By Elizabeth Morse
Diana was getting a headache and hoped it wasn’t a migraine. Sometimes, it helped to stare straight ahead through the windshield. Less nausea that way. When she had these, her hand would suddenly look big and then tiny. Sometimes she lost track of time. Her neurologist called this Alice-in-Wonderland syndrome.
She and Ben had started out before dawn to get to the house upstate. She’d napped until they’d gotten on the thruway. That was when the headache started.
Suddenly, she realized that he was slowing down. Was there an accident ahead? She looked for the usual red and blue lights, but there weren’t any. Some of the other cars were passing them, so it wouldn’t be that.
“Why are you slowing down?” she asked.
“Well,” he said, “you’ve told me you’re uncomfortable when I speed. I thought about what you said, and I’ve decided to slow down. No reason to go over sixty-five.”
Ben had never done or said anything like this. In the mirror, she caught a glimpse of herself raising an eyebrow but said nothing. He rarely listened to her, and certainly not about his driving. Usually, he was passing most of the other cars and giving the finger to those whose bumper stickers disagreed with his political views.
There was a sign for a rest area up ahead. “Want to stop for breakfast?” Ben asked.
“Sure.” It was still the crack of dawn, and she hadn’t gotten enough sleep. But food would be welcome.
In the parking lot, he pulled up close to a diner. “Rock star parking,” he said, stepping out. He always said this. But the other behavior was totally unusual. He wasn’t losing his mind, and neither was she, although from his driving and his comments it was starting to seem that way.
He was sturdy like an oak as he walked next to her. Maybe his changed behavior meant he was becoming grounded, maturing even as a middle-aged adult. Maybe he was spending time outdoors with trees and flowers. Could he be seeing a therapist? That wasn’t something he’d ever do, but sometimes, people surprised you. Maybe he’d even started taking yoga.
Inside the diner, they grabbed a booth. The server, a lithe man in his twenties with round glasses, poured them both coffee.
Ben picked up the menu. He’d want to split something, no doubt. She’d learned to be wary before agreeing. The dish would have to be something she liked.
“I’m going to have two eggs over easy with rye toast,” he said, and stopped there, glancing at her.
The server stopped writing and glanced at both of them.
No advice for what she should be eating? She didn’t want to bicker with him the way she usually did, though sometimes it seemed inevitable. He said nothing. This is what would happen in an ideal world.
“I’ll have the oatmeal,” she said, glancing down at her oversized hand. “And a small glass of orange juice.”
The server took down the rest of the order and left.
Now Ben was going to say how squishy and dismal all hot cereals were. Like baby food. After he’d said that once, she’d never ordered oatmeal again.
She waited. He only smiled and offered her the book review section of his Times and took the business section for himself. Finally, he’d offered her a section that she actually liked. He’d never given her this one before. They read quietly until the food arrived. He didn’t interrupt with rants about the news. Bliss. Whatever had brought this on?
As she ate her oatmeal, he made no comments. Her headache was gone, but she still had a strange, dreamy feeling.
“Food’s pretty good here.” He smiled.
“Yes, it certainly is.” At least he still wasn’t saying anything about the oatmeal.
“Think of a movie you want to see tonight. I’ll give you the listings when we get to the house.”
All of this was too good to be true. He chose the movies.
He paid the check and they stepped into the parking lot. As soon as he started the car, would he be back driving eighty? Could they at least avoid being stopped by a state trooper?
They got in and he pulled out slowly. She couldn’t believe her good luck.
“You seem so calm,” she said, not being able to think of another word for it. “Have you been meditating?”
“I started. Someone from work suggested it. I worked up to twenty minutes.” He brushed the hair out of his eyes and continued at a steady pace toward the Thruway.
“I’m glad you’ve given up speeding,” she commented.
He smiled mysteriously, like the Cheshire Cat.
She closed her eyes. Even with the coffee, she felt totally relaxed, though her hand looked awfully small.
When she looked, they were tearing up the highway. They were passing other cars. Yes, he was going eighty.
“Ben, I thought you weren’t going to drive like this anymore,” she said, looking down at her hands, which were now normal sized.
“What?” He turned toward her.
“Keep your eyes on the road!”
“I am!” he said, turning his head toward the windshield.
“You said you weren’t going to speed!”
“When did I ever say that?”
“Earlier,” she ventured, cautiously. “Before we got to the restaurant.”
“I never said that!”
“Yes, you did!”
“You must have dreamt it,” he said.
Anything was possible. Trees sped by outside the window, departing rapidly. A solid ribbon of road stretched out ahead.
It had just been so beautiful when he had seemed more level-headed and kinder. Dream or reality, she loved those moments, even if it meant going down the rabbit hole.
Elizabeth Morse’s work has been published in literary magazines such as South Shore Review, The Raven’s Perch, and Bright Flash Literary Review. Her poetry chapbook “The Color Between the Hours,” is forthcoming from Finishing Line Press in late 2023. She has her MFA from Brooklyn College and supports her writing with a job in information technology.