By Erica S. Arkin
It occurred to Dennis six hours into the road trip that he might have made a terrible mistake. His daughter Natalie sat on a fold-down seat in the back of his pickup’s not-so-extended cab, plugged into her Discman and propped against the small window behind the empty passenger seat. She was reading a magazine with a cover that said something about Bedroom Tricks to Blow . . . Dennis only caught a glance when she’d pulled it from her backpack at the last rest area. He was glad he couldn’t see the whole thing in the rearview mirror.
The trip had been her mother’s idea and pitched as a way for Natalie and Dennis to spend some time together. When Hannah called him at the garage a few weeks earlier, she used phrases like “father-daughter road trip” and “genuine bonding.” It might be nice for him to actually get to know his daughter. His ex- wife made a sport out of taking little digs whenever she could.
He balked at first. It was hard enough getting an afternoon off to go to a doctor’s appointment, never mind two whole days to chauffeur Natalie around colleges in Pennsylvania.
“When was the last time you traveled with your daughter?” Hannah had asked. The only trip that came to mind was back when Natalie was ten and Dennis took her to Block Island with his then-girlfriend, Rita. He opened his mouth to mention the trip, but realized it would likely hurt, rather than help, his case. On the last night of the vacation, after Natalie was asleep in the hotel, he and Rita had snuck down to the bar for a nightcap and came back to find an empty room. It was negligent to leave Natalie alone—a fact Dennis realized even before he frantically called the front desk and took to the halls yelling her name. When he finally found her a little over an hour later, she was trying to catch big nocturnal crabs on a spit of beach a quarter mile from the hotel. Flustered, he’d scolded Natalie to the point of tears for wandering off, something he would later realize was his second mistake of the night.
“A trip that hasn’t ended in disaster,” Hannah added. He hated how she could still read his mind.
Dennis knew she was right. As much as he tried to repress the surges of self- loathing that bubbled up when the other mechanics came to work with pictures of their children, he was aware that it was a by-product of rarely seeing Natalie. Though, he certainly didn’t want to admit it while standing in the corner of the garage’s busy waiting room, trying to stretch the spiraling phone cord as far away from the receptionist’s desk as possible. The trip felt like something he would regret not doing, but the thought of being alone in a car for more than sixteen hours with his teenage daughter made his stomach tighten. He hadn’t spent more than an hour or two alone with Natalie in years and the time they did spend together usually involved him taking her to Friendly’s or Papa Gino’s on their biweekly visits. Even those dinners had tapered off when she got to high school. There was always a soccer game or a group project on the nights they were supposed to meet.
With Hannah still on the line, Dennis used a rag to wipe the grease off his hands and grabbed a pen and paper from the counter in the waiting room. He wrote down the dates. Only after he agreed did Hannah admit she couldn’t take Natalie herself because of a commitment at work. Hannah didn’t mince words. She was planning the trip and Dennis was there to drive and to bond with their daughter, although it hadn’t taken him long to start feeling like an idiot for thinking the latter was even possible.
“You need a bathroom break?” Dennis asked over his shoulder. Natalie either didn’t hear or didn’t care to answer. He pulled off at a rest area twenty miles outside Wellsboro. The headphones remained on Natalie’s ears as she slid up into the passenger’s seat and out the door. They were still on when she came out of the bathroom. In the hours since they’d left Connecticut, Dennis had started to think of the earpieces as prostheses. In order to function, Natalie needed them there to block him out.
He motioned for her to take them off when they got back into the car. “What?” The first word she’d spoken since they left.
Despite his ass having been asleep since New York, Dennis tried to sound as enthusiastic as possible when he asked which college would be their first stop. He knew Hannah had booked them a room off I-80, at least a six-hour drive, but that’s as far as he’d gotten on the itinerary. Her planning made him sweat.
“I don’t know,” Natalie said. “You have the list.”
She was right, though he suspected she could have answered him off the top of her head. The headphones went on and she squeezed into the back, which she claimed was more comfortable than the passenger seat. Dennis picked up the packet of stapled pages next to him. “Looks like All-gany,” he said.
“It’s Allegheny.” She emphasized each syllable. Reaching over his shoulder, she plucked the list from his hands. When it came flapping back onto the passenger seat, there was a phonetic spelling of ALL-EH-GAIN-Y and an extra school added at the bottom.
“Rutgers?” he asked. “That’s not even in Pennsylvania.” “Mom forgot to put it on,” she said from behind the magazine.
It was nearly nine o’clock when they made it to DuBois, Pennsylvania, which was apparently well past the time when the people of DuBois called it a night. The parking lot of the strip mall across from their two-story motel was empty. At the front desk, a woman with exceptionally small teeth told them that Wendy’s was open late, but they better hurry because the “dining room” doors were locked at ten. After that, they’d be stuck ordering from the drive-thru.
They got to Wendy’s well before ten, and in silent agreement, pulled into the drive-thru. There was something appealing, relaxing even, about eating in the car. Natalie didn’t say it out loud, but Dennis felt she appreciated directing her glance at the cheeseburger in her lap instead of him.
Back in the motel, they contorted around in the small room, trying to stay out of each other’s way. It had never occurred to Dennis to ask for two rooms when he checked for vacancies. He and Natalie were family and family shared rooms, not to mention he couldn’t have afforded two. Natalie pulled her pajamas from her suitcase and walked in a wide arc around Dennis’s bed on the way to the bathroom. He felt he’d assumed too much.
“I’ll get some ice,” he said, despite not having anything that needed to be kept cold. Plucking the plastic bucket from beside the TV, he escaped to the hallway. He did go get ice eventually, but only after wandering down to the parking lot to check the fluid levels of the truck. He told himself it needed to be done.
When he got back to the room, Natalie was asleep with the TV on—or at least pretending to be. He put the ice on the counter in the bathroom. Though he usually slept shirtless and in a pair of flannel boxers, he put on a T-shirt and cotton pants. Under the sheets, he immediately felt cocooned by too much fabric.
In the flickering light of the late-night TV, he could see Natalie was really sleeping. The comforter was rising and falling over her chest too rhythmically to be a ruse. He sat up. Propped against the padded fabric headboard, he watched her for a few moments. She looked like a child. No makeup, no headphones, just sleep.
Natalie had only been six when Hannah and Dennis filed for divorce and he wasn’t sure he’d ever seen her like this since. It came on slowly, but he began to feel a dull ache for her to be a child again, for her to be sleeping in the same house. At its peak, the intensity of the feeling surprised him. In recent years, he’d trained himself not to think about what had been lost and gained in his decision to break away from the stifling presence of Hannah’s family. He tried instead to think about it in terms of difference—in terms of change—without any value attached. But somehow, it felt impossible to perceive it so neutrally in the presence of his sleeping daughter.
In the years after he moved out, Dennis told himself that Hannah was responsible for establishing distance between him and Natalie. On the phone, it was usually Hannah’s voice making excuses as to why Natalie couldn’t visit him. But now, as he watched her sleep, he wondered how he had let her go so easily, how he had eaten up the excuses and been even a little relieved to work late at the garage instead of demanding that the visit be rescheduled. It didn’t so much matter if it was Hannah, or Natalie, or even Hannah’s family pushing for distance. It mattered that he let them have it.
He turned off the television. In the darkness, he tried to pinpoint the moment in Natalie’s life he would go back to, if he could do it again. The years kept peeling away. The beginning, he thought to himself as he stared up at the textured ceiling, he’d have to go all the way back to the beginning.
From the second he saw Hannah, barefoot in the bathroom, pointing to the little red circle on the pregnancy test, Dennis prayed it would be a girl. And from the moment they told Hannah’s father, William, he spoke of the baby as if it was a boy. He never draped his hands over Hannah’s stomach or said things like has he kicked much today? or let’s see his sonogram as Hannah’s mother did, but he had his own way of reminding them that his first grandchild was to be male.
“Have you had any chicken liver?” William would ask on Sunday afternoons when Hannah dragged Dennis across the street to have tea with her parents. “Have you been sleeping on your left side?” He offered an endless supply of ideas that were supposed to ensure Dennis and Hannah’s baby grew into a boy, even if it had been conceived as something else.
And even though the suggestions irked him, Dennis wasn’t surprised that William wanted a male recruit to continue his legacy, especially after he’d been cursed with daughters. Hannah’s father was nothing if not a man’s man. He hunted, watched boxing religiously, even walked with a kind of upright posture that reminded Dennis of a soldier. William had immigrated from Northern Ireland and brought with him a kind of militarism—an anti-Catholic fervor that was on display from the moment Dennis entered the Courtneys’ living room and saw the painting of a man on a gleaming white horse leading his army to victory over the bodies of defeated enemies. The image, Dennis would soon learn, was William of Orange razing Catholic forces in the Battle of the Boyne. It was only one of the many items in the Courtney home that displayed Protestant pride. To Dennis it all felt unsettling, aggressive even. But Hannah could never quite see it. She explained it away with words like patriotism and discipline.
Following her father’s lead, Hannah refused to discuss possible girl names as they prepared for the baby’s arrival.
“Don’t jinx it,” she said when Dennis mentioned the name Natalie. William was the only name they needed to consider.
At first, the baby—whatever it was—had never been one to kick on command. Hannah’s mother, Cici, spent half the pregnancy scuttling over to her daughter whenever Hannah felt the force of some tiny appendage pressing out from inside. In the first seven months, Dennis could probably count on a single hand the number of times he felt the baby kick. Then, late one night in the eighth month, when it was just Hannah and him and the silence of their little trailer home, the baby convinced Dennis that his suspicions had been right all along.
Sleeping with the curve of his wife’s pregnant belly pressed against the small of his back, he felt Natalie. Little hands and feet. Elbows. It happened again and again. Every night after that he started to think of it as their time—the first time he and his daughter were alone, both relaxed by the rhythm of Hannah’s heavy breathing, both feeling the beat of Hannah’s heart pulsing against them. On those nights, he was sure the baby would be a girl.
He waited, hoping that the baby hadn’t fooled him. And on the day she arrived, he thanked God that she wouldn’t be a William for William. She would be a Natalie for Dennis.
But of course, it hadn’t turned out that way. The things that Dennis couldn’t stand about his father in law—the pride, the unwillingness to coddle—were the very same things that would draw Natalie in. The realization began to crystalize during one of their Sunday tea times with William and Cici when Natalie was only ten months old. Dennis had spent much of the afternoon hunched over Natalie as she toddled from room to room clutching his index fingers. She’d led him into the kitchen where Hannah and her parents were engaged in their usual Sunday ritual of drinking tea and talking politics. Giggling, she made her way to the table and traded Dennis’s fingers for the leg of William’s chair.
Without hesitation, William reached down and peeled Natalie’s fingers off the leg. Her arms shot out from her sides like a tiny tightrope walker as she buckled at the knees. Dennis was sure she would lock up, so sure he would have lunged forward to steady her if William hadn’t raised his hand and motioned for him to stop.
“Can’t baby her forever,” William had said.
She’s a baby, Dennis wanted to yell back, but before he could contest further, Natalie made a wobbly step toward her mother. Then another. On the third, she fell forward into a crawl. Cici squealed and clapped as Hannah scooped her up.
As Dennis watched, a feeling of doubt blossomed in his stomach. Was he holding her back? Had William really known better? In the end, Dennis couldn’t complain. He saw the steps. He experienced the milestone. Yet, when he locked eyes with William, Dennis couldn’t help but feel like he had been robbed of something he never realized he needed to defend.
In later years, when Dennis arrived home late from the garage, Natalie couldn’t wait to tell him how Grandpa William taught her to ride her bike. Grandpa William let her chop wood. Grandpa William showed her how to climb the highest tree. She seemed to relish the skinned knees and splinters— even mimicked the stoicism in her grandfather’s voice when she assured Dennis she was fine. He smiled and told her he was proud, but Dennis couldn’t help but feel each victory for Natalie was a jab from William. The blows were glancing at first, but as he and Hannah careened toward divorce, every mention of William by Natalie felt like a punch in the gut.
On the day Dennis boxed up the last of his things, Hannah sent Natalie over to her grandparents’ house across the street, so she wouldn’t have to see her parents bicker about who was going to take the baby pictures or the curtains some friends had given them when they first moved into the trailer on the plot of land Hannah’s father had provided. Dennis cursed at Hannah that day, saying that with him out of Natalie’s life, William would slide in as the father figure he’d always been competing with Dennis to be.
“It’s not much of a competition,” she’d said as she plucked a handful of Dennis’s books off the shelf in their bedroom. Dennis had simply stood there, unable to form words that would fit the depth of his resentment toward her.
And even with all the awful things that they said to each other that day, when Dennis finally backed the truck down the driveway, those six words had been the only ones to feed the sense of self-doubt growing inside him. As he drove past William and Cici’s house on the way out of the neighborhood, he craned his neck in an attempt to spot Natalie through their living room window. He could only see William, walking toward the front door.
Dennis woke to the alarm at eight o’clock and found Natalie’s bed empty. Feeling a familiar pang of fear, he opened the heavy motel door and stepped out onto the raised cement walkway that connected the rooms. Before he could even call her name, he spotted his daughter seated against the rusty railing a few yards away. An ash-colored tabby cat coiled around her hands as she reached down to pet it. She looked up, her smile fading when it met her father’s. The cat, which Dennis could see was clearly feral, took off for the stairs as soon as Dennis told Natalie to pack up.
“I think oil seeps out of you when you sleep,” she said, following him into the motel room. “It smells funny in here.”
Hannah used to complain about the same thing. No matter how many times he showered the smell of the garage never seemed to leave him entirely.
“You used to like that smell,” he said, as he walked to the bathroom.
They took a rural route to Allegheny. On either side of the road, big cylindrical bales of hay stretched out like a string of beads hugging the curves of the rolling farmland. Dennis hadn’t gone to college and he’d only been on a handful of campuses in his life, but Allegheny looked to him the way one was supposed to look. Wide sidewalks bisected grassy lawns between brick academic buildings. There was one other father and daughter in their tour group. They were both thin, but top-heavy, and they walked with a bit too much hip movement to appear athletic. Dennis could tell that they were wealthy by their footwear— leather shoes that looked like they’d been made in some foreign country, but not the kind with sweatshops. As the tour group gathered in the admissions office and looked over the brochures, the other father leaned in and told his daughterthat her GPA was higher than the average incoming freshman.
Dennis glanced at Natalie, who was leafing through a brochure about the dining services. He hadn’t seen Natalie’s grades since she brought home her first kindergarten report card. She’d gotten all check-pluses back then and he suspected she’d transitioned to A’s without much trouble. Natalie slipped the brochure into her bag and wandered toward the door where the tour guide was just arriving. The way she moved—upright and well balanced with even steps— reminded Dennis of Hannah. It unnerved him to see so much of his ex-wife in Natalie, perhaps because there was so much of William in his ex-wife. Blending in with the other prospective students, Natalie kept a buffer of three or four feet between her and Dennis as they made their way through the campus.
That afternoon, after a two-hour drive to Pittsburgh, they arrived at the next campus, which was urban. It took them almost a half-hour to find a parking space on the crowded streets that surrounded the admissions building.
“You don’t have to go with me,” Natalie said as Dennis pulled into a metered place a few blocks off campus.
“Are you embarrassed of me?” He looked down at his work boots. He didn’t have much hair left, but he’d let the shampoo sit in what thin blonde stubble he had for extra time that morning, trying to clean the garage off him.
She shrugged and picked at her cuticle. “No,” she said. “You don’t have to go if you don’t want to.”
“I want to,” he said.
That night they drove to the eastern part of the state, hoping to get closer to the Philadelphia–area colleges they were supposed to visit the following day. At the hotel, Natalie was able to stretch the phone cord enough to transform the bathroom into a private phone booth. She said her mother had given her a pre- paid calling card and proceeded to talk for the next half-hour. Dennis couldn’t make out many words, but the sheer fact that she had elected to carry on a conversation with Hannah, which far outlasted any one they’d had thus far, drove him out to the hallway for fresh air. When he returned, she was sitting on the bed listening to music. He flipped on the TV.
“What are you listening to?” he asked without looking away from the baseball scores running across the screen.
“The Match,” she said.
When Dennis admitted he’d never heard of that band, she slid a headphone off her ear. She didn’t offer it to him, but still, it felt to Dennis like a victory of sorts. Staring at her hands, she explained that the band was from Northern Ireland, the same county as William. Apparently, she had found them online and started listening. Dennis could feel annoyance tightening across his forehead. The noises coming from the headphone sounded more like static than music.
“It just reminds me of Grandpa,” she said, holding the headphone between her thumb and pointer finger.
“I can’t imagine William would have liked it,” he said, trying to make his voice neutral.
Natalie rolled her eyes. “Does it really matter what he would think about it, as long as it reminds me of him?” She slid the headphone back over her ear and lay down on the bed with her back to Dennis.
“Natalie,” he said. “That wasn’t a shot at you or your grandfather.” She turned up her music.
Despite the fact that William had been dead for almost six years, Natalie had the ability to make Dennis feel like he was still pitted against his former father-in-law. One of the first times Natalie came to the one-bedroom apartment Dennis began renting after he moved out, she brought a postcard-sized image of Prince William of Orange crossing the Boyne. The Irish relatives in Portadown used to send William boxes of knickknacks and Protestant propaganda, and he made sure some found their way into Natalie’s hands. She’d asked if she could put the card in her room and Dennis had to tell her she didn’t have a room all to herself in his new place. He always wondered if William had instructed his granddaughter on what she should do with the card. As far as Dennis could tell, William was capable of that.
Years ago, when Dennis and Hannah were still together, he’d done some work on a Volvo owned by an Irish History professor out at UConn. Dennis had tried to casually ask about the Orange Order and Prince William when talking through the transmission repair. “My wife’s family is a bit nuts about the whole thing,” he said. “I just wanted an outside perspective.”
The professor laughed in a way that made Dennis a little unsettled. “William of Orange,” he said as Dennis lowered the hood, “was a relatively weak, unhealthy, and asthmatic man, but a strategic genius nonetheless.” At first, Dennis had to ask the professor if they were talking about the same person. They were, and apparently William of Orange had been born Dutch and his forays in Ireland were just another way to ensure the English crown. He was the King of England, Scotland, and Ireland—all while being the head of state in the Netherlands. “You could say he had a thing for power,” said the professor. He chuckled as if he’d made a joke.
Dennis nodded. “So why are the Protestants so crazy about him?”
“He’s like a folk hero to the more extreme Protestant Irish,” the professor said. “He represents the defeat of Catholicism, though I’m not sure even William himself would have seen his victories in Ireland as anything more than a stepping stone to becoming the King of England.”
There were moments after the conversation when Dennis considered telling Natalie what the professor had told him, but there was always a reason not to. She was young and it would upset her. He also knew she wouldn’t believe him. Hannah certainly didn’t when Dennis brought it up during an argument. Though Dennis never spoke about it to Natalie, he often thought of the professor’s story. The truth about William of Orange hovered at the edges of his consciousness whenever he remembered his former father-in-law. In the same way, his father- in-law hovered at the edges of his consciousness when he looked at Natalie. He often sensed them. Both Williams.
By the sixth college, Dennis couldn’t remember which one had the student center shaped like a dome and which had the library that was supposedly haunted by the ghosts of dead Civil War soldiers. Natalie was acutely aware of any possible threat to William, especially coming from Dennis, so his comment the night before had given her an excuse to return to her music-induced silence. She only spoke to him during the meals, if absolutely necessary. Pass the ketchup. Can I have a napkin?
After they checked in to a hotel in the northern part of the state, Dennis went down to the truck and sat alone for a while, listening to the sound of the highway across the parking lot and wondering why he hadn’t anticipated William’s ability to beat him down, even from beyond the grave. At midnight, he lumbered back up to the room. Natalie wasn’t asleep. Her headphones were leaking sound. The Match, he guessed.
They set out early the next morning so they would have time to stop at Rutgers— the last-minute addition to their trip. The drive was especially slow. An accident on 84 backed up traffic for miles and despite Dennis’s encouragement that she move to the passenger seat, Natalie remained on the tiny seat at the back of the truck’s cab. It was nearly four o’clock when they reached Rutgers and Dennis had to fight the fatigue that had been creeping into his body the whole drive.
“I want to tour this campus alone,” Natalie said as Dennis unbuckled his seatbelt. “I’ll meet you back here at five.”
Before he could protest, she was out the door. She stopped near the headlight like she was about to say something, but didn’t. In the moment, she looked more like her mother than Dennis could stand. The same long dark hair, the same nose, except there was a roundness to her face that had long ago drained from Hannah’s.
He sat in the truck, thinking that he shouldn’t have let her walk away. The end of the trip was looming and if he was ever going to shorten the distance between them, his opportunities to do so were limited. After fifteen minutes of staring at the cars parked around him, he got out and walked in the direction most of the younger people were headed, hoping they’d bring him to the center of campus. The quad Dennis eventually reached was filled with students. He scanned the crowds for Natalie’s face. He wasn’t sure what he would say when he found his daughter, only that he needed to find her.
One of the paths brought Dennis to a cluster of oak trees near what he guessed was the center of campus. As he moved into the open lawn, he spotted Natalie’s bright blue jacket down at the far end of the open space. The ground under his feet felt almost pillow-like as he walked toward her. Hovering over Natalie was a huge statue of a man, his hand pointing up toward his chin as if he was about to speak. She was looking up toward the face. As Dennis came up beside her, she didn’t move. Etched into stone at the base of the statue was William the Silent (1533-1584).
Dennis stood and listened to the sound of the music emanating from her headphones. The sun was almost blinding as it reflected off the statue’s massive shoulder.
“Did we come here for this?” Dennis asked.
She pressed the admission brochure against the palm of her hand.
“I saw it on the website,” she said. “It felt a little like a sign, like something I needed to check out.” She didn’t take her eyes off the statue as she spoke. “But I’m an idiot,” she said. “He’s not the right one. This is William the Silent. This guy is our Prince William’s father or grandfather or something.”
Dennis cringed at our.
All around them clusters of students drifted at the edges of the sidewalk, plugging up the flow of people moving between academic buildings. They ducked in and out of brick halls, creating the backdrop Dennis saw when he looked at Natalie. It was hard for him to imagine letting Natalie go any more than he already had, letting her slip seamlessly into the flow of another lifestyle that would distance them by yet another degree.
“Do you think it’s a good idea to choose a college based on a statue?” he asked, still staring at the statue of William.
“I’m not that stupid,” she said, slipping the brochure in her bag.
“I don’t think you’re stupid, I just don’t think a statue is your grandfather’s way of directing you from beyond the grave.”
“You wouldn’t understand,” she said, stepping backwards. “Mom says you always hated him anyway.” She turned away and started across the grass.
“No. Don’t walk away.” He jogged up behind her. “Stop,” he said, “stop running away.”
Some of the students on the path were watching. Dennis was only vaguely aware of them. He reached out and grabbed her arm. It was the first time he’d touched her the whole trip.
“What are you doing?” She tried to shake off his grip. “Don’t touch me.”
“I didn’t hate him,” he said. “Your grandfather was a strong man and he was decisive and sure of himself in a way that I will never be.”
He dropped her arm, but she didn’t move away. She looked at him with her big blue-gray eyes. They were Dennis’s eyes. They weren’t dark like her mother’s; they were the color of hazy sky in summertime. There were tears in the corners.
“I never hated William,” he said again, “I just hated the way he taught your mother to never depend on anyone except him.” Dennis stopped, not sure he had ever articulated that idea, even to himself. “I didn’t want you to grow up to be the same.”
She closed her eyes and took a long breath.
“I don’t want to lose you, too,” he said, louder than he needed.
Before he could step toward her, a hand clasped down on his shoulder. “Hey,” said a man’s voice from behind him.
Dennis whipped around, flustered by the interruption. He expected to see a man his own age, but found three boys in oversized hoodies hardly older than Natalie. Now face-to-face, Dennis watched the confidence drain from the eyes of the boy who’d touched him.
The boy looked at Natalie. “Is this guy bothering you?” His voice quivered ever so slightly at you.
The question hung in the air for what felt to Dennis like an eternity. He watched Natalie’s gaze slide from him to the boy and back again.
“No,” she said finally. “He’s my dad.”
Seemingly relieved, the boys retreated. It wasn’t until they rejoined the stream of student bodies moving along the walkway that Dennis became aware of his posture. He glanced down at his clenched fists and couldn’t help but chuckle at how ludicrous he must have looked. He wasn’t a fighter—had never engaged in anything more serious than a schoolyard tussle—but here he was looking ready to take on a bunch of children.
Natalie smirked too.
“You almost got me beat up,” he said with a smile.
“Are you kidding?” she said. “They were scared shitless.”
He burst out laughing. He wanted to hug her, but knew he hadn’t earned it yet.
They stood on the green until the walkways emptied. When he asked if she was ready to leave, Natalie’s eyes found their way back to the statue.
“Please go to the truck,” she said, her voice a little shaky. “I need a second.”
Back in the parking lot Dennis ran his hands over the steering wheel and waited. As fifteen minutes and then a half-hour passed, the euphoria of seeing her smile gave way to doubt. A fear churned in his gut. It had all come too late. His outburst on the grass had been all she needed to never look back. He imagined Hannah driving down to New Jersey to collect their daughter, to take her back to the cluster of houses in Enfield. The sun sank and a massive shadow from the building to the west crept over the truck. It had been more than an hour. The lampposts in the parking lot flickered on. If she didn’t come back by dark, Dennis would have no choice but to call Hannah.
And then, like a ghost, she seemed to materialize beside the passenger door. It would have frightened him if the warm light from the lamppost hadn’t illuminated
her face. Natalie swung the door open and stepped up into the truck without a word. Her earphones were on, but Dennis couldn’t hear any music. He started the truck, checked the rearview mirror, and carefully backed out of the parking space. Just as they merged onto the highway, Dennis noticed her slide the earphones down around her neck and reach toward the knob of the truck’s outdated stereo. She paused.
“Do you mind if I play some music?” she asked. “No,” he said. “Go ahead.”
Erica S. Arkin received her MFA in Creative Writing from Emerson College and teaches at Bentley University. Her work has appeared in The Chattahoochee Review and The Citron Review. She is currently working on a collection of linked short stories that map an American family’s struggle to reconcile its complex and often volatile Northern Irish heritage.