2016 Barthelme Prize Winner: Going North

Andrew Mitchell

It’s following us, pull over, my husband says, to which I say, It’s dark, to which he says, Please, Ellie, let’s not fight over this one, and so I pull to the side of the road. Lo and behold, the truck pulls behind us, its headlights inflating our Buick with glow. Call the police, my husband says, and though this seems like an overreaction I dial 911. The operator asks me to state my emergency. It’s my husband’s emergency, I say, and she says, Tell me the color of the truck. Dazed, I say, Truck? I’ve said nothing about a truck. Due to the headlights, I can’t distinguish its color. Blue, my husband thinks. Or avocado-green. The health benefits of avocados are extraordinary, the operator says, to which I say, Excuse me? to which she says, Listen, go tell the driver of the red truck about the time your son ate that piece of homemade oatmeal soap, thinking it was chocolate, at the apple orchard in Maine. I cup the speaking-end of my phone, turn to my husband and whisper, Something isn’t right, just as the truck’s headlights go out. Hello? the operator says. Help, I say. Some folks are in bed, she snarls, and I explain that my husband and I are headed to Bronson Mountain to sleep beneath the stars because we hiked that mountain on our first date and tomorrow we’re getting married. Except wait, we married twelve years ago. Remember, Elliephant, we’re going to be fine, the operator says, which is something my father said the night my mother died, so I say, Dad? and the operator says, Tell me about Collin, but I don’t want to discuss Collin near my husband, so I step out onto the road, into the sweet night air, just as the truck’s headlights come back on. Pumpkins, I say, because there are suddenly dozens of pumpkins scattered in the road. I walk to the red truck. Behind the steering wheel is my husband and on his lap is Collin, and because I’m so happy it takes me a moment to realize the red truck isn’t actually a red truck, no, it’s our kitchen table, and on this table Collin maneuvers a toy truck through the streets of a miniature town he’s built from cans of soup and boxed pasta—Cupboardville! he calls it—and to my father I say, I love you, and he says, A-vo-ca-do, and in the backseat of the red truck my husband sits alone, except he’s old now, hardly recognizable, and he says, There I go, as our Buick lurches into the road and speeds away, and I say, I’m here, right here, and climb into the red truck, shift into gear, and drive north as fast as I can, until at last the road is full of pumpkins and we have no choice but to abandon the red truck and walk together the rest of the long, long way.