Night by Night

A story about a woman who receives a call that her father has passed and must drive to Oklahoma to face his death while carrying her baggage with her the entire trip.

Kayla flipped her clothes over while finishing her laundry and tossed the basket in victory. She forced herself to finish, letting out a sigh of relief knowing she wouldn’t hear groans from Jonathan, her husband, for not leaving the laundry in the basket for days. Over the years Kayla has made vast improvements over her morning routine. Now she is waking up – before the alarm clock sets off, brewing her coffee, hitting her exercise, and finishing anything from the previous night left unfinished.

Jonathan laid on the couch watching TV while she did the chores. He flipped through the channels trying to find the best show to pass the time. Kayla loved to watch the cooking channel, Jonathan hated it and therefore they didn’t watch it while he was home. He put on a skeevy stoner movie about two drug dealers hitchhiking across the states to stop a movie being made about them. Soon he changed it to a flick about robbing banks. Typical bloodshed type of movie. Kayla looked at the movie disgusted at the grotesqueness.

When she finished the latest load of laundry and finished folding the basket the phone rang startling her. Kayla grabbed a towel to dry her hands before ruining her phone further by getting water into the cracks of it. “Hello?”

“Honey ….” It was her mother. She never called this late. As a matter of fact, she never called unless it was about her father.

“Who the hell is it?” Jonathan asked. Kayla didn’t answer. She listened to her mother stammer. Her voice sounded scared and panicky. Kayla remained motionless listening to the phone placed against her ear. All she could muster out of her mouth was, “Okay, I will.”

Kayla left the living room to her bedroom leaving silence to comfort Jonathan. She pulled out a suitcase and packed just a set of clothes for a single night, zipped it up, and walked out to the living room. “I have to go, my dad has passed away.” 

Jonathan stood and prepared for a fight as he has been all night, he waited for her to do something like this. “I asked, who the hell was on the phone?” He hadn’t heard what she said. Jonathan could flip on his selective hearing whenever he wanted but it always turned on when Kayla spoke.

“It was my mother, my dad passed away.” Tears rolled down her cheek despite her restraint. She knew his death was coming, he was in hospice care for a few weeks now. It was expected. He was sick and bedridden before that and quit working a year ago. Cancer always came back and seemed to always win. She told Jonathan she was going to Colorado to visit her mother. She needed to be there to help in any way she could. She needed finality too. Her dad wasn’t the best father and Kayla needed to say goodbye for herself.

“I’m coming,” Jonathan said. He stood straight and walked towards her.

“No, that’s not necessary.” Please let him stay.

“Bitch. I’m coming, you need me.” Jonathan wasn’t quite right, Kayla did not need him but she was oblivious. Kayla has been married to Jonathan for two years now and, to say the least, it hasn’t been the most pleasant two years in Kayla’s life. They met at a psychiatrist’s office and both hid the fact why they were there but struck up a conversation about the terrible magazines on the coffee table. They left the office and went to a restaurant for dinner, which led to a movie, and finally to his bedroom. That’s how most love stories start, and the path it took from there was out of necessity. Kayla lost her job, lost her car and relied on Jonathan financially and for rides to a new job. She was stuck. When he proposed who was she to say no? She couldn’t. Jonathan was always there in the back of her mind telling her how worthless she was and that she’d never amount to anything. She heard whispers she could never be the perfect wife he deserved and how terrific he was for marrying somebody like her. He saved her, he said to her. After they were married Jonathan moved Kayla from her family in Colorado his hometown of Memphis, Tennessee. He wanted to make it big in a rock band but little did he know the music scene in Memphis died long ago.

They moved to Memphis two years ago thinking it could be their next opportunity. For two years they’ve been struggling to make ends meet. Jonathan met guys from work every night practicing new music, all the while keeping Kayla up at night. She cried herself to sleep thinking she peaked in life long ago and this would be the rest of her life, hearing Jonathan and his noisy lousy band play awful music with her ears between the pillows wet from tears. This was her life now.

Kayla packed a bag for Jonathan and they got in the car to head to Colorado. It was a fourteen-hour drive and, of course, Jonathan packed his own pills to sleep the whole way there while she drove, tears rolling down her cheeks, trying to fight through the weariness and exhaustion. Jonathan slept through the trip. She preferred for him to be silent. Unfortunately, Jonathan would not be silent the entire trip.

A quarter way through the trip it, nearing five o’clock, she stopped for gas past Little Rock. Jonathan told her about a time in high school where he and his friends went to a concert in St. Louis. After driving for three hours they realized they were not in St. Louis, but near Little Rock, Arkansas. They stopped at a gas station, probably this one, to look at a road map. A police officer there told them, so did the clerk, that their best bet was to return to Memphis and go up the 55, but on the map, they took highway 64. It took them through some hick towns that never saw traffic normally. The townspeople looked at them in awe. He said they joked about one of the towns named Bald Knob. They laughed, they thought it sounded like a disease, “you gotta bad case of Bald Knob!” They made it to St. Louis just in time for the concert with not a minute to spare. All because they laughed and giggled over the adult book store billboards and missed the right fork on the interstate to St. Louis and took the path to Little Rock, Arkansas.

Placing the gas nozzle back in its handle, Kayla went inside the store to get two cups of coffee for herself with an energy shot drink. Jonathan didn’t need anything. The clerk was a young boy, probably still in high school, and he smiled at her and asked if she needed anything else. He stuttered. He wore a shirt with a weasel on it that said Screeching Weasel. His hair was spiked and his jeans were ripped. Kayla would’ve looked past a guy like that in high school, but since being with Jonathan, she’d take the bottom of the barrel now. Even a Screeching Weasel, whatever that was.

She left the gas station and turned back on the interstate. Ten hours remained in the trip, she wanted to make it to Colorado before morning by the if possible. Jonathan arose passing into Oklahoma as the sky went dark. “Where are we?” He felt around for his phone which she noticed the sound it made falling between the door and carseat. 

“Oklahoma, I think.”

“You think? Aren’t you driving?” She remained silent maintaining focus on the road, and with six hours to go. She brushed her eyes and wanted to splash water on her face but that wouldn’t be smart while driving. Placing her hand in her cup holder in the driver’s side door she pulled out an energy shot, took off its cap and downed it in one gulp. She has never taken one of these things but hopefully, it’d keep her awake. Jonathan stirred around and fell back asleep. Good, she thought. It was her preferred state.

The road was dark and not a light was seen on either side of the highway. She passed by a rest stop, staring at the mile marker, it was 665. She grown superstitious in her life and sighed at the thought of the sign a mile ahead of her. Sure enough, mile marker 666 was there waiting for her. IT stared at her with its crimson sign and white letters reflecting its blinding light.

Jonathan woke up brushing his eyes and yawning. “Where we at?”

“Just past mile marker 666.”

“What? There’s not a mile marker 666.”

“We just passed it.”

“There’s not a miler marker like that you dumb bitch.” Jonathan searched around for his phone. Kayla did not tell him it fell between the car door and his seat. Fuck him. “I’m surprised you haven’t killed us yet,” Jonathan said.

Kayla thought about her mom and dad. She didn’t speak to her mother in four years, not in any more words than “Merry Christmas” or “Happy birthday”. She didn’t want to talk to her, and she assumed her mother felt the same but she was close to her father. Four years ago her mother shamed her for quitting her job, dropping out of school, and breaking up with a wonderful guy. Her mother told Kayla she wrecked her life, fucking ruined it. Kayla never told her mother that her the job she worked at her she was being harassed by her boss at the restaurant and with no corporate structure, and the boss being the owner’s son there was nowhere to go, financially unable to afford it without scoring a student loan she dropped out of college, and the wonderful guy she broke up with beat her nightly. She didn’t tell her mother these things because her mother should have seen these things. Her mother knew Kayla couldn’t get a school loan and didn’t offer help to her. She knew the kind of person Kayla’s boss was, being in a small town everybody talked, and she saw the black eyes on Kayla that she carefully attempted to cover with make-up when she visited for dinner. The only thing that kept Kayla speaking to her mother was her father was dying of cancer.

Jonathan stirred. Thankfully he fell asleep again. I could drive off the road into a tree, she thought. His seatbelt isn’t even on, he’d fly right through the window. I could say it was an accident. Sure it was an accident, Officer. I was tired, he refused to drive, and I dozed off driving into a tree when he flew the hell outta there. He didn’t have a family that would sue her. He never spoke about any immediate family to her, he always brushed off the stupid question. If he did have family, she doubted they’d care he flew through a car windshield much less ask questions about it. Her eyes drooped.

Kayla’s thoughts drifted to her father that died ten hours ago. Her father always defended Kayla whenever she made a mistake or got into an argument with her mother. She was daddy’s little girl and always would be. One day she made a mistake and broke her mother’s china cabinet playing around with a jump rope inside the house despite numerous times she was told by her mother not to play in the house. She cried at the thought of telling her mother and what her mother would do. When her father got home she told him. “Don’t worry, we’ll fix it,” he said calmly. Off they went to a hardware store and back to the house and within two hours it looked like nothing ever happened. Kayla’s mother never found out.

As she drove, she saw those reflecting medians before going under a bridge to prevent cars on opposing sides from hitting each other underneath an overpass. “Why don’t you just ram your car into it?” Jonathan asked. He was wide awake leaning forward to the windshield. “Just ram the car into it, split the damn thing in half why don’t you?”

I could do that, she thought. I could split us two apart now and forever. “Ram it. Do it.” Her steering wheel turned counterclockwise going towards the median. She corrected it with a jolt of awareness. “Too bad, you could’ve done something magnificent for once in your life.”

Kayla slapped her face to wake herself up. Usually on long trips she would pull into a rest stop to run laps around the place. That worked best but she needed to get to her mom to comfort her. Why, though? Would she comfort me? I’m broken too! It’d probably be my fault. Yes, it’d be my fault he got cancer, and my fault he died.

“Fucking focus on the road why don’t you?” Jonathan said. “You’re a fat bitch you know that?”His eyes widened.

“I know, I am.”

“Been eating too much I told you. Keep the fucking snacks out of the bedroom.” Kayla always kept snacks everywhere in reach. Eating reduced anxiety. Everything made her anxious so she always ate.

“I can’t stand looking at you in a bikini.” Jonathan said. “A man should love looking at his woman.” Kayla looked at her arms held up by her hands holding onto the wheel. She saw her fat hanging and gagged. She shouldn’t be ashamed of herself but those words cut through her.

“I’m not anyone’s woman. I’m my own woman.” Kayla said. She drove on. The sky darkened as the clouds covered the fields to the side and the mountains grew in front of her. Then the fog came.

“You should kill yourself.” Jonathan sat back, proud of himself with his head nodding. “Yeah, it’d be easy. Nobody would care.” He rolled down the window to listen to the whistling wind. The warm air zapped out as Kayla’s spine shivered. Kayla tuned him out. She would turn up the radio listening to 90s rock. It was the kind of independent rock that she’d listen to when her parents fought. She turned it up in her room, not only for herself, but for her neighbors listening pleasure.

The fog became unbearable. She couldn’t see but ten feet ahead. Without thinking about it when she looked down at her speedometer between her steering wheel pegs she drove twenty miles per hour. Probably for the best in case a deer ran out in front of her. She didn’t even know if there were trees on the side of the highway. If there were no trees, then there would be no deer. Better safe than sorry she thought. “I hope you do hit a deer, I hope that fucking thing runs in front of the car and you hit it. You hit it and it’s fucking wild legs bash through the windshield pounding the shit out of your ugly face.” Jonathan said. He whispered it and kept his composure. “Or I hope it’s antlers come through, some big buck, and protrude through your eye sockets tearing your brain apart. I hope you die.” At last she couldn’t contain it, tears rolled out of her sockets down her face onto her shirt as fast as Niagara Falls. She turned up the radio as loud as it’d go screaming into the night cursing Jonathan, her mother, her life, and everything that made her scream out her stress and pain. She was through with it and vowed to not give it another inch of thought. 

She came to mile marker 1000. The fog dense became so horrible that she came to a complete halt. Mist rose from the black tar pavement. Not even an insect flew through her headlights. Her lights only focused on fighting through the dense fog. Kayla drove five to ten miles per hour piercing the fog with her vehicle. She stopped again not wanting to risk it. Tears continued to roll down her cheeks as she wiped them away with the sleeves of her red striped shirt. The car sat parked like a lone boulder in a field. She turned to the passenger seat, Jonathan was missing. His phone wasn’t between the car door seat when she leaned to look and saw no imprint on the seat. The seat appeared fresh and felt cold. Kayla faced forward wiping the final tears from her face, smiling now, and drove into the black fog without a worry in the world.

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