Snapshots from our Family Trip to Arizona by Courtney Clute
I’m in a sweaty, swaying Dodge Caravan coasting down I-10, squished between Jill and Jacob in the backseat, their elbows jabbed sharp into my gut. My father’s hot dog fingers reach across the middle console, tight around my mother’s cookie dough roll thin thigh. We unload in the invisible yet visible heat radiating off red Earth. The motel has faded, daisy print wallpaper and brown spots on the bathroom towels. The first glug glug glug of wine slips into my mom’s thermos in the morning. She cries around dinner time, my father outside chain smoking while taking work calls. I shovel vending machine Cool Ranch Doritos into my mouth before mom can see. “Janice, stop that, your cheeks are already pudgy!” Jill dares me to touch a cactus spike, and the blood squirts down my white shirt when mom yanks it out. Jacob is mute, jabbing into a Gameboy. The whole family hikes up a mountain, leaving our heels blistered, our skin burnt and taught like jerky. Mom barks at me to keep up. Despite all this, it feels nice to work together as a family to reach the mountain’s top. The views of valleys and homes below are tiny like Tic Tacs. I cannonball into the motel pool, Jill laughing at how big of I splash I leave. I swallow too much chlorine because I was never taught how to swim. At Denny’s each night, our forks are tinny against ketchup-coated plates, the only sound from our table. When we leave the state, I face the car’s rear window and watch the mountain we climbed hang like a backdrop on the horizon. I close my eyes and imagine us living on its jagged peak. I see Jacob talking, Jill with her arm around my shoulders, my mother sipping water instead of wine, and my father without cell reception, laughter becoming our new language.
Courtney Clute lives in St. Petersburg, FL. Her work has appeared in Passages North, Fractured Literary, Ghost Parachute, Flash Frog, and more. Courtney’s chapbook, The Fermi Paradox, was recently published with Alien Buddha Press. Her flash fiction has been nominated for Best Small Fictions, Best of the Net, and the Pushcart Prize. She is a recipient of the 2023 Creative Pinellas Professional Artist Grant. You can find her online on Twitter at @courtney_clute or her website www.courtneyclute.com.