It’s dark and this is Ohio and we are alone, you and me and oil-movers and tubs of melt-rock rotating. We’re not going to the same place or we are. You pass tankers and I slip behind you. You leave me enough space always. You’re from Illinois, I’m in limbo. You drive fast when you’re in front but you slow down just in time. I keep your speed and we are never caught. I’m not so bold to speed for you but if I could I would. I wouldn’t let them pass you, ever. We flash light-secrets, red and white. We hold our eyes above gauges bouncing against exposed nerves. How much gas do you have and do I have the same amount. I’m thirsty but if I stop will you stop and do I want you to stop. I don’t think I’m ready for that. Getting a drink now means having to pee later and that’s just more figuring-out, more work. Why not enjoy a good thing. You slow down and I take the front. There are ways to be and ways that we are. I’m not speeding and you’re here. At tolls we use separate lanes. We don’t need each other. I don’t need you. You know that don’t you. This could end at any time. Any of these exits could be the exit. You take the lead again and I fight to keep up. We’ve never gone this fast and your taillights disappear. Is this you letting go or is it me giving up. I slam my foot down, prove it to you. Lightning splits the sky and I remember: there are highs and lows and lows feel like endings.
We ride it out and scan through stations. We settle on slow songs and slide below sixty. We imagine roads with no exits and our skins dot and rise. I am next to you for how much time. We share the center lane held tight between tankers. I’m in the lead, warm in your headlights. I want to see you in mine. The trucks fade ahead and I slow down but you don’t pass me, please take the lead. We take our own lanes then fall into blind spots, losing headlight and tail. There are hills, I think, except this is Ohio and there are no hills in photos of Ohio. Of course it’s dark and I don’t know what I see. At night hills could be tree-lines or power plants, uneven pavement or sourgut. I remember: lows feel like endings. Our gauges bounce and Ohio is long like it is dark. We need gas don’t we. There’s gas at the next exit, go. I won’t follow. I’ll drive slowly, you’ll catch up. Can you hear me this is important you missed the exit and if this is you trying to be generous please flash twice. Your taillights shrink and the radio is static. I think it’s getting light outside, the engine stutters. Will you wait for me or do you want Ohio to end.
Nikki Levine lives and writes in Portland, OR. Her work appears in Joyland, Words Apart, and the anthology Without a Net: The Female Experience of Growing Up Working Class. She has an MFA from Portland State University.