by Abigail Oswald
In the photograph, my father helms a ’67 robin’s egg-blue Camaro. Wind streams through hair always worn too long. Sunglasses tinted rose, stripes on his shirt. An arm slung across the shoulders of an empty passenger seat. Floor spangled with creased roadmaps and old cassette tapes. A neat fold of bills tucked into the glovebox, nestling the gun.
His grin cuts and I remember every word he said to me in those twelve months. Tales of a cross-country vault across America, dosed with danger. A handful of nights in a motel room streaked with moonlight. Buzz of the vacancy neon, gone before anyone could catch the color of his eyes. Making a pit stop at the Grand Canyon to kill a few hours. Calling me from every payphone, New York to California. The outlaw’s jaunt. None of it was real.
The bridge of some psychedelic rock song churns out of the car’s unreliable speakers. He only listens to music he already knows by heart. Still the sharp, piney scent of the air freshener spinning from his rearview. In a moment he’ll turn the key in the ignition. Drown out the closing riffs with the growl and rush of the engine. Cloud of exhaust, off to make another mistake. Somewhere in the distance, a phone rings.
Sitting up at night, lids slipping. Waiting for his call long after my mother had fallen asleep. Learning to pick up the first second of the first ring, before it woke her. This was freedom, he told me. Conditional, but he’d rather this than how it was. Sometimes after he hung up I’d imagine another timeline. The other possibility. Somewhere in the same small town of another universe was a girl with my name and my eyes, born to a hero. And here I was in this town, this universe—the next night, still, always. Tracing maps in the grain of the kitchen table and waiting for the outlaw to call.
A year after the jailbreak they found him. Not in Atlanta or Chicago or Phoenix, but the next town over. Old girlfriend’s apartment. Tight spiral of the phone cable coiled around his arm, imprinting jagged nowhere-routes into his skin. Telling me about breakfast in Nashville. Just three blocks from Graceland right now. The reality: huddled in a corner of the woman’s bedroom. A picture of me on the nightstand. Later they would catalog the mess of maps and travel brochures. For now they just looked. All the places he’d never been stacked around him in earmarked, disappointing little piles. A universe even smaller than my own.
After the second conviction I asked for all the books and maps. Paged through every one, recognizing all the things he’d described. Beauty laid down verbatim. Sharp purple peaks of mountains I’d never seen, somehow familiar. And tucked into Tennessee: my father in the driver’s seat of his beloved Camaro.
He could be the other girl’s father, if you squint. The girl with my name.
Abigail Oswald earned her MFA at Sarah Lawrence College and currently resides in Connecticut. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Cosmonauts Avenue, Firewords, Flash Fiction Magazine, The Harpoon Review, and elsewhere. You can find her online at abigailwashere.com.