” Anton asked, his iris flicking, lizard-like, to the side of his eye and then returning to focus on the road ahead.
“Should I be wearing this?”
She pulled the band again, this time fitting her knuckle beneath it so that it wouldn’t touch her belly.
“Yeah, I mean, if we got into like an accident I think it could strangle the baby or something.”
“If you took it off and we got into an accident you would go flying through the windshield and you would both die.”
There was silence between them then, underscored by the quiet hum of the radio station that never played anything she liked.
“That happened to a girl I knew.”
“No, but she went flying through the windshield and she was in a coma for a while. When she woke up her face was all pitted and mangled and she walked with a limp.” Izzie let the belt lay flush to her belly again. “She deserved it though.”
“She was a skank. I used to go through her sometimes, ’til she ripped me off on my birthday.” She flicked her middle finger it the air then watched as her finger slowly curled back into her fist.
“Oh her. I remember. You told me about her.”
The baby did one final big stretch and settled down for a nap. Izzie slumped back into her seat. She didn’t like to feel the baby move. It made her nervous, all that life and energy twirling and tumbling in there, alive and helpless and needing everything just from her.
She looked at Anton. His gaze was fixed on the road, his posture both erect and relaxed. She had never seen that before she’d met him. Everyone she knew was always slouched or twitching or worried about getting the next thing. Anton made her feel safe. The baby wouldn’t get strangled, they wouldn’t go flying through the windshield, Izzie wouldn’t get caught up, not while Anton was driving.
On the other side of the window, behind Anton’s profile, a large black cat sauntered next to the road.
“Wow, that’s a big cat,” said Izzie. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen a cat so big.”
Anton snapped his head to the left, then returned his gaze to the road ahead.
“I don’t know. I guess I missed it.”
Izzie craned around in her seat. The cat stood by the side of the road, head low, shoulder blades lifted, eyes hungry and fixed. It sees me, Izzie thought.
“It’s still there. Look.”
“No, I’m alright, there’ll be other cats.”
“This one’s really big. Almost the size of a car. All black, too. I think it’s a panther.”
“Floridian panthers are golden.”
Izzie thought about this. “Maybe it escaped from the zoo.”
“It would be on the radio. There would be cops.”
Izzie looked back. The cat was moving in that low, predatory feline way. It was slow, it had to be, Izzie had seen that walk before and it was slow, but the cat seemed to be gaining on them, even though the speedometer read sixty.
“It’s hunting. It sees something.”
Anton shrugged. “Probably a mouse or a lizard.”
“I think it’s a panther.”
Izzie turned to face forward. She looked at the cars ahead, each of them bright and colorful and strangely shaped, like spaceships or boxes or horrible venomous beasts. There wasn’t anywhere safe on the highway to look, so she just focused her eyes on the dashboard until it was all she could see.
Izzie clicked open the glove compartment and pulled out her pack of Reds. She pushed in the car lighter and watched the color rise into it. As she lifted the lighter to her cigarette, she glanced sidelong at Anton. He was expressionless, gaze fixed on the road ahead. Beneath the sizzle of the lighter against the tobacco, she imagined she heard him sigh.
“I can’t quit,” she said, exhaling.
“The baby could die. The withdrawals.”
“My counselor told me.”
Izzie rolled down her window and let her hand dangle out, the smoke whipping around her fingers. It made her feel free, that feeling of holding her cigarette out of the car window, the warm Florida sun hitting the back of her hand. Like a movie star, she thought.
The cat was on her side of the highway now. It was much closer than it had been before. She could see the yellow of its eyes. They scanned the road like they were looking for something, like the cat was hungry. In the other lanes, cars drove past without stopping. As if they didn’t even notice it.
“But it’s so big,” Izzie said aloud.
“Look, it got across the highway somehow.”
Anton glanced in her direction. He grunted.
Izzie smiled. “It’s a panther, isn’t it?”
“If you say so.” He returned his gaze to road ahead.
“Are we almost there?” She placed one bare foot on the dashboard. Her toes curled as she took another drag of her cigarette.
“About twenty minutes.”
“Do you think it will follow us the whole way?”
Anton shrugged. Izzie looked out the window. It had moved from the grass to the shoulder, stalking along the white delineation. It seemed bigger now. As big as the cars. Still, nobody stopped.
“If I was the driver we would pull over and see what it wants.”
“But you’re not.” Anton laughed; a short, barking snigger. “You don’t even know how.”
“I’ll learn. Before the baby gets too big. I will.” She glared at Anton. “Why don’t you believe me?”
“I didn’t say anything.”
She crossed her arms beneath her sore, swollen breasts. Anton reached across, gaze still fixed on the road ahead, and gave the left one a hard, quick squeeze.
“Ow!” Izzie pouted. She pushed his hand away. “You don’t believe me, do you? About it being a panther.”
“What do you know about panthers?”
She thought about it, tried to gather together all of the facts she had about panthers, but there weren’t any.
“I grew up with housecats though, and they don’t get that big.”
“That was in Seattle.”
“It doesn’t matter!” Her voice became shrill. She hated when he said dumb things like that, like he believed she was dumb enough to believe them.
“It does,” he replied. “This is a totally different region. And anyway, what do you know about housecats?”
She scoffed and sank into her seat. Her cigarette was done so she flicked it into the street. It skipped and burped wisps of smoke onto the roadway. The car felt like it was moving slower now, even though the speedometer was the same. It felt like they were being dragged backward even, like that big cat had got its claws hooked into the pavement and was dragging them and the whole roadway back toward it, but nobody was noticing. Nobody but Izzie. She told herself it wasn’t happening, it wasn’t possible. There was Anton, driving the car forward, gaze fixed on the road ahead, driving her and the baby away, away from the panther, they were getting away, no matter how things felt to her.
“There was a panther loose in Seattle once,” she said, talking away the itchy feeling in her chest that happened when she got too nervous or wanted too much to feel different than she did. “It escaped from the Woodland Park Zoo.”
“Did you see it?”
“No, I stayed inside. I was too scared.” That was a lie. She’d been scared, but she’d followed it anyway, letting it lead her through the maze of underpasses and shadows that held up all the bright shiny parts of the city, where the other people walked. Regular people couldn’t see those parts, the dark parts, because they didn’t want to. She hadn’t been able to look at the city the same after that, and after a while the only people who seemed to understand a thing she said, or even to see her at all, were the other ones who knew those places. The panther’s places. The shadow places. She didn’t tell Anton that though. She told Anton the kinds of things she had learned to say from listening to her Ma and Pa and sisters. The difference was, when they said them, they were true.
Anton made a sound, a sort of grunt against the back of his teeth.
“It came through my neighborhood,” Izzie added. Lying felt like swimming to her, like diving deep into a pool and then just letting herself float up and be carried by the easy current of what other people liked to hear. Still, she felt kinda bad about lying to Anton. It didn’t matter now though. She’d already started.
“The next day I went out walking and I saw all the things it destroyed before they got it,” she continued. “They tranqued it.” She lowered her foot, tapped it against the floor, then raised it again to the dashboard. The panther was crossing the road, weaving between the cars toward them. It didn’t seem troubled or hurried at all, but nothing was hitting it. Like it was just a drift of smoke.
“They kill it?”
The panther was behind them, walking on the thin strip between the lanes. Its tail switched back and forth, back and forth. The cars looked tiny beside it, like toys, the way things looked out the airplane window when it was landing.
“I think so,” Izzie murmured. Behind them, she could feel the cat moving again, at that pace both rapid and tedious. She looked at Anton. It seemed to her that he had not moved in a very long time, not since they had started the drive. Maybe even longer.
“Sometimes your face looks like a mask,” she told him. “Like you could put your fingers under the skin and pull it up and there would be a whole new face underneath.”
“You want that? Because I’m ugly.”
Izzie sighed. “You’re not ugly.” She was beginning to feel very drowsy. She could tell by how still the baby was that the medicine was peaking. Her foot slid down the dashboard, leaving a sweaty streak.
“Sometimes you’re ugly,” she admitted. “When you eat too much ice-cream.”
The panther walked next to the car now. Izzie didn’t have to look out the window to know this. She could tell by the darkness that had fallen over them, and the oppressive, animal heat. And the smell. Fleshy, sharp, almost vinegar; it was a smell she could taste in the back of her throat.
“I don’t know how it keeps pace with us like that,” she sighed, leaning her head back. Then, suddenly, she jerked forward. Panic swelled in her chest. “Do you think they’ll kill it? When they catch it?”
“I don’t want them to. I really, really, really don’t.” The sharp glass of tears stung behind her eyes.
Anton looked at her. She smiled. He always made her feel so much better.
He returned his gaze to the road ahead.
“Oh but we’re in Florida,” she said, remembering. “That zoo in Seattle, it’s a rehabilitation zoo, a last chance sort of place. That panther had probably escaped from a couplea zoos already, so they had to kill it. It had nowhere else to go.” She thumbed the window. “This one’ll probably be sent up there.” She felt a brief sinking inside. She wanted to be sent up there, too. Only, no one there wanted her anymore. Not Ma and Pa, not her sisters, not even her aunt. They had seen too much of her. They didn’t want to keep looking.
Anton laughed. It was his real laugh, the special rare one that he only made when he thought something was really funny. It was sort of shrill and giggly and didn’t really sound like it belonged to a big guy like him. Izzie loved that laugh. She felt warm and happy with it wrapped all around her.
“So they send people out here to rehabilitate and,” he laughed again, “panthers up there?”
Izzie nodded drowsily.
“Panthers are people, too,” she said, her voice drifting.
Some time passed. Minutes maybe. Not longer, Izzie thought, but she couldn’t be sure. She was mostly asleep. Anton stayed still beside her, except the small driving motions. She could feel his stillness as an emptiness. That’s what he is to me, the dream part of her said, an emptiness, a vacuum holding me in place. On her other side she could feel the panther moving and watching, moving and watching. It was always moving and always watching and somehow always beside her, no matter how far she went or how still she stayed.
Inside her, the baby slept its drugged sleep.
“We’re here,” Anton said after a time. Izzie looked at him. He was moving again, unbuckling his seat-belt, checking his pockets, gathering his things. His face no longer looked like a mask. She smiled and stretched and looked around. The panther crouched in front of the car. It leered at Izzie through the windshield and opened its great jaws. Its mouth was wider than any mouth she had ever seen, wider than the car. Izzie could see the darkness inside, beyond the fangs.
What a nice place to sleep, she thought, what a good place to rest.
Thank you for reading my first story in Fiction Fridays. Join Betty’s Army to never miss a story again!
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