Word Count 500
Seventeen Miles to Reseda
By Sam McManus
The highway was long, from Long Beach, down to Reseda, and beyond, snaking like tendrils in two different directions, one through the desert and the other through patches of civilization, but both packed with cars. If you peered long enough out the back window it wasn’t hard to make out twin trails of dust left by the kismet meeting of rubber and road, the space between filled with so much overused exhaust, the leftover air from the lungs of giants.
With the windows open, the younger Knapp children pretended they could see the forever hinted at by the horizon. Their sallow faces and outstretched hands were pressed against the wind like mimes trying to test the tensile strength of their imaginary box.
Jimmy was the youngest, a boy of only seven, but he was always the first to accept a challenge. If someone told Jimmy he couldn’t do something he had already done it by the time they finished speaking. This was sometimes good, but it frequently got him into a wealth of trouble. He always sat on the backseat passenger side and sometimes kicked the back of the chair when bored. It never went over well with his mother, who generally sat in front of him.
They were stair step children, one born after the other, generally in the dry season, often in November, as if conceived on Valentine’s Days in consecutive years. The middle child, Jennifer, was the spitting image of their mother, except in miniature. She always sat on the hump. She liked to spit when the adults weren’t looking, which made Jimmy gag, but she just laughed and kept it up. Jerry never laughed, though. He was indifferent to much of what his younger siblings did, and at nine he was above the fray. He had seen and heard it all, and their antics often bored him. Jerry sat on the driver’s side and never kicked the seat in respect for his father, who generally sat in front of him.
Jenny often slid right next to her younger brother when the window was open, pretending they were dogs, or mimes, trying to attract the attention of passing cars and trucks, their own challenge on the way from Long Beach down to Reseda where their grandmother lived in a bubble gum pink retirement community that called itself Ocean View Paradise. It was nowhere near the ocean, there was no view, and from what Jerry could see, no one would call it a paradise. He figured they could lie as much as they wanted. He figured many people had been duped over the years. He would never end up there.
An eighteen-wheeler rumbled past, disturbing the wall of air that had been the children’s box. The driver tooted his horn, as if in apology for breaking up the tableau the children had set up. Jennifer spit out the window before her mother yelled at her to stick her head back in. It was seventeen more miles until Reseda.