Silence is Deafening

 

With sleeves rolled up and hands tightly gripping the wheel, his eyes incessantly darted from road to speedometer to clock. He was in heavy traffic, late as usual, and was driving recklessly. He knew he shouldn’t have answered that phone call, now he wished he hadn’t. It was just another problem. It could have waited until tomorrow. It should have waited until tomorrow.

The minutes were flashing by unusually fast. He knew she’d be waiting impatiently; backpack slung over one shoulder, wet hair crystallizing in the cool November breeze. He envisioned the piercing look he’d receive as she stomped toward the car.

 

Road, speedometer, clock. Road, speedometer, clock. Why are they driving so slowly?

Surprisingly, he was just ten minutes late and he praised himself for arriving much sooner than he thought possible. He drove toward the gym and maneuvered into the long line of vehicles filled with other harried parents. She was watching for him and walked briskly toward the car as he came to a stop. She gave him the look he anticipated, the look he knew he deserved.

“Sorry,” he said, as she slammed shut the door. She set her jaw and exhaled heavily. 

He shifted into drive and started for home. “How was your day?”

“Fine.” Her response lacked the bite he expected. Was she in a good mood or bad? He couldn’t quite tell but assumed the worst and he berated himself. Screwed up again. His tired shoulders drooped a little more as he drove on, searching for the right words to say. He saw her look at her phone so he quickly asked another question to pry open the door between them.

“How’s your English paper coming along? It’s due on Friday, right?”

“Yeah. I think so. I’ll get it done.”

You think so? He bit his tongue. How can she not be sure?

His daughter became flush with worry and began texting. “Hey, is our English paper due this Friday?”

Suddenly, her friend Carrie appeared in the back seat. She was cute but her dark eyeglasses and bobbed hair made her look bookish. “Yes. U done?”

“No. U?”

“Not yet.”

A few blocks passed and her father continued trolling for conversation.

“How was practice?”

“Good.”

“Is Kate going to play this weekend or does she need to sit out one more week?”

“Um, not sure.” She turned to her phone.

“U playing on Fri?”

Her best friend appeared in the back seat and smiled at her. “Yep. Can’t wait.” She was dressed in sweats and her wet hair was pulled back in a ponytail. Her face was still red from exertion at practice and she was gently massaging her right knee. 

“Does it still hurt?”

“A little but I’m ready.”

Her father drove along slowly now, savoring these precious few moments with his daughter. He recalled his frantic drive to the school and felt thankful he wasn’t pulled over for speeding. Moments later he asked another question.

“Is Joey coming over tonight?”

“Yeah. After supper.” Her eyes lit up. Again, she fingered her phone.

“What time are U coming?” 

“When do U want me?” Her chiseled boyfriend was now wedged between her two friends in the back seat, smiling flirtatiously at her.

“I want U now!!!”

They each laughed and made eyes at each other. Her father saw a faint smile crease her lips.

“What’s so funny?”

She tried to hide her grin. “Nothing.”

He became frustrated. Why won‘t she talk to me?

Carrie tapped her on the shoulder. “Think Sammy will have her paper done?”

“Ha. Ha. Doubt it. She never gets things done on time.”

“I know. I bet she fails the class.”

Kate butted in. “Want to hang out tomorrow?”

“Sure. Do what?”

“We could get a coffee.”

“Sounds good.”

Joey interrupted them.

“Hey, I have to get some new shoes tomorrow. Can U go to the mall after practice?”

She looked at Kate. “When? Where?”

“Caribou at 7???”

She looked at Joey. “Not sure. I was going to meet Kate for coffee.”

His eyes narrowed in jealousy. “Really? You two just hung out.”

“Like four days ago!!!”

“Seems like you’d rather be with her than me!”

Kate broke in. “or later.”

She stared sternly at Joey. “That’s not fair!” What a jerk. She looked at Kate. “Later is better. How about 8:30?”

Carrie quietly said, “I’m glad you’re in my class. It would be really boring otherwise.”

She smiled, and her father noticed the grin. I wonder what that’s all about?

“8:30 works,” said Carrie.

She looked at Joey and the smile left her face. “Fine. I’ll tell Carrie I can’t meet her until 8:30 so I can go with.”

“Fine,” he said smugly. 

Her Mom appeared in the front seat and gazed at her with worried eyes. They should have been home ten minutes ago. I hope nothing’s wrong. “Are you almost home?”

“Getting close.”

“Good. Dinner is ready,” she said nonchalantly, then looked at her intently, eager for a reply. 

Before she could respond a voice snarled from the back seat. It was her younger sister, Susie, who was sitting awkwardly on Kate’s lap, dressed in a black sweater and skirt but shoeless. 

“Did you take my black boots again,” she said.

“No!”

“Ugh! Do you know where they are?”

“No!” she replied, annoyed at the implication.

Joey piped in. “What time should I come?”

“I’ll be done eating soon. 7.”

Her Mom was still staring at her. 

Her stomach growled and she thought about asking her mother what she made for dinner but was quickly interrupted by Tom, a boy in her social studies class. He was hunched over in the back seat leaning against Susie, his long, lanky legs straddling Joey and Carrie. “Remember, we’re meeting at 8 for our group project.” 

She panicked. “Ugh! That’s tonight?”

He glared at her. “Yeah. We’ve had it planned for a week. Ha ha.”

She felt embarrassed for overlooking it, but also wished she didn’t have to go, mostly because she dreaded telling Joey. “I’ll B there. Might B a few minutes late.”

“K” 

They drove on, passed the last stoplight at the edge of town and were now on the highway, just a few miles from home. The car was a tangled mass of humanity and the rapid-fire chatting, bantering and bickering was creating a crowd-like murmur, but her father heard none of it. He could tell she was preoccupied and wondered why he couldn’t keep her attention. He longed for the days when they talked together, laughed together. He glanced her way and saw her typing on her phone again, the soft glow of the screen illuminating the gentle features of her face. He thought about asking her another question but decided against it. Instead, he stared at the white lines of the highway flickering by and listened to the lonesome drone of the wheels on the cold, dark pavement.