Academic journal article Chicago Review

Barefoot on the Ohio Turnpike

Academic journal article Chicago Review

Barefoot on the Ohio Turnpike

Article excerpt

Hunger strikes in the middle of Ohio, but my father waits for the Mobil sign before pulling off the turnpike. He drives past the deserted rest area and parks on the self-serve side of the Mobil island. "Fill it with Super," he says automatically as he pulls himself out from behind the oversized steering wheel. I stare through the window at his bare arms, the left one already three shades darker than the right, only then noticing that the sun has done the reverse to me. I withdraw my right arm from the window and admire the color.

"Full serve is on the other side," Jess points to the sign from the back seat. It's not a mistake that he's on the self-serve side, but she doesn't know this, doesn't know him after only three days in the car.

He doesn't follow her finger, but I do as I open the car door and drop my bare feet onto the oil-stained cement. I cross behind the station wagon that's filled with half our home and grab the pump.

"I'll do it." I do not look at him, but I hear my father snap the credit card onto the roof of the car and walk away. His sandals scrape against the cracked pavement as he heads toward the Hardees. I think about following him and using the bathroom, but it's not worth the search for my shoes. Looking down at my bare feet, I notice that they are already as thick and brown as the moccasins lost in the car, but they still aren't ready to run on gravel or sneak through cornfieldsa requirement for the Minnesota summer that lies ahead. I glance at Jess's small white feet sticking out of the window and guess that they aren't tough enough to take blacktop, let alone an entire summer in the country.

"Should I go with him?" Jess doesn't move, but points after him. I used to think she loved movement and that's why she pointed a lot, but she's just lazy. She points so she doesn't have to move.

"He knows what we want." I stare at the numbers jerking by and start to think that gas in Ohio is pretty cheap until I realize I'm reading the gallons.

"But yesterday he forgot my Diet Coke."

"He didn't forget. He promised my mom we'd drink water and go to supermarkets instead of eating fast food the whole trip."

"But y'all haven't even driven by a supermarket." Confusion seems to bring out her southern drawl.

"That's why he's sticking to the water thing." I don't believe anything I'm saying but I have already figured out that lying is the easiest way to deal with my cousin.

By this time she's frustrated and lights a cigarette she took from her tampon box-one of the few things my father didn't go through when he was collecting her stash. He told her father, my mother's brother Renny, that she'd be nicotine-free by the time we got to the Lake-another promise he wasn't keeping, although he couldn't possibly have known.

The handle pops out of my grip at $13.66, but I tap until $14.00 appears and watch the gas run down the side of the car. I breathe and smell Ohio in the gasoline and cigarette smoke. Tightening the cap, I watch Jess take long drags on her Camel Lights as she stands on the island, rolling on her tender feet from heel to toe. She usually gets Marlboro hard pack but the machine at the Motel 6 last night was out. Her mouth is open, and I stare at the gap between her two front teeth. My father offered to pay for braces, but Jess didn't want to lose her whistle or the ability to shoot water over two parked cars, a trick she picked up in Roanoke but has been perfecting at rest stops along the way.

We are both surprised to see my father cutting through the wood chips that line the Hardees entrance with a bag under each arm and a triangle of drinks. Jess drops the half-smoked cigarette without looking away from him, but my eyes dart to the puddle of gas that has collected near the back tire before swimming towards my bare foot. I take one step to the right and stand on the burning embers as my father hands us each a sweating cup. …

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