A Family Road Trip

by Thom Whalen


“Where are we going, Daddy?” Angelica whined for the tenth time since leaving.

“Hush, dear. Don’t bother your father when he’s trying to drive,” Pamela said, also for the tenth time since leaving.

Everyone sat quietly for the next few minutes, listening to the hum of the tires on the road, watching trees flit past, the low sun flickering between the trunks. This time Pamela who broke the silence. “We’ve been driving for hours, Roger. I think it’s time that you told us your big surprise. Where are we going?”

Roger kept his eyes on the road while he said, gaily, “We’re going…” he paused for dramatic effect “…on vacation!”

Angelica groaned. “We know that. You told us that when we got in the car. Where are we going? That’s what Mommy was asking. “Where are we going on vacation?”

“We’re going this way.” Roger nodded at the road ahead. “We’re following the road. Unless you think I should go that way.” He pointed at the forest. “You think we should go that way? Right into the trees?” Suddenly he whipped the wheel back and forth, making the car lurch onto the paved shoulder, then skid back onto the road.

Angelica shrieked and Pamela gasped and grabbed at the dashboard.

“Is that what you think? You think we should just drive into the trees?”

“No, daddy! No!” Angelica began to cry.

“I didn’t think so. So I guess well just keep going this way.” He nodded toward the road ahead again. “Is that all right with you?”

Angelica was silent in the back seat.

“What about it, Pam? Is that all right with you that we just stay on the road?”

“Yes, dear. It’s all right.”

“Okay, then.” And that was the last words spoken in the car for some time.

Long after Angelica’s sobs had faded, she said, in a quiet, fearful voice, “Mommy. I need a bathroom.”

Roger acted as though he had not heard, so Pamela relayed the message, “Angelica needs a bathroom.”

Roger clenched his teeth. “There’s no bathroom here. She’ll just have to hold it.”

Pamela looked across at her husband, “I have to go, too.”

“Then you’ll both have to hold it together.”

After another few minutes, Angelica began to whimper. “I’ve been holding it for a long time. I really have to go. I can’t wait.” She drummed her feet against the floor.

“You can wait,” Roger said, flatly. “You’re not a baby.”

“But I’m going to have to go on the seat.”

“You do and you’ll regret it. I promise you that. You’ll regret it for a long, long time.”

Pamela intervened, “She can’t hold it forever, Roger. It’s biology. After a certain point there’s nothing that she can do about it.”

Roger mulled this over for several long minutes, then, without warning, whipped the car over to the shoulder and slammed on the brakes. The car juddered and ground to a stop. “Okay. Go. One at a time. Angelica, you go first because you asked first.”

“Thank-you, Daddy,” Angelica shouted and threw her door open.

“You stay in sight. Don’t go into the trees.”

“But then you’ll see me.”

“I won’t watch. I’ll be busy talking to your mother.”

“You can talk and watch at the same time.”

“Get going or I’m going to start driving again.”

“Yes, Daddy,” she said and sprang out of the car. Instead of walking away, she crouched down by the passenger door, out of sight of the adults inside.

Pamela spoke quietly, aware that her daughter could hear her, but needing to talk anyway. “She’s not having much fun. Vacations are supposed to be fun and this isn’t. Why won’t you tell us where we are going?”

“It’s a surprise. Surprises are fun so I’m going to surprise you.”

“You can tell me. I won’t tell her and she can still be surprised.”

“No. You’re both going to be surprised and you’ll both have fun.” Roger spoke with a tone of finality that brooked no further argument.

Angelica climbed back into the car. “I’m all done. Thank-you, Daddy.”

“It’s Mommy’s turn now. You stay in here with me and Mommy will be back in a minute.” Though he was speaking to the child, Pamela knew that his message was meant for her. As though she would run anywhere in this wilderness.

She had to step over Angelica’s puddle when she got out of the car – a long step because it was a big puddle. “If you pull forward a couple of feet, it’ll be easier for me to get back in the car,” she commented before walking toward the trees.

“Don’t you have to go, too?” Angelica asked as soon as her mother was out of sight.

“No,” Roger lied. “I don’t drink coffee like your mother.” Which was true, but did not exempt him from nature’s necessities.

“Mommy shouldn’t drink coffee either,” Angelica replied. “It’s a sin.”

“That’s what they say, but some sins are not as important as others. Do you understand that?”

“No,” Angelica replied with the innocence of her age. “We shouldn’t do any sins. That’s what Reverend Paul says in Sunday School. He said that there are no small sins in God’s eyes.”

“Maybe Reverend Paul doesn’t know everything that God is thinking.”

“Yes he does. He’s a reverend so God talks to him.” Angelica spoke with the authority of someone too young to know that another opinion might be possible.  “That’s what he says.”

If Roger had any response, he kept it to himself; Pamela had emerged from the bush, rearranging her skirt as she walked toward the car. He remembered her last words and let the car roll forward a few feet to save her from having to step over Angelica’s puddle again.

As soon as they were back on the road, Angelica announced, in her best tattle-tale voice, “Daddy said that Reverend Paul doesn’t talk to God.”

Pamela fixed her husband with a steely stare. “Daddy didn’t mean that. He knows that Reverend Paul is a good man who prays to God every day.”

Roger did not reply, he just pressed the pedal down a little harder and added another fifteen kilometers per hour to their speed.

“You’re driving too fast, dear,” Pamela said.

He pushed the speedometer needle up another five kilometers per hour.

“The police will stop you.”

“They’ll just give me a ticket,” he replied, maintaining his speed. “That’s all they’ll do. Just give me a ticket.”

She did not deign to argue the point further and he kept speeding for another ten minutes, taking his chances, just to prove that he was not affected by anything that she said. Then, gradually, he let the needle fall back to where the police would ignore him. He hoped that Pamela had not noticed, but a when he cast a furtive glance at her, he saw a smug look on her face, even though she continued to stare straight ahead.

“I’m hungry,” Angelica whined from the back seat.

“There’s a box of crackers in the bag. Eat some of those.”

She pawed at the bag, then said, “I don’t like those crackers. They taste funny.”

“You haven’t tried them.”

“I tried them last year. They tasted funny last year.”

“These are different crackers from the ones that I bought last year.” In truth, Roger had no memory of buying crackers a year ago, so he had no idea if these were different or not. “Anyway, it doesn’t matter. Those are all the crackers that we have, so either you eat them or you be hungry.”

“I don’t want to eat them.”

“Then be hungry.”

“I don’t want to be hungry.”

“Then eat the crackers. It’s up to you.”

“I want something else. You can stop and buy something else.”

Once again, Pamela intervened. “There are no stores here, dear. Just try the crackers. We’ll get something else later when we find some stores.”

The only sound for the next few kilometers was crunching from the back seat. Then Angelica said, “I’m thirsty.”

“Get a juice box out of the bag,” Roger said. “Just one otherwise you’ll have to pee again.”

A minute later, “I spilled the juice on my front.”

“It’ll dry.”

“There’s cracker crumbs all over me.”

“You should have eaten more carefully.”

“They itch. They fell inside my shirt.”

“Shake them out.”

“I can’t. They’re stuck to the juice that I spilled.”

“Well, there’s nothing that I can do about that, is there?” Roger snapped, no longer able to pretend that he had any patience.

“It itches,” she whined again.

He ignored her. Pamela was too wise to get herself involved in this debate and kept quiet.

“I don’t like being itchy,” Angelica whined one last time. “Sticky and itchy.” Then, when she got no response, fell silent again.

No one spoke for a long time. The road hummed under the tires, the wind whistled quietly over the windshield, the engine purred the kilometers away. Eventually Pamela turned and looked over her shoulder at her daughter. “She’s asleep,” she said to Roger.

“I’m not surprised. She was up early.”

“You got us all up early.” Pamela looked at him for a long minute. “It won’t work, you know. You can’t kidnap us forever.”

“She’s not going to marry him. I won’t let that happen.”

“Reverend Paul’s a good man. He’s a godly man.”

“He’s an old man. Too old to be her husband. And he’s already got more wives than any man needs.”

“It’s God’s will that he has many wives. And that Angelica is to be one of them.”

“She’s just a child.”

“Well, he’s not going to marry her right away. Not for years. Five years at least.”

“Maybe less than that. He likes young girls. Francis was only twelve when he married her.”

“She was old for her age. I’m sure that he’ll wait until Angelica is at least thirteen. Maybe fourteen.”

“It’s never going to happen.”

“You can’t take sides against God, Roger. It’s not right.” There was not the slightest hint of doubt in Pamela’s voice.

“I’m not against God. I’m against Paul and David and Luke. They aren’t God’s chosen. They’re just a bunch of men taking advantage of us.”

“You didn’t think that they were taking advantage when they told me that I had to marry you. You liked that well enough.”

“They are just a bunch of those sick old perverts,” Roger persisted, ignoring her jab.

“Don’t you dare say that, Roger Fletcher. Don’t you dare disrespect the men that God chose to be his prophets. You disrespect them and you disrespect God and I’ll not listen to any man disrespect God.” She spoke with the anger of the Lord in her voice.

“My daughter will not marry Paul nor any of his ilk. Not now and not five years from now and not ever. You will respect me in this. I am your husband and her father.” He spoke with equal anger in his voice.

“My duty to God is greater than my duty to you. Your authority ends when you tell me to sin against God.”

Roger had no reply to that but to keep driving.

After a long time, Pamela tried another approach. “Where do you think that you’re going to go, anyway? We have no home but our home. You have no job. No skills. You don’t even have a high school diploma. What do you think you’re going to do to keep us alive?”

“I’ve saved some money. Almost a thousand dollars. That will get us started. And I’ll take any kind of work that I can get. I can work in construction. I built most of our house myself.”

“You’ve hidden a thousand dollars from me?” Pamela was shocked. “You’ve been planning this for a long time, haven’t you?”

“Ever since I saw Reverend Paul staring at my daughter. He was drooling. Nausea is a fine motivator.”

“You know that I’m going to take her back as soon as I can, don’t you. As soon as I can get to a phone, I’ll call for help. There’s nothing you can do about that.”

“Call if you want. What do you think they’re going to do? Follow us all the way to Halifax and kidnap her back. Not likely. Even Reverend Paul doesn’t want her that badly.”

“Is that where you’re taking us? Halifax?”

“Maybe. Maybe New Brunswick. Maybe Newfoundland. Who knows where we’ll end up?”

“Well, some day, I’ll have enough money for a bus ticket and then you’ll never see me or Angelica again.”

“We’ll talk about that when that day comes.”

Angelica stirred in the back seat. In a sleepy voice, she asked, “Where are we going, Daddy?” for the eleventh time.

“On vacation,” he replied for the eleventh time.