gone sour – 416 words

Once in a while, he runs away.  The story ends like this: he comes back.  He knows that, but that doesn’t stop his escapes.

The story happens because of this: he doesn’t know.  His life isn’t bad, lonely, or empty.  What life is, not just for him, is heavy.  Sometimes he feels the hairline fractures in his will; the little whispers telling him that “he’s wrong” and that “he needs to run”.  Sometimes he asks them, “run to where?”. But they have never answered.  

He leaves in the night or before the sun rises— emboldened in that period where the sky is not a judgmental eye.  All he brings is himself and his car keys.  Even the car is an anchor— a thing— but everything requires another thing, even an escape.

The Midwest stretches out before him: a hopeless eternity of road and field. It can be a warm place, but not when he has already dropped everything to run. Loneliness is as physical a thing now as his breath fogs in the air before him.

He always thought that the openness would be enough to bury how overwhelmed he was, even if just for a while, but instead, the noise just spread to fill the space like water on a plate.  He couldn’t remember a time he wasn’t drowning.

The fields of corn and grain shift into towns of brick and concrete.  Finding differences between the two is more complicated than it seems.  They are both dark and quiet, places to pass unless they are yours.  Places, not destinations.  Not that he knows his destination.

The town passes.  Then more fields and more cities.  Sometimes he sees a car, and he wonders if they are as adrift as him.  Maybe their destination is his life, where they’ll find the place comforting— someone who can tread the water.

But where is his destination?

He stops at the fifth town, pulls into McDonald’s drive-in, and orders a large coffee.  The man that hands it to him has a plastered smile and tired eyes.  The warm air coming from inside smells of grease and salt.  “Have a good night,” the employee murmurs, closing the window.

The coffee is hot and sour, stale and burnt.  A twist of disappointment tears through his chest.  The coffee is always stale on a dark road, no matter where you go.  America is a circle.

He frowns, pours out the drink, and turns back. The horizon glows orange and blue, like neon lights.

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