White Water Rafting

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His hands tightened their grip around the steering wheel of a cranky old Chevy pick-up truck. The night sky painted the highway a mind-numbing blue, and the silver beams of a summer's moon lazily inked their way in and out of the clouds. The radio crooned a haunting melody, a dream-like grunge rock ghost of the Nineties. A playful gust tugged at his shirt and hair through the car windows, its chilly fingers prickling his skin. It was a lovely night to run away, if there was such a thing.


Victoria shifted in her sleep, resting her head on his arm. Immediately, comforting warmth seeped into his body. He wondered if he loved her. Her straw blond hair smelled of sunflowers, and her pale skin was dyed silver in moonshine. They had been childhood friends, and somewhere along the line, he realized she had become too precious to give up. Every treasured memory his troubled mind could conjure was of them playing in the dirt or at the creek, cramming for college tests together, and the like. But that was back in the days before the whiskey plague.


He remembered the smell of wet earth and fresh vegetation, the sting of scraped knees. The sound of laugher, the warmth of a rural wonderland. In contrast to the guitar infused melancholy of his midnight drive, the memories seemed more muted than ever. But no less important.


The two of them were off, without destination other than a better future. The childish dream of simply dropping everything and running away had sat on his shoulders for so long that it had mutated into this desperate attempt at happiness. It was a leap of faith. A necessary one.


Victoria's ex was a drug-fueled bastard. His own, a heart-breaking, home wrecking b****. There were not, and never would be, nice words for such people. The scars on Victoria's skin, his own dive into the bottom of a whiskey bottle, they were the chronicled truth that home had become a bad place. The museum of bad memories, the collection of little jars bottled tight to seal away the tears, would anchor him to the past no more. Forward, sideways, up, down, any which way was better than going back.


He wondered if the three thousand dollars in his wallet would do. A valid fear. An unshakable fear, in the modern world. As much as one denied it, a sizable amount of money was required for safety; without safety, he knew, there is no happiness. Poverty was glorified these days. It wasn't a struggle, a difficulty for the strong to overcome. Nor was it a tragic monster set loose to prey on the less fortunate. It was simply hunger, emptiness, stress, and the heartless reminders of upper-class bankers that you couldn't afford the safety they had.


The song changed again, and the radio was now preoccupied with the fluid bass line of a long forgotten teenage anthem. His mind flickered back to the last time he had sung the melody. A smiling young man, a sober self with an acoustic guitar, who had sung his friends to sleep under the stars next to the warmth of a log fire. His sweating hands loosened their grasp on the Chevy's wheel, and a breath of fresh air swirled into his lungs. He hoped that days like that could return.


But not even Victoria's touch, the feel of the wheel, nor the three thousand dollars tucked away in a fireproof box in the glove compartment, could relax him. The future would be hard. He accepted it, but it still made him bitter. Tense with ingrained paranoia, the man reached into his glove box, and only after his fingertips brushed past the rigid corners of his little safe, did he relax. The fireproof box was still in there. Just like it had been the seventh, eighth, and ninth time he had checked.


There was a pistol in there too. They had stolen it to keep Victoria's ex from driving after them the next morning, said pistol in hand. The drug fanatic was not nearly as brave without his argument-winner in hand. Not that they had even mentioned to him where they were heading, but better safe than sorry. He had always wondered why Victoria had tried to salvage the ruins of that relationship, why she had tried to reconcile with the creature that abused her so. If he hadn't taken her with him, Victoria would still be at her ex's mercy. Was hope that potent? He knew his own was. Faith, the double-edged sword, was grasped firmly in his hands now. It would take everything he had, or more, to avoid getting cut like she had been.


Carefully, he reached over, and wrapped his fingers around the pistol's grip. For a moment, he understood its seductive power, and disgusted and ashamed, he put the safety on, tore the bullets out. He'd find a way to dispose of it safely. His irrational self wished to simply throw it into the nearest trashcan, but Victoria had said otherwise. He knew she was right.


His mind backtracked, bothered by something. Victoria said. Said. The word felt alien, heretical to him. His English teacher despised that word with a passion that should be reserved for only the most delusional of crusaders. She had nailed her anti-said thesis onto his mind's metaphorical door with all the zeal that Martin Luther had used to drive his own ninety-five into the door of the church. He started listing off "stronger word choices" she had preached to the class. Whispered, shouted, roared, drawled, droned, exclaimed, foretold, implied, lectured, plead, stipulated, sputtered, bantered, demurred, mimicked, stammered, prompted, divulged, nagged, orated, retorted. He reached around a hundred or so when he realized how absurd the situation was.


How quickly his stream of consciousness had diverted to a new subject. How eagerly his psyche embraced any thought that could divert it from its brooding gloom. How randomly had the stream of his life changed directions, now that he and Victoria had decided to leave pain and poverty behind. Adding further to the change, the trusty old radio started humming out a beautiful power ballad, this one the unearthed bones of the Eighties. Hell, he thought, change had gone as far as to the head of state, now that an African American was president.


The world, it seemed to him, was a stream of consciousness, moving ever forward, sparking from the last idea to the next new thing. A linear progression influenced by the past, the present, the random and the unexpected. All one could do was build the best boat he or she could, and hope the stream moved smoothly enough through next bend.


Victoria stirred again, wrapping her arms around one of his, pulling his reeling mind out of his newest revelation. With a content sigh, he noted that only three hours remained until sunlight, until the future revealed itself. All he could do now was mentally prepare for the nervous waterfall of new experiences, sit back, and go with the flow.





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