From Des Moines to Albuquerque, long, flat roads, some smooth with new asphalt, some unpaved and pinging gravel against the Cadillac. It’s an automatic, my son-in-law’s first. He’s had it for months, but on the approach to hills and stoplights, his hand still drifts to where the shifter should be. He hums a tune and swerves slightly in time with it. Grace, my daughter, sits beside him, reading her novel without getting carsick. Every few minutes, she stares out the window, thinking, ignoring the mountains and the ghost towns. She never learned to drive. As a teenager, she refused all my offers to teach her. I have work to do, she would say, hefting her schoolbooks into her arms before turning her heel on me. I was pleased when Edward disrupted her studies. She followed him around the country to his Army training, going by bus, train, and taxi. She enjoys her dependence on him, as does he. Since I’ve come to live in their house, I’m expected to enjoy mine, too.
“Day after tomorrow we’ll be in California,” Edward says. He sent away for Disneyland brochures and tourist maps in the spring and left them piled at one end of the dining room table for months as he planned activities and routes. Now Grace keeps all the materials organized and folded up in the glove box to consult when Edward demands it of her.
Hugh begs Grace for the map of New Mexico and spreads it delicately across his lap and mine. He traces our route every day, as if he might have to find his own way home. His nail-bitten finger begins on the black star in the center of Iowa and roams slowly across Nebraska and Colorado, then southward, which is up my right thigh. Spider veins of crooked western road, migrations. He jabs his finger at Las Cruces, then moves it a millimeter east to the White Sands Missile Range.
“I want to see ‘em shoot off rockets. We saw it at school, our teacher showed a movie.”
“Into space?” Jimmy asks, sleepy. Hugh and I share a look.
“I’ve seen it too,” I say, “on the news.” The speed of the missiles seemed to break through the television screen so that I felt the air accelerating around me, even as I drew thread smoothly through a buttonhole.
“Dad, can we go?”
Grace turns and hangs her elbow over the seat.
“Do you think the Army wants little boys running around and poking at their missiles?”
“Yes,” Hugh says.
“I see a vulture,” shouts Elise, right into my ear. “It sees me! It’s diving!”
“Where? Where?” James cries, crawling onto his knees to peer out the back window.
Edward yells “Goddammit!” and we all freeze until he begins humming again a few minutes later.