July 11, 1958
Howard’s hand reached for the car radio dial and filled the cabin with static noise before landing on a clear station. He turned the volume up after realizing he could still hear the bunch of stringed cans rattling against the pavement behind him. He then started ripping his bow tie off bit by bit to relieve the unbearable pressure it put on his jugular. The struggle seemed infantile as he turned his attention to his wife.
Mae sat in the passenger seat, leaning back to make room for her pregnant belly. In all those years that she dreamed of her wedding she never imagined her dress being a maternity fit. She also never imagined being a wanted criminal for marrying a white man.
“How long do we have to drive?” Mae asked. Her voice was shaky and weak like she had just broken a long vow of silence. Howard’s eyes remained focused on the unfolding road ahead of him. Corn fields surrounded him on both sides and were so tall that he couldn’t see the tops of them from the low vantage of their Ford Anglia. The headlights gave him but twenty feet of sight in what looked like an endless tunnel. The only road for miles was a straight shot, yet in the moonless night it was a hard drive.
“Can’t slow down for a while yet,” he said, trying his best to sound reassuring. They had only been on the run for fifteen minutes and somehow it felt like a cross country trip. Mae’s hands were resting on her belly waiting for the occasional kick, but the distraction lost its effect and their situation fully sank in. The tears swelling up in her eyes spilled over like condensation on a glass of water that could no longer defy gravity.
“Why did we go through with it, Howard?” Mae asked, her head dropping to her hands. “God, we knew this could happen, but we did it anyway… like we were something special! Why didn’t we just keep to ourselves?”
The sound of a drowning Mae gasping for breath shocked Howard out of autopilot. He looked at her and remembered gazing at her just hours before when they were pronounced man and wife. Her brown eyes had a depth to them that he could fall into and happily remain. No matter who or how anyone would look upon them from that day on, he knew that looking at her was all he needed. Then the church doors burst open and the sheriff called out their names.
Howard’s attention returned to the car and it occurred to him that they didn’t get to kiss before they escaped the church. He reached out to her cheek and wiped a tear away, his pale hand contrasting against her black skin. Howard leaned forward, his hand still on her cheek in comfort, until he felt her press back into him, and their lips came together.
Red light painted the interior of the car without warning. Howard and Mae turned around, their lips now feeling dry as if the damning light had sent them to a place where water was a myth. The police car was gaining on them and its siren was ringing higher in their ears with each passing second.
“Howard, do something!” Mae yelled, her voice both desperate and filled with maternal protection. Howard’s hands began to sweat as he realized what he had to do. He turned off the headlights, hiding their car in night. The inertia of the moving vehicle became more apparent as visions of the asphalt below flashed into Howard’s mind, shredding them to bits. Mae felt the heart beat of their child growing more rapid with her own as she embraced those final seconds in all their slow torture.
Howard took a deep breath and with one swift movement his hands turned the wheel ninety degrees into the corn.
This story started out for me as a writing exercise from Neil Gaiman’s MasterClass, and evolved into something more. BLM