She gave the red Ford Falcon one last push from behind the car door and then jumped behind the wheel. Her sister was already in the passenger seat next to her, holding the sleeping, chubby baby. As she turned on the head lights she glimpsed into her rearview mirror to see the look of semi-confusion on her daughter’s face. Someday they would know, or maybe they would never know. Now it did not matter. The car gained speed as it rolled down the hill. As she passed the white stucco house on the left, the one with the porch swing she loved so much, she turned the ignition and started the car. The engine revved and broke the tense silence that surrounded them all. Still neither she nor her sister said a word to each other or the children. She could not say anything right now, did not want to say anything, did not know what to say if she had wanted to. The stillness spoke. Quiet relief. Tentative joy. Fear. They looked straight ahead, afraid of the noise that would come from turning their head or moving in their seat. She was afraid to push the pedal too hard, afraid of the increase in noise from the engine. The night did not cooperate. There were no clouds to absorb noise, no moon rays to run towards, no people to melt into. The trees did not whisper. Only the stars stared down, staring only at them, inquiring: Where are you running to? What are you running from? She wanted to answer, running from him, running from this, but she did not. She did not trust the stars.
Three boys in a faded blue truck dutifully stepped out of the cab and took off their jackets. They emptied their pockets and one man took a bag from a boy, the tallest one, with jet black hair and a pack of cigarettes rolled up in his sleeve like James Dean, and emptied it out on the ground. Another man took a bottle of tequila from behind the seat of the truck. The guard took the bottle from him and one boy tucked his shirt in his pants and toed the dirt in front of him while another stood with his hands in his back pockets. He spit on the ground as the man motioned for the boys to get back in the truck. They got in and started to pull away and the boy farthest on the right, the James Dean with jet black hair, put his arm along the back of the seat behind the boy in the middle. They were Luckies.
Together they watched the blue truck pull away, and then the man motioned her forward and she put the red Ford into first gear and slowly released the clutch and slowly pressed down on the gas pedal. The car rolled forward smoothly, no lurch. She had practiced for two months in the field behind the house. He grudgingly bought her the car, the one she always wanted, but He bought it with a manual transmission. She said she only knew how to drive an automatic and that He knew it. Then the car will sit He said. He told her she could not drive her car. He would not teach her, so she would teach herself, driving the car in circles every day, sometimes in figure-eights, cutting a hotwalker path the width of the Falcon and sometimes getting the car going as fast as thirty miles an hour so she could put the car through all three gears, all in the tight little field next to the house. Every day when she finished, she would wash the car so He would not see the dirt and would not know she had been teaching herself to drive. She would do it when the girl was not home so that she wouldn’t accidentally say something when He was around. The girl saw though, one day, and she had to tell her it was surprise for daddy so she could not say anything, not a word. Keep a secret.
She released the gas and pushed in the clutch and applied pressure to the brake. The car stopped and the man put his arm on the roof of the car and leaned down so his face was in the window, his eyes hidden behind mirrored glasses, her own eyes instead reflected back at her, distorted like in a fun house mirror.
American she said. He looked at her, or at least she thought he looked at her, and then moved his head to see her passengers. Everyone was sleeping. He stood up and dropped his hand down to rest on the handle of the pistol on his belt and he made a motion with his other arm to wave her through. She pushed in the clutch, put the car in first gear and pushed on the gas and released the clutch. The car jerked three or four times and then leaned forward, gaining speed. She looked into her rearview mirror and the man was bending down again, this time into the window of a small white car, one of those Asian ones, and he did not look her way. She wished she had a Lucky.
The noise that came from the back seat was the little girl waking. As she sat up she pushed the blue blanket that had been covering her onto the seat next to her. She rubbed her eyes, her mouth and lips clenched in a woke-too-early frown. The mid-morning sun came in through the window on her right and made her hair show highlights of red, or auburn. She sat in the middle of the back seat, not behind her aunt and not behind her mother, and her feet, safe in the bottoms of a pair of pink one-piece pajamas, did not touch the floor. She rested her head slightly towards the sun and against the seat back behind her and let her hands lay, palms up, at her sides. Slowly she un-squinted her eyes, her pupils contracting to shed light, the smell of sage in her nose and the taste of a restful night on her tongue. The girl’s gaze locked with her mother’s in the rearview mirror of the car. It shifted, without blinking, as a bug on this Arizona highway impacted on the windshield. The girl had never been alone in the car without her father, but here was her mother behind the wheel and her aunt also in the front seat, brother in her lap. The girl scratched her foot and folded her arms.
Her sister came because she asked her to. No questions or protests, she just said yes and she came. She was young, still in high school, with a temper more appropriate for a Dublin street-fighter than for a young small town girl, and she had an appetite for adventure. And she hated Him. So she flew in to see her sister and her niece and her new nephew whom she had never seen. She brought bags for a week but she would only stay a day. They met at the airport and hugged and cried and left some things unsaid, relayed instead by a knowing look or a certain grasp. She shook His hand and looked into His eyes but once. She rode in the back seat on the way to the house with her niece on the seat next to her, close, the big baby in his mother’s arms and Him driving. They arrived home and sat on the porch and drank iced teas and watched the girl play with the little wiener dog. They stayed up until after the news and then He said its time for bed. For her sister she spread clean sheets on the couch, tucked behind the cushions with a blanket on top and one over the arm, and the girl begged to stay with her aunt and her mother let her. He said nothing. They went to sleep and sometime after midnight, the same time as every night for the past two weeks, she got up and said I hear the baby crying. Tonight, as with many others, the baby wasn’t crying, tonight he would not cry, because she had spiked his milk with a touch of Vodka: she slipped her baby a mickey. She met her sister in the living room and gave her the boy. The bags were already in the car as she stepped onto her porch with no porch swing, her daughter in her arms and her son in her sister’s. The dog was in the yard and she stopped and looked at him, him with his head cocked to one side, and she apologized under her breath but hesitated no longer. They put the children in the car and pushed it down the road and drove it across the border and through the desert, always through the desert.