Salamander 2024 Fiction Contest

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Interstate

Kate Lister Campbell
| Fiction

 

We play games in the backseat, the children and me. Is it bigger than a breadbox? Smaller than a house? Everyone’s a good sport before lunchtime but, by afternoon, our minds are tired and the games become more brutal.

JXQ!” yells Hugh, as a car passes us on the right. He reaches across me in the middle seat to pinch his brother, James. You get a pinch for any license plate that starts with the same letter as your name. This plate reads MZ7 but James is too short to see it. I catch Hugh by his wrist.

“Quit cheating.”

“Ow, jeez,” he says, slumping away from me.

Elise lies behind our heads on the wide stretch of felt beneath the Cadillac’s rear window. She’s small for her age, a runt in the womb who somehow survived while her larger sister didn’t. She plays her own silent games with the passengers in the cars behind us, laughing at gestures we can’t see. When she’s bored, she crawls down over my shoulder and climbs into the front seat between her mother and father. Grace pulls Elise’s hair into a tight ponytail. Edward lifts her hand onto the wheel and pretends to let her steer. James, Hugh, and I squirm, wishing we had Elise’s freedom.

“Grandma,” James whispers, “what’s in your purse?”

Cookies wrapped in a napkin emerge to find their way quietly into our three mouths. Elise gets her share when she comes back over the leather front seat and scales me like a jungle gym before curling her body under the rear window again, her warm forehead pressed against the nape of my neck.

Kate Lister Campbell’s stories have appeared or are forthcoming in North American Review and Nashville Review, among others. She is a graduate of the MFA Program for Writers at Warren Wilson College and is currently at work on a collection of linked short stories.

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