Sushi and You

H-
I thought I could survive on sushi and you, but this gas station stuff isn’t Nobu, and payphones cost a couple cents more the farther out you go. You’re not answering yet. There’s a change drawer next to the lever for the fuel cap’s door, and I’m starting to see the dirty bottom.
D.

H-
Parked the Subaru at the Hutchinsons’ (you remember them). Melinda is well, and hopes you’re just fine. Told them I might need to replenish my change supply, and one of the kids jumped up and went to get one of those paper-wrapped stacks of coins they give you at the bank. He looked at his mom proudly. The Hutchinson family is prepared for every eventuality on a Costco scale. I had to choose between a travel-sized toothbrush and a Crest four-pack. Dave opened the four-pack with his Swiss Army and I quickly wanted the travel-sized.
D.

H-
Got up early (5:15) to leave. Here is a list of the things the Hutchinsons gave me during my stay:

  • The travel-sized toothbrush
  • A water bottle
  • $10 in quarters
  • A $20 bill with a phone number (210 area code) code written on the back
  • A clean T-shirt
  • An old sweater (too scratchy)
  • A photo of you they had lying in a drawer
  • Some chewing gum
  • A Nutri-Grain bar

They asked me why you weren’t here. Can’t remember what I said back, but I felt bad taking their stuff without an explanation as to why I was driving through Kansas in February.
The 0 to 60 on a 2003 Subaru Forester is 9.5 seconds. The below freezing to drivable temperature at 5:30 AM with the radiator at full blast is a little over 7 minutes. It’s the sort of cold that can make the road look fluid and the fog line disappear if you tear up.
D.

H-
Ate some sushi again today, this time at an unlikely dive that wasn’t listed next to the Burger King on the “Food Exit 24” sign I passed on my way to Topeka. I sat in the corner and ordered a California roll and left a piece for you and also left a little hungry. I called you on the payphone and listened to a nice woman tell me the number wasn’t available.
D.

H-
Sashimi, but the tuna was old and the lighting was bad so I couldn’t see. I threw it up in the “Gents” bathroom. Flushed, asked the woman at the front if she knew where McAllaster was. She looked like she wanted to know, but the dial-up was broken on the back computer. I smiled at her reassuringly, and asked for a mint. She tore my check up and took one of those merry-go-round red and white ones out of her pocket.
D.

H-
The McAllaster post office was discontinued in 1953, but the man at the counter said could try to contact a local mail carrier from Logan County. I told him that I was on the move and didn’t really have time (I was also feeling more and more like I was not talking to him but to his toupee and so I tried to leave). He tried a couple phone numbers, and explained away the dial tones on the other end. He said that in the 40s, there was a group of guys under FDR trying to save the environment who planted white pines, which were supposed to act as telephone poles.
“But white pines make for shitty telephone poles.”
“Thanks.” I said.
D.

H-
Got to Logan County today. They told me McAllaster is an unincorporated village, meaning it doesn’t really have any legal standing, and I thought about what you might be doing there. Apparently, they don’t even send a guy for the census out there, because last time they did, he came back with a beard and without a population count mumbling something about “the other side.” Population 29 in 2000.
D.

H-
Slept in the car again last night, and bought a map at a general store. Also asked for directions to sushi, but the man didn’t seem to understand. Bought some instant rice and a half-pound of tuna from the way back (still close to the cashier), checked into an RV park, and fired up the grill with a match from the road safety kit in the trunk. Cooked the tuna until convincingly well done, realized I didn’t have a pot for the rice, whispered a couple curses, and slept in the back seat (which folds down nicely, like the dealer promised us).
D.

H-
Back of the rice box has a couple things to say:

  1. Keep out of reach of children, except hungry children who want rice.
  2. Wait for rolling boil to cook.
  3. Do you have a stove in the unincorporated village? Can we use it? How about running water?

(I wrote some of this in messy sharpie.)
D.

H-
Opened my copy of Anna Karenina today and saw your writing in the back. That shade of lipstick is on the back too, in one of those exaggerated fake kisses. Missed you, drove a little farther west, accelerated to 90 and looked for a cop, slowed to 25 and looked for him again (they have a speed minimum out here!), listened to a CD of the Smiths, then the soundtrack to The Maltese Falcon (entirely wordless, as you know).
D.

H-
Happened upon a roadside wedding between two kids who looked about 21 and 23, if I had to guess. You would remember what we inscribed on the insides of our rings, but the quote rubbed off mine because I like fiddling with it. I wanted to get it tattooed, but you said it didn’t matter and kissed me, which made it matter lots.
D.

H-
Thought of my driving school instructor and her masshole-accented instructions to “bang a youie” as I took a hard left turn over the flat grassy median strip to see that nice couple again. Leaned out the window and wished them a nice marriage, tossed my ring at them. There’s a thin strip of pale skin exposed now, which the ring usually covers.
D.

H-
I’m spending the night on the side of the highway 20 minutes from McAllaster. Coming to see you tomorrow. You wrote me a letter once that said the door would always be open – hope you were telling the truth. I could drive over there right now, but the townspeople might be angry.
D.

×

He walked to the door and gave a slow knock. He pulled his shoulders back and quickly ran his hand through his hair, zipping his jacket to his mouth, cutting off the clouds of steam. He stood on the concrete block below the doorstep patiently. She came to the door and looked him dead in the eye. She let out a small sound and shut the door again. The man waited still. The mail chute opened, rusty from a couple years’ disuse. A thick envelope fell out. The man set his eye to the mail chute. He took a thick stack of dark manila envelopes from inside his coat, tossed them gently inside the chute, and jogged back to his car, new bright white envelope in hand like a new voicemail or an unread text.

×

David-
The inscription faded off my ring but I’m not sure about yours. Anyway, the quote was about writing letters, and I’ve written you some since I left. McAllaster is proof that a change of location can work. My next-door neighbors, the Jackmans, don’t miss anything. I don’t think they’ve left anything behind. Bill grew up next door to Alice, she used to climb in his window at night when they were 16 and learning what sex was. Bill went to an A and T school and majored in agriculture. He tells me they had two sides to campus. The farmers smelled like garden gloves and the miners smelled like dust. Now, the Jackmans live on a small farm with a couple kids.
Sushi wasn’t enough, and I think you know it. The little fights, the tiny problems, always overcome with some good fish or rice. The first time you came home drunk tastes like spicy fish. The dent in the back of the Subaru tastes like eel. The yelling was a twice-yearly trip to that fancy place on 57th Street.
You knew you had to bring out the big guns when I found out. It’s not so bad for me here. You say “crime of passion,” and they understand. It’s understandable, if you’re blinded by the fury of seeing the one you love in your bed with someone else. If the years of pillow talk and interlocking pinkies and nose kissing crumble to salt and your mouth tastes like saline as you kill her with the Leatherman on the dresser.
-Hope

Paul Michaud is a high school senior from Nashville, Tennessee. He attends the Groton School in Massachusetts. He likes to write on the backs of photographs.

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