My mother doesn't approve of it, she said looking out the window, she doesn't approve of love, of people being in love.
He was so startled, he looked over at her, turned to her so quickly that he turned the steering wheel too and the car swerved. He swore softly and corrected carefully, still looking over at her, disbelieving.
What is it? she asked, what's the matter?
What did you just say? he asked her. About your mother? What did you say?
That she doesn't approve of people being in love? she asked him. That? Look where you're driving.
Yes, he said and looked where he was driving, that. What do you mean? How can that be?
Oh, she said. Well, she doesn't approve of most things, you know she doesn't, but my mother doesn't approve of love. Or of passion, she went on, speaking more to herself now than to him, nor even, I think, of happiness, she said sounding surprised. Mother has never been in love herself, you know, and I think she disapproves of it in others.
Really? he asked, really?
Really, she said, smiling a hard little smile, watch them next time, watch my parents. Watch my father.
Your poor dad, he said after the next time, after he had been watching.
Yes, she said, I told you.
I always liked your dad, he said, sounding a little desperate, a little frantic.
Did you? she asked. You've never really even seen my dad, she said with that hard edge of amusement in her voice. Not until today. Not until I told you what to look for.
Still, he said and waved his hand but had no idea what he meant by it.
So you saw it, she said, looking straight in front of her out through the front window, out across the endless desert. You saw them, the way they are.
I saw it, he said, holding tight, tight to the steering wheel.
It's the worst thing I can imagine, she said suddenly as they crossed the state line, after she had been so silent that he had been unable to be anything but silent, silent until he could hear ringing in his ears, til he felt he had to kick something viciously to stay where he was, to stay sane.
Her words surprised him, surprised him so much.
The worst thing? he asked gently. What is? Tell me?
Not to believe. In anything. Not to want anything. Not in happiness, not a shred, not even a shred. And she was crying, just like that, just right there, without warning, without reason. It frightened him. He pulled the car over, reached out for her, unsure, frightened and unsure.
Hey, he said. Hey. Reached out. Arms around her. Two frightened people in a little speck of air conditioned car on the side of a perfectly straight road running as far through an endless desert as any human eyes could see.
You won't end up like your mother, he said with a sudden flash of understanding.
How do you know? she asked, how can you be sure? But it's not my mom I'm thinking about, she said, pushing him back a bit so she could focus on him. It's my dad. And she cried harder. I don't want to end up like my dad. She put her hands over her face.
He held her. What else could he do? She cried softly and he thought about it. Sweetheart, he said into her hair, sweetheart, what do you think I'm for? This is what I'm for, he said helplessly and tightened his arms around her. This is what I'm for. He felt her tears sliding hot down his neck, into his shirt. This is why I'm here, baby, he made strong words for her in the middle of that vast desert. This is why I'm here.