In a last ditch effort to fight the ongoing madness, I read a book in silent protest. My book of choice was “Encyclopedia Brown Gets His Man,” which seemed appropriate at the time since the main character of the book was known for seeing past the lies and finding the truth. The plan was to read the book the whole way up, the entire hour, and ignore everything else. Ignore everyone in the van, and everything outside the van.
I knew Dad wouldn’t notice the protest of course, he had a gift for not seeing that which he did not want to see. But Mom had no such gift. She would notice and she would see the message behind it. Someone had to pay. I had been deceived. My life was over. Someone had to pay for Black Road.
Black Road. What a name. Not a very accurate name, in my estimation. At least not the last part. I suppose the first part was true enough. Black Road was black with darkness, regardless of the position of the sun in the sky.
But it wasn’t a road. It was a demented stairway for cars.Once, my grandfather took me to an art museum, and I saw an M.C. Escher painting of a staircase that never ended. That was Black Road, except it had been carved into a steep mountainside covered in dark, scary forest.
My literary protest didn’t last long. Ol’ Brown never even got to find his man, let alone get him, before the harsh curves and sudden turns of Black Road made my stomach spiral and my brain bleed. I tried to stave off the sickness but it was too much and I ended up dropping the book to the floor and sticking my head out the back window just to feel better.
“Aww, what’s wrong darling? You get car sick from reading?” Mom called out from the front passenger seat, giving me a sympathetic smile.
“I’m fine,” I said with arms firmly crossed and my head halfway out in the forest.
“Take a look at that view Randy.” A hairy arm shot out the driver’s window, pointing to the woods. “That’ll make you feel better.” It didn’t matter what you were talking about, Dad could always bring it back to what he wanted to talk about.
“No thank you,” I said as I brought my head back into the van. I retrieved my book off the floor so I could attempt another protest. But after the next couple of sharp turns, my head and stomach collectively slapped the book out of my hands and it fell back onto the floor once more, where it stayed for the rest of the trip.
Defeated, I looked over at my brother who was in the way back of the van. He was only four years old, five years younger than me and my sister, which meant his communication skills were limited. I honestly had no idea how he felt about this craziness. During these hour-long drives, all he ever did was stare with wide eyes out the window at the gigantic redwood trees that shot out of the ground at the edge of the road. Did he even know what was going on, did he know how much life was about to change?
My sister sat directly across from me in the other backseat pilot chair. I didn’t need to wonder how she felt about all this, she made her feelings perfectly clear to both me and my parents, whom she was no longer talking to.
I found this funny, considering that in the beginning she had been all for this. Of course, back then we didn’t know the details. All mom had told us was that we’d be moving to a bigger house because dad had been doing really well at his job.
“Don’t you get it?” My sister told me after mom had dropped the news, when I was bemoaning the plan. “We’re big shots now.” Big shots. She couldn’t have been more thrilled. It was as if she felt that after nine years of life her ship had finally sailed in, and only good times lay ahead.
But that was before things changed. Before we started checking out new houses around town that we loved but Dad did not. Before we noticed the only time he stopped frowning was when he stared up at the monstrous mountain range in the distant sky.
I looked up at my mom who was in the front passenger seat. She was smiling and nodding at something Dad was saying. Liar. She had lied to all of us. When Dad started all this mountain nonsense, it was Mom that calmed us down. It was Mom that explained that this was just one of Dad’s silly ideas. She told us that once he saw how impractical this whole thing was he would forget about it.
The road’s steady incline suddenly flattened out, and I knew we were at the part I hated the most. Black Road had only one flat part, and that was where the school stood, if you could call it a school. It looked more like a barn to me. Or maybe, if you wanted to be kinder, you could say it looked like one of those old red schoolhouses from a hundred years ago, like the kind you see in the paintings that hang on motel walls. Except the school wasn’t red; it was a faint green and right next to it was a brown field of dying grass.
The first time we drove past the school my dad motioned at it with his hairy arm and said, “if we do end up moving up here, that’s where you guys will go to school.” Now every time we passed by it my stomach tightened as I imagined myself going to school in the flat part, with the children of hillbillies and mountain weirdos. That wasn’t my life. I didn’t belong here, I didn’t belong in an elevation more suitable for wild goats and ambitious turtle-stacking turtles. My life was down in town, with my friends. This up here was a bad dream.
She lied to us.
When we finally reached the end of Black Road, at the top of the mountain, Dad pulled off to the side to give the moving trucks behind us further directions.
“Gee whizz!” One of the movers shouted back at us. “You guys sure wanna hide away from the world!”
As we continued along the mountain top, I made a remark, loud enough for Dad to hear.
“Stop being so selfish, Randy!” He told me. I didn’t respond. I never responded to Dad’s anger; nobody did.
Mom turned around and gave me a sympathetic smile.
Randy Walker is a humor writer in New Orleans.