It was the middle of July. The sweltering heat engulfed the country—the air was dry and still, and there was not a single sign of wind in miles, save for the occasional breeze stirred up by the cars passing by.
Karen was driving from Los Angeles back to Phoenix after attending her friend’s wedding. A few hours drive along Interstate 10, not a big deal, she though
On top of that, it is a scenic route—miles upon miles of unending deserts blurred along the horizon by the rising heat. The stifling heart of America, of unending plains and valleys, stretching towards the horizon to as far as the eyes can see and beyond.
But as she passed by Tonopah, roughly ten miles away from Phoenix, she could feel a heavy jerking motion from within her engine bay followed by a loud bang … not a good sign at all. She tried stepping on the gas pedal, but it only got worse until she couldn’t control the car anymore and the car came to a complete stop.
And here she was, stranded on the side of a highway, standing on the side of the road in the stifling heart of America.
She could see cars speeding down the highway, 70 to 80 miles per hour at a time. She tried stopping some of them for help but they simply passed her by, leaving nothing but a trail of dust behind.
She took out her phone, trying to go through her contact list. She tried calling her husband but he never picked up the call. It was three in the afternoon—he must have been in a meeting, again. He’s always working. Always busy. Always in his meetings.
As she was cursing at her phone she heard a car honking from behind. A truck was passing by and miraculously decided to lend a helping hand despite the sweltering heat around them. A man got out of his truck as Karen turned towards the kind stranger.
“Howdy. Got a flat?” the stranger asked.
“No … there was a loud bang from the engine and it just stopped,” Karen responded.
“Not a good sign, I can tell ya. If you need I can tow it to Wintersburg for you—I know a mechanic there who can take a look for ya,” the stranger said.
Karen was hesitant on the offer—but seeing that she didn’t have much of a choice, she reluctantly agreed.
After half an hour or so they finally made it to Wintersburg. They stopped in front of the mechanic and the stranger got out to greet his friend.
“Howdy Jim. How’s the wife?” he started. “Look, I picked up this lady on the side of the road. She talked about a—a bang from the engine bay or somethin’. Mind takin’ a look for her?”
“Sure thing,” replied the mechanic. “I will take care of it.”
“Cool dude. I’ll see you at the game on Sunday?” the stranger turned back to the mechanic as he approached his truck.
“You bet, pal,” the mechanic responded, with a big grin on his face.
Jim turned towards Karen. He took a look at the car, gave it some thought, and finally spoke up. “Aight, it’ll take an hour or somethin’. I’ll see what I can do,” he said.
Karen stood outside the garage, waiting for Jim to take a good look at the car and tell her what happened—and more importantly, how much it’d cost to fix the car. But on second thought … well, it honestly didn’t matter, cause her husband Frank is paying for that anyway. He always does.
Meanwhile, she took a look around her—Wintersburg. What a name. Why would someone in their right mind call it as such? There’s nothing “Winter” about this forsaken madness.
Not only could she feel the heat, but she could also see the heat distortion all around her. 120 degrees of sweltering madness. Global warming must’ve really taken a toll on this forsaken town, she thought to herself.
But through the wavy air, she noticed something—across the road was a car dealership. And at the far corner of it was a mint 2011 Chrysler Sebring convertible, for a significant yet humble price of $5,500.
It was then when Jim came out from the garage to deliver some bad news to Karen.
“The piston wall’s busted, ma’am. The oil is as black as tar. Nothin’ much I can do here—I can try and swap the engine for ya, but that’ll cost ya a pretty penny,” he said.
“How much?” she asked.
“I can do it for three grand. But to be honest with ya, you might as well buy a new car,” he responded as he tried to take off his gloves.
“Just a moment. Let me try and call my husband,” she responded. She took out her phone and called her husband, and this time he finally picked up the call.
“Finally, that bastard,” she thought to herself.
“Hey. I was driving back and my car broke down. The mechanic said the car was totaled,” she said to her husband Frank.
“Really, honey? Where are you now? Maybe I can come and pick you up?” he responded. She could hear the weariness in his tone, but she was indifferent to that.
“For Pete’s sake, Frank. Look. There’s a used Chrysler Sebring convertible on sale for six grand. Just wire me the money and I’ll get it,” she cried. Even the mechanic could sense the impatience in her tone.
“Six grand? Darling, we don’t have the money now. We still have to pay for the mortgage …” Frank said. But before he could finish his sentence Karen interrupted.
“Screw the mortgage, Frank. I am stuck in Wintersburg, burning myself to death and all you can talk about is the mortgage…”
“Look, honey. I can come by and pick you up. We can look for a new car together. Besides, Sebrings aren’t that reliable. Remember my colleague Joe? He used to have one and …”
“I’m tired of your crap, Frank,” Karen interrupted again. “ … I don’t even know why I am still married to you. You know Lisa? My friend who just got married? She and her husband are moving to Honolulu—he even got a house by the seaside. And look at me—married to a cheap bastard who’s stuck in Arizona working for a small paper company who cannot even get his wife a used car,” she said.
Jim overheard the entire interaction and decided it was better for him not to take part in this whole drama. Sometimes it’s better for a man to mind his own business.
Meanwhile, Frank sat in the office, listening to every word Karen let out in her rage. How did it come to this? He thought to himself.
Karen was a different person when he married her three years ago. Just three years. How life can turn around in just three years … she was such a darling when they met. Such a darling on their wedding day.
But something changed—perhaps she’s getting older? Or perhaps they’re both getting older? Are people bound to change as they get older?
He let those words sink in … is she correct? In a way she was. Finance hasn’t always been great since they got married. Sure, they got everything they needed, but there wasn’t much beyond that.
Karen had been talking about vacations to Greece since they got married, but it never happened. He worked hard at his job, trying his best to get a promotion, to provide the best for his family—but to be honest, progress had been lacking at work. Five years and still the same position.
Fortune smiled on someone, but it never smiled on him.
The shouting on the phone broke the immense silence.
“Are you deaf or something? You know what, Frank? I am done with you. We are done. Don’t even bother coming here, I’ll find my way back …” Karen said and abruptly hung up the phone. A long and deafening silence ensued, save for the dial tone that lingered on.
That’s it. He thought. That’s the end. The end of everything good and joyful. The end of things that truly mattered to him.
That day, Karen called another friend of hers who lived on the outskirts of Phoenix to give her a lift. She got back to the house that night and had a big fight with Frank. Within a month, the divorce papers were signed.
Karen tried to look for a job in a different state—anything but Arizona, she thought to herself. But the economy hadn’t been kind to everyone, and after some odd jobs here and there, in San Diego and in Albuquerque, she found herself back in Phoenix after three years of jumping between jobs.
As for Frank, he decided he needed a change after everything that happened. He finally left his job after five long years, five long years of his youth, and tried his luck in the whole booming IT business. But this time fortune finally smiled on him.
Ever since the divorce, Karen hadn’t been talking to Frank—sometimes it’s just better not to. But now that she’s back here, she thought it might be a nice idea to check up on him.
She drove to the house they once lived in. It was still the same old house, the same shade of yellow remained on the outside, only slightly faded. But there was a big “For Sale” sign erected in the front yard.
She decided to call one of their mutual friends, Mark, to see if she could get in touch with Frank.
“Frank? He moved to Spain last year … yes, in Europe. In Barcelona I heard … yea …”
She was intrigued—how much things had changed in just three years. In Spain? She could’ve never imagined Frank moving to a different country, not to mention a different continent.
“Wait, Spain? How come?” she asked.
“He got into the IT business. He moved to San Francisco two or three years ago to work for an IT company. I think they are opening an office or something in Barcelona and they sent him there,” Mark said. He added, “Hey. I know it’s none of my business, but Frank is a good guy. He really tried to provide for you, you know.”
“Thanks, Mark,” she finally responded after a long pause, then she abruptly ended the call
Spain … she wondered what the weather was like there. Was it as hot as Phoenix? And Barcelona? Can you see the sea from there? What about the people? They said they speak a different kind of Spanish there—softer and tenderer than the Spanish she had grown accustomed to.
“It must be a beautiful place,” she thought to herself.
And there she was, in front of their old house, reliving their memories together—good and bad ones, in the stifling heart of America.
Culled from Amo Mama