The road from Nova Bastille to Saunders Station is a long one -- too long, if I am honest.
It's a six-hour drive, begun in darkness and continued straight into the darkness, interrupted only by the light of oncoming cars in the other lanes of traffic, and even if you are well rested, the journey is rewarded only at the destination. Behind you is the better part of yourself; ahead of you are aging parents and a hospital; and with you is the knowledge that while things are good, they are not as good as they were and probably are better than they will be. The journey is boredom and frustration, but it is inescapable. Once you have begun it, you cannot stop. It must be completed.
Enter Rachel, an 8-year-old girl on whom the sun rises and sets every day, even when she's in a bad mood and doesn't know what the sun is doing. Get her in the back seat, load yourself in the front seat, and you don't even notice as the miles melt away beneath the rolling wheels of the car.
Rachel and I set sail from Nova Bastille for Saunders Station on Friday evening. Night had fallen and the road was dark ahead, but she was bright and cheerful, and as I drove, she chattered away in the back seat of the car, about I don't know what and probably neither does she.
Sometimes we talked, and sometimes we sang, but mostly she just talked, and I luxuriated in the sound of her life. For a while, zombie trucks chased us and threatened us in the sanctuary of our car, but she used her super powers, and kept them at bay. When it was later, and her sister stirred back home in Nova Bastille, we joined our voices in song, and calmly lullabied her back into a restful sleep.
Many times Rachel estimated how long we had been traveling (15 minutes) and how much further we had to go (we're halfway!), and almost always she was wide of the mark. But when we stopped midway to buy gas and get some caffeine, we saw the clock. Time had stolen hours away from us on the road,
"Ten o'clock!" I wondered. "That's when the monsters come out."
We ran around the car two or three times as we rushed to escape, then climbed in and drove off. The monsters safely evaded, Rachel declared she was going to sleep, and asked me to sing her some lullabies just as we had done to her absent sister.
I sang the miles away on my own then, more slowly and more gently than before. All the while my greatest treasure drifted away on the back seat of the car. I sang about why the stars shine, and why ivy twines; I sang the ancient riddles, of how there can be a cherry without a stone, or how a story can have no end; and I sang gentle songs about where the flowers had gone, and what we must do for them to return; and soon I was alone on a long ribbon of darkness, wrapped in the love of the girl in the back seat.
I drove on into the night, and love became a hymn that I sang to heaven, and the hymn became a prayer that I poured out before those watchful eyes, for the treasure in the back seat, and for the other greatest parts of me left behind, and for those other parts on the road ahead of me. I sang, I prayed, and the miles melted away until we were at the other home, and Rachel completed her journey to bed.
I asked her today if she was enjoying the chance to see her grandparents and her uncles, and she allowed that she was. And then I asked her what she was enjoying the most.
"My favorite part," she said, "is getting to be with my daddy all by myself."
The miles between Saunders Station and home are long, but oh, I am afraid they are not long enough.
Copyright © 2010 by David Learn. Used with permission.