The wooden wagon, a Ford, barreled down the highway careening behind and before the oncoming tractor trailers. Graydon Martin hoped for a heavy load, potatoes perhaps, tires.
His own overloaded car made a collision imminent. When he would glide into place in his own lane ahead of the tractor trailer behind him, nearly missing the wrench of crushing metal from the oncoming truck, he would honk his horn in fury, setting up a peal of laughter among the luggage and life he transported.
His children carried his inclination for danger and they egged him on in shrieks and wild laughter.
“Come on Dad. Do it again!”
“Do it again!”
Graydon warwhooped until their repetitions tired him, wore him down from a warrior to the simple salesman that he was, smiling sadly as if he were priceless, as if he could look into himself. They were headed to Florida, their first vacation, and his wife, Gina, spread her arms like blackbirds to quell the rebellion in her offspring. She sat in the front seat terrified of what they would impel him to do next.
“Hush! Girls! Gray Junior. Hush now. Play cards.”
The children lay sprawled, their legs and arms tangled. There were four of them from 4-14, and like a frayed strand of yarn, they rasped and ruffled, and choked one another in tune with the adventure they had set upon. Florida, like forbidden fruit, peppered their imaginations. Dolphins, mermaids, sharks, miraculous fountains, sultry sea breezes, stories they had gleaned from social studies, geography and bedtime stories. They were headed for Hillsboro Mile, their grandfather’s cottage and royal palms, sandy paths, the cry of sea gulls.
“Are we there yet?” the youngest whined.
“Not yet, dear,” Gina replied. “Count the brown cars.”
“Yes! Yes! A contest!” one of the middle girls shouted. “I’ll take the white!”
“Not fair!” the boy complained, the oldest, stretching his legs and pinning the baby to the tailgate.
“He’s hurting me!”
“Enough!” Graydon roared from his place at the steering wheel. “Enough!” and he raced the engine scattering gravel and watched as the speedometer slowly rose.
“Graydon? No!” Gina cried grasping his arm. He shook her arm off and to his children he howled, “Let’s see how fast this baby can go!” The children cheered in assent, their faces turned to the grey, Spanish moss that seemed to fly as they sped past.
“Graydon,” Gina pleaded, but he kept on, his face grim, his teeth set.
When the siren sounded behind him, he refused to slow as if escaping a wily predator and he thought of his father’s scornful visage and eventually slowed and steered the car into the soft, brushy shoulder. He tapped the steering wheel impatiently. The children stared out the back window.
“Dad, it’s the Sheriff?”
“What have you done, Daddy?”
Their voices stilled when the officer slowly climbed out of his car. They could see his brown uniform, the gleaming badge, the walkie talkie, the gun in its holster. The officer sidled up to the car checking the plates, the tires, the children silent in the back.
“There’s no getting out of it now,” the boy warned.
“Suh? Your license,” the officer said, and as if in afterthought, he said “Please.”
“Officer?” Graydon said gripping the wheel, his knuckles white and bloodless.
As Graydon dug in his back pocket for his wallet, the police officer hummed, and Graydon heard the words to the tune in his head. Look away Dixieland. He pressed the license between his forefingers daring the sheriff to take it.
“This your family?” he said, taking his book of tickets out of his back pocket.
“Then you should take better care of them. I clocked you going 85 in a 50. Could of killed them.
Graydon loosened one hand from the steering wheel.
“I was just making time. We’re headed to Florida. Kids, you know,” and he waved toward the back of the car.
“If it weren’t for them, I’d pull you in. Could spend a night in the station jail. You want that?”
“No, officer, but…” and Gina grabbed his hand.
“Has he been drinking?”
“Well exert some pressure. Keep him on the even road. Florida is beautiful after all. Everybody through here’s going to Florida.”
The officer scribbled in his book and handed Graydon the ticket.
“55 dollars!” Graydon gasped.
“I’m feeling generous. Don’t push me.” He tapped the hood of the car. “Keep it to the limit now, ya hear.”
Graydon watched him return to his car. The officer waved as he pulled off the shoulder and onto the highway.
“Hillbilly!” Graydon shouted and the children broke their silence with stifled giggles.
“Graydon?” his wife scorned.
“Well, it’s a damn long drive, a lot longer than I thought, Gina.”
“We’re more than halfway. Come on, dear. Let’s go, the children…”
Graydon, sullen, sat in confused silence, his father’s face looming where he stood in front of the car, looking down, scornful of Gina, the children, the blankets strewn like craggy mountains, the dolls, the stuffed animals. He gunned the car then and slipped out onto the highway watching the speedometer rise.
Demme is a retired children’s librarian. She has been both librarian and facilitator of the Twin Rivers Writers’ Group for 25 years. She has been published in U.S. 1, Confrontations, LIU’s literary magazine, the Kelsey Review, and Foliate Oak Literary Magazine.