A short story that appeared in my school’s literary magazine, The Chimes.
PopTarts and Marshmallows
It was a black 1995Chevrolet Monte Carlo: two-door with front-wheel drive capabilities. It was a trustworthy piece of metal that was flying off the road, and into the culvert channeling water beneath the embankment. There it landed, folding the front of the car like origami, though into nothing so graceful as a crane.
Shatter-proof glass flew infinitum, dusting the grass with bits of shine. The windshield’s mouth closed like a child’s stubbornness, and the car’s top fell into itself, making an uneven bowl like the underside of a mushroom.
The 39-year-old man in the driver’s seat had brows like two wooly caterpillars set low over his mud-water eyes, the pupils of which were currently contracted. The blood trickling down the side of his dark face ran to his jaw, dripping onto his right arm outstretched across his chest. The other arm reached over towards shotgun. Here sat a shivering girl, aged nine years.
Slowly, she lifted her wiry-haired head, bumping her father’s hand as she did so. “Daddy?” she whispered. He didn’t move. Her chubby fingers groped for the seat-belt, pressing the red release button. She pressed harder and began pulling on the strap. Finally, she slumped backwards, her shiny-pink marshmallow coat sighing as her back came in contact with the seat.
“I can’t get out, Daddy.” He said nothing. She looked over at him. It was hard to see in the dark of the Craven County night. His hand lay across her lap, and she took it, shaking his arm. She strained forward, reaching for his face. Constrained by her belt, she failed in this, and settled for poking his shoulder. And he sat there, still and silent. “I’m scared, Daddy.”
Wind like frozen razors seeped through the tears in rippled metal and clawed at Jordan’s hands, face, and coat. Shivering, she pulled into herself, clenching her eyes together and clutching her knees, though the pink marshmallow on her body hindered her.
She opened an eye and peered over her coat’s collar into the abyss under the dashboard. Bending forward as far as her seat restraint would allow her, she stretched her arm downward. Her head came into contact with the dashboard. Next she tried her legs. She pushed them forward, but stopped when a shot of pain flew up her right knee. Feeling with the toes of her left foot as best she could through the converse sneaker, they finally sunk into something soft. Teddy hadn’t been wearing a seatbelt.
With her foot she slid Teddy up and brought him to herself. Once in her arms, the bear shed a few bits of stuffing; he was an old thing with one eye and matted fur that was balding in some spots. He had suffered the minor injury of a small rip under his arm, out of which came the white fluff. “Hello, Teddy.” Jordan buried her face into his stomach. “It’s cold.”
Teddy was squeezed tight. The human bear-trap might have crushed his stomach had he been granted the privilege of being a real bear. The girl holding him prisoner turned her head occasionally in jerky motions, sometimes letting out a small moan, at others a sigh. Her eyes flickered in the ecstasy of dreams and opened to a barb of sunlight leaking in from outside. Her eyes, held half shut by the natural glue of sleep, adjusted themselves to the new lights that allowed her to see how close the dashboard now was to her legs, the one on the right bent at an skewed angle, and how her head barely cleared the roof, which had only been stopped from going down further by the back of her chair. And she saw Daddy.
At first she stared. She stared until something like steel-wool began to grow and spin from the middle of her ribs, scraping her heart and lungs until it finally pushed her mouth open. But nothing came out. She began to shiver again. Now she reached out her finger towards his face, towards the lolling of his mouth and the openness of his eyes. The appendage squished into the cold of his cheek, and, pulling away, she withdrew into her corner, ripping her eyes away and into the inner collar of the marshmallow. Gentle sniffs shook Teddy, trapped between her knees. He gazed forward, unsure what course should be taken, so he just stared, as stuffed bears so often do.
The shaking stopped, replaced by stillness interrupted by heavy breathing. Finally, Jordan’s eyes made a reappearance, gazing intently down and to her right. Daddy’s arm still touched her seat, and she had Teddy push the offending limb away. A throbbing compelled her to touch her head where she felt a large lump. After feeling this for a while and thoroughly tendering the rise, she tugged at the seatbelt that was chaffing her chin, pushing the chest-strap behind her. She tried to slip up and out, then down and through, both of which were impeded by the pain in her knee. She pulled, pushed, gnawed, scratched, and licked, but the braided polyester made no signs of letting her go.
Her eyes drifted to the steering-wheel, which now resembled a boomerang, but pulled her head in the other direction violently. What had once been the passenger-seat window had now twisted and crunched inside itself with the glass still in the frame. Jordan touched the once-window, hearing the crinkle. A piece of the glass fell into the depths of the cavern between seat and door, which had been bent from the force of the ground’s rendezvous with the roof, morphing the handle. This she tugged, and tugged again. It budged enough from its resting place to allow access to a pencil, but she gave up in the end. She reached back towards the door behind her, where the groceries from the day before lay in plastic bags which rustled as her arm brushed past them to the handle lying just out of reach.
Her arm collapsed onto the bags and rested there as she panted from the exertion. Pushing Teddy to her lap, she squeezed her stomach with her hand; its growling had interrupted the silence, startling her. Next thing, she turned again towards the back and groped the inside of the bag, grabbing hold of a box and pulling it to herself. The Pop Tarts tasted like blueberries, and they stuck in her throat; she swallowed hard, panting. The bags in the back seat rustled like the flurry of many birds as her hands explored their contents. As she searched, she leaned away from the Doesn’t-Exist who sat staring forward. She brought back a blue Gatorade, partially frozen from the night’s chill, and began to drink. She drank until the ice from the bottom hit the back of her throat, pinching her brain with frozen fingers. The empty silver wrapper and bottle she tossed on the floor, and sat staring at them where they lay. Teddy stared too.
“Teddy?” He didn’t move. “I have to go to the bathroom.” The bear offering no solution to this problem, Jordan again pulled the buckle. But in the seat she stayed, as would the problem, until it dried several hours later at least.
She hummed for a while, making up new songs or plagiarizing old ones. She kicked her leg, tried to see how far she could bend them up over her head before the pain started, scratched the plastic on the car door with her fingernail, told Teddy secrets, combed his fur with her fingers, and told him stories.
“Once there was—a—lizard. The lizard walked over a log and into a hole where his friends were giving a party for him. But he didn’t know about the party.” She looked at Teddy hard, tilting her head. “And the lizard got mad ‘cuz his friends didn’t make the right cake. So he said ‘you didn’t make the right cake’ and ran outta the log.” She put Teddy on her lap, looking up at the ceiling. And kicking her leg, she continued, “He was real mad, so his tail fell off when he ran and tripped. He fell into a hole, got stuck there for a few days and ate Gatorade and Pop Tarts.” She looked into the backseat of the car. “He got sick from eating those so much, so—he—went—and got up to walk back home, ‘cuz he got tired of being in the hole. But you can’t walk out of a hole…I guess.” Teddy wasn’t paying much attention. She squeezed him into her chest, shivering with the early winter night of North Carolina.
She had bundled herself into the marshmallow, squeezing her eyes shut against the cold. From somewhere above, the sound of people blowing raspberries came to her ears. But it couldn’t be raspberries. Her eyes moved beneath the lids, her brows coming together. She sat up suddenly and began screaming and yelling nothing in particular to no one of importance. But they would be important, if only the people in the passing car would hear her. Her voice cracked, her throat ached, and her eyes leaked. After she didn’t know how long, she stopped, but only because her voice wouldn’t yield anything higher than a squeak. She tilted her head, wiping the tears away as she did so. Wind whistled through metal-rips, plastic bags rustled against each other, and the car was gone. No other sound came through the holes to the outside. She would have cried, but she slumped in her seat and fell asleep from exhaustion instead.
When she woke again, it was still dark. Her back was stiff, her mouth was dry, her stomach was growling and her bladder called. The cold tugged at her coat, slapped her skin and choked her breathing. She looked to the left where the silhouette of the man sat in the seat next to her. “Daddy, I’m cold.” But he didn’t move and she remembered, shivering and pulling her head away, feeling the second meal of Pop Tarts from a few hours before creeping up her throat.
Again, Teddy lay on the floor where he had jumped from her lap, impatient. The meal just missed him on its way down, and Jordan retrieved him with her foot. Wiping her mouth on his back, she sighed, switching her position to face the wall away from the Something-or-Other.
The last packet of Pop Tarts lay crumpled in the cardboard box. Jordan smeared the stream of mucus from her nostrils further across her face with the marshmallow’s sleeve as she stared at the metallic trash. The other packets sat crumpled on the floor and in the lap of Teddy, who stared at the mess with his one eye disapprovingly. As for the Gatorade, five empty bottles lay on the floor by her feet. They had bought a six-pack. Reaching back, she ruffled through the three other bags: dishwashing detergent, sponges, zip-lock bags, hand-soap, and toilet-paper.
Jordan pressed the red-release button on the belt hard. Over and over she clicked it. She pulled and pushed. She tugged. Now she screamed, tearing the scabs in her throat from the previous attempt. Again she tried to slip out of the constraining harness before having to catch Teddy, who was slipping off her lap with her movements. She pulled him to her as a drop of water seeped from her tear-duct. It rolled down the side of her dark face and ran to her jaw, dripping onto her right arm which was outstretched across her chest and clutching Teddy towards the window.
The evening peered through the rips in the side of the metal and pierced the girl with the dying sun’s light. Jordan turned her water-lined face towards the driver’s seat. Daddy hadn’t moved, except for his arm, which lay next to his leg. She sidled slowly to the left, leaning over once she ran out of seat space, and placed the bear on his lap. Teddy couldn’t help her anymore. She took Daddy’s hand and leaned back in her seat, his arm crossed over her faded-pink-marshmallow-coated chest. The cold of his hand sucked the warmth from her own, and as she sat there, staring with eyes as open as Teddy and Daddy’s, she let out a whimper.
A muffled yell came through the wall-holes and sat heavily in her ear. Jumping in recognition of another human voice, she moved closer to the nearest hole, still clutching Daddy’s hand, and peered out. No sooner had she put her eye to the opening when the hole was blocked by a person. A person standing outside the wreck.
The car began to rock from side-to-side, the passenger-side door groaning like a tired man waking from a bad night’s sleep. Jordan sat, clutching her chair and Daddy’s limp hand while the sway knocked bits of glass from the windshield and rear-view mirror. Once the movement stopped, she heard a sigh and the sloshing of water. Her ears hungered for more noise but were left unsatisfied.
Jordan stared at the door, her body still except for the throbbing of a pulse in her neck. Her left hand still held onto Daddy’s, but she held it loosely now. The door didn’t move until she heard the water again. This time it splashed violently like a hundred buckets of rice being shaken onto a tin roof. Many voices spoke, some men and some women. But they were getting closer, as was the splashing.
She sat back and heard the grating sound of metal against metal, and the groaning of the door as a pressure was applied which finally ripped it from the hinges. The two men wielding crow-bars looked inside the car at the little girl staring at them with wide eyes, then to the corpse of the man beside her whose hand lie across her chest.
“It’s okay, Honey,” a woman crooned, bending over into the newly-made opening. “We’re going to get you out of here. My name is Kate.”
Jordan nodded her head. “The seat-belt’s stuck,” she said.
“Okay, Sweetie. What’s your name?”
“All right, Jordan.” the woman turned around quickly, beckoning out of Jordan’s sight. Turning back, she continued. “We’re going to get you out of here. We’re going to need you to hold still.”
“Okay,” Jordan agreed. “I did that before pretty good.”
Kate smiled and made room for a man in blue, who held a small saw. “I’m going to help you, okay Jordan,” the man said. “I’m not going to hurt you.”
“I know.” Jordan picked up the belt strap against her chest and held it out towards him, dropping Daddy’s hand as she did so. The blue man took it and began to saw as the girl sat and watched. Once free, Jordan started to slide out, but stopped and looked at the man instead. “I think somethin’s wrong with my leg.”
“Don’t you worry about a thing.” He put his elbow on his bent knee as he stopped to look her in the eye. “Just don’t move too much and we’ll fix you right up. Have you ever ridden in a helicopter?”
She shook her head and he continued, “It’ll be fun. And you’ll be able to see your mommy real soon, okay?”
“I hope she didn’t worry too much.”
“She’s just fine. And you will be too.”
A loud whir filled the air above the car, and the water rippled from the force of an artificial hurricane. Shortly, two men came around the side of the car with a stretcher, lifting the girl out of the car. Jordan winced a few times, but she made no noise. Instead, she told Kate, who was walking next to her, about how she had eaten Pop Tarts and drunk Gatorade for the past two days. As they loaded her into the helicopter, the woman smiled and patted her on the shoulder. “Don’t be afraid. It’ll get pretty high, but you’re safe now. There’s nothing to worry about.”
“I know. I’m not afraid.”
“Do you want me to get your bear for you?”
“No. I don’t need ‘im.”
Kate stepped back, and the helicopter blades chose a new tone, anticipating departure. Jordan would be airlifted to the Pitt County Memorial Hospital. As the chopper flew up, she looked back, where Teddy and Daddy lay smiling beneath 3,000 pounds of metal.