MILEPOST 62

By John Thomas Tuft

It is just a road. Appears over there and goes beyond over in the other direction. Each mile is marked by a milepost. This is the story of milepost 62. It was driven into the ground some eighty-eight years ago, and still it stands. A silent witness to the passing of time, weather, seasons, some livestock, and of course vehicles. Vehicles with people inside of them. And with people come stories. Which is where a storyteller comes in…

A small sports car pulls off the road at milepost 62. GPS is a dream of some science fiction writers and Popular Mechanics ‘in the future’ enthusiasts. A young man slumps back against the driver’s seat and scratches his head, checks his watch. Discharged from the Navy, he put his savings into this roadster convertible. After all, you only live once. She wrote to him once a week during his deployment. He wrote back maybe once a month. She was attending the university in the big city, out on the town with her friends when they met. He saw her and asked her to dance. She had big dreams and he just wanted to know what it would be like to kiss her. In the week before he shipped out, they spent as much time together as they could. He is back and she now lives in a small town. He hasn’t heard from her for a month. He pulls out a map and traces a route with his finger, checking the return address on her last letter one more time. Hopefully she likes surprises because he is back early. Hopefully there is still hope. He crushes the map onto the seat next to him, guns the engine, and takes off.

The minivan arrives at the side of the road with a lurch, dark smoke, and a distress call. “Mommy, I gotta go peeeee!!!” A harried woman hurries out of the driver’s side, rushes around to the side door and tugs it open. The car seats in the back hold different aged progeny. The five-year-old girl with red hair has already unfastened herself and slides down with a pout of exasperation. “Now what? You don’t expect me to just do it?!” The mother sighs and grabs the plastic potty chair off the pile of laundry and toys in the back and sets it beside the milepost. “Daddy would never make me go out here like this.” Her four-year-old brother contributes, “He’d tell you to hold it and give you candy if you did.” Mom sighs again and points to the potty chair. “Well, Daddy is not here right now, so either go now or sit in wet clothes all the way home.” The red haired girl finally obliges with a last, defiant, “Daddy wouldn’t take this road anyway.” Mom takes a long longing look back in the direction she just came. Hopefully there is still hope. Empties the plastic chair, and in a cloud of burning oil, they resume the journey.

The shiny new coupe rolls to a stop just beyond the milepost. It is night. The woman behind the wheel sits rigidly, knuckles turning white on the steering wheel. She blinks slowly. Once. Twice. With a jerk on the handle, she is out of the car, bent over gasping. Of course, the lying bastard bought her a new car. He felt guilty. She stumbles to the front of the car, leans hard against it and stares up at the stars. With the rising bile of betrayal and fear, she screams at the top of her lungs the penitent’s most honest petition: “Goddamnit! Goddamnit! Why? Why me?! TELLLL MEEEE, PLEASE…please.” She crumples to a heap on the dirt and stones, unmindful of them as her tears flow unimpeded in great wrenching sobs. Finally, she rouses herself. What happens to hope? Who steals it away, she wonders, before getting back in and slowly driving away into the night.

The coupe is several years older, a bit worse for wear. The two teenagers in the car are listening to music when they pull over in front of milepost 62. “Hey, this looks familiar,” says the girl with the red hair. “I think Mom used to bring us this way,” says the boy. “Well, Dad was no big help,” says the girl. “I think he’s trying,” says her brother. “Hopefully there’s hope for them yet.” The girl laughs. “You’re such an optimist, you little dweeb!” They sit for a moment in the glory of youth. “Oh, turn it up,” says the girl. “This is my song…” He pumps it up and without looking, pulls back onto the road…

The police cruiser, lights flashing, pulls up. The officer checks the milepost and notes it for his report. Keys his mike, “I’m at the scene. Milepost 62. Fire and rescue are out here but it looks like there’s two DOA. Kids.” Sighs. “About the ages of my two.” A fireman comes from the burning wreckage and hands him two wallets. He pulls out the id, notes the ages and address. Brother and sister. Damn. Keys the mike. “I’m going to make the notification now.” He turns off his flashing lights, pulls around the accident and heads back the way he came.

The old pickup wheezes to a stop. The old couple look tired, worn and weary. The man says, “I stopped here on my way to find you again.” “That’s a long time ago,” the woman says and then falls silent, her eyes fixed on the milepost. “Is there hope?” she whispers. He gives her hand a squeeze, climbs out and limps over to her door. He opens it and helps her out of the truck. “Maybe that’s up to us,” he offers as he leads her past the milepost and the two battered, decaying crosses and into the field of wild flowers beyond. After about thirty yards they stop and help each other to the ground. They lie back and, together, they watch the sky…

Words are magic and writers are wizards.