The road stretched before her, turning liquid as her eyes slid down her face. She wasn’t known to chase her shadow like this, but here was her car: cardboard ship running on fumes, barreling into either Arizona or Nevada. The sky threatened to swallow her from all directions, but her breath bubbled to the surface and stuck itself to the steering wheel.
You are running low on gas and every time your hand reaches up to eject the CD, bracelets gnashing like teeth in a fistfight, you can’t bring yourself to do it. The lights around your gas meter fade off one by one, replaced by stars in the wasteland above you. The CD is Ani DiFranco’s “Both Hands” and you swore you wouldn’t listen to this again, but here you are: a cardboard ship taped back together in more places than you can count, crying to “Fire Door” even though it skips three times in the second verse. You are chasing your shadow, and for the first time, you can feel yourself gaining on it. “The butter melts out of habit. Yeah, that toast isn’t even warm.”
The CD spins over and over again, back aching at each time the scratched part passes the opening. It watches her, mouth fixed gaping, still in shock. Why tonight? There were grease stains on the pink shirt she hadn’t bothered to take off after work. At first glance, the CD thought it was dried blood.
There hadn’t been a day without him since he took her from herself. She could drive for hours, but he still crept back in through one ear. A slow leech the color of motor oil, burrowing into her best days and leaving everything too slippery to hold on to. She ran one hand through her curls, remembering how she hated them before she saw his. His circled in and out of each other, bouquet of leeches, greasy, windswept majesty. No matter how many times she ran her hands over her scalp, palmfuls of coconut oil and hair ties that snapped in her fingers, she couldn’t get it to look less like his. He stuck to her, draining her blood. Closed pores. Hot breath.
“The butter melts out of habit. Yeah, that toast isn’t even warm.”
You see a gas station in the distance, but once you approach it, you can’t bring yourself to stop. You decide to get stuck without deciding much of anything.You eject the CD and then promptly put it back in. If you listen to a song that skips over and over again, that wrinkle becomes a lyric. Destruction becomes routine. Disorientation became comfort. You feel his breath on your neck, so you put your hair down. You feel his hands in your hair so you put it back up again. You see a gas station in the distance, and you speed past this one too.
The butter melts and melts and melts. The butter gets on to her shirt and looks like dried blood. The room is cold, her body is cold, his hands are cold, but she still finds a way to melt. What would happen if she didn’t? It takes 21 days to break a habit, but she didn’t feel like breaking something else.
Even cardboard ships need to pee. Even cardboard ships need fuel, no matter how much motor oil is already glistening in your hair. You see a mini mart. That will have to do. You ask to use the bathroom and a man in a light red shirt with grease stains near the collar says that it’s a $3 minimum. Your hand reaches for the sewing kit in a basket of eyedrops. The bathroom is blue. His bathroom was blue. You had habits there, after he went to bed. You don’t know how to stare yourself down in the mirror without stumbling back into a place where he pushes you against a wall.
The sewing scissors in the sewing kit glint up at their new master. Their new goddess of estrangement. She lifts them as they catch light like lines around a gas meter.
You cut the curl above your nose. You watch it fall, infecting the white glint of the porcelain sink. You feel his hands on the back of your neck. You feel your voice crashing to the floor like a porcelain teacup. You lift the scissors again to silence the silence. You let another curl fall, you are leech slayer, porcelain destroyer. Butter meets the hot knife and stays cold. You run your hands over your head, you feel the scratchy surface that he’ll never get past. You are protected for a few minutes. Your car is running in the parking lot, lapping up its gas. Your hair is stubborn, rusty water threatens to drown it from all sides, but it keeps twisting itself around the drain, bubbling to the surface. There is fight in you. You step on your shadow’s toe.