I Just Need a Minute—Caitlin Peck
I looked into the car mirror to see behind me, but all I saw was myself. Instantaneous and so sudden and brief, I didn’t even really know I was doing it. I felt my heartbeat thud, pause, take my breath away, and then palpitate in rhythm with that image burned into my mind. It was overtly cosmic, timed to the only moment in miles I had gone beneath an overarching streetlight. It lingered as I lightened my hold on the gas, feeling unsure of what speed to go and even less aware of what speed I was going. I felt like I had just awkwardly and unintentionally locked eyes with a stranger on a crowded city street, in a way that made me feel slightly violated—but I was Alaska bound.
I think back to that first night outside Pittsburgh, edging toward Ohio, and how I wasted so much money on a hotel when it wasn’t that cold. But even the most wretched of motels can become like a home to me, my own space and silence. I lay on the overly starchy and yet worn comforter and stared at my new ID—Margo Hammons of Sustenedge, Alaska. It was such a simple name, sure to slip past any guesswork, like someone you went to high school with but couldn’t remember his or her face.
As the clouds were breaking to let in a taste of late evening sun after an ugly day, I walked across the motel parking lot to a Chili’s where a group of truckers were sitting at the barand struck up a conversation that eventually involved all five. We stayed late into the night, past legal hours. A younger one was telling me of the puppies he had in the back of his trailer, urging me to go see them. It sounded like something Margo might do, but when he left, everyone turned to me concerned and advocated strongly against it. I’ve met a lot of derelicts by now, but learned that night that if you’re ever in doubt, trust a trucker. They will usually steer you right and most have good souls.
Drunk at the motel, I could only remember the text. I’d sent it carefully concocted, not known for my spelling or correcting of content. Any digital forensic analyst would have noticed the pronounced capitalization, which I never used. Find me in 2020, AK?
Finally alone, I was no longer me but she. I repeated it several times to center myself and bring me hope: Margo, Margo . . . But there was one person both she and I both wanted—out there—to know I was all right. That Margo would be okay. That I’d made it—but I was I no longer. Look at the damn text, I thought when I went over it in my mind. My plan was in plain sight, he had to know. Or it would startle him someday, in his sleep most likely, and the one person she wanted to be found by might come looking. She forgot—did he like puzzles?