I did most of the driving, from New Jersey to Niagara and on to Ontario; Nora in the passenger seat shuffling MapQuest printouts; Amy in the back, kicking her feet, Harrah to her right, rolling her window up and down.
“Stop farting,” Harrah told Amy, who kept farting, probably because she wanted to, not because she had to, probably because she liked making Harrah wrinkle her nose. That’s how Amy was back then, how they both were. They were still getting used to one another. I was trying to keep the car straight on the shiny, wet roads.
Nora kept forgetting to give directions, kept fiddling with the CD player instead. We listened to “Two Step” by Dave Matthews Band probably 36 times. It was playing as we crossed the border. And Canada must have hated it, hated us, I think, because the second my car rolled in, so did this cold front. Frost creeping up the windows, rain turning to sleet, and this wind, loud and strong. I thought, for sure, we’d go over a guard rail.
But there was a pirate ship. I mean, there couldn’t have been, but, yeah, there was. This tourist attraction or something. Nora remembers it, too. A giant pirate ship: four thick masts and a candy-colored hull. Dark but pillowed sails. I figured, well, OK, fuck the wind and the sleet (and the black ice), because if the car flipped over, we’d probably just land, unscathed, on that ship’s bow. So, Nora turned down the music and Harrah rolled up the windows and Amy, well, she kept on kicking, and I sped up and we got through the windstorm.
And then, yeah, we were in Toronto. And we did some stuff. Shivered on top of a space needle and thawed out (kind of) at an aquarium. Went to bars that served us beer, even though we were only 19. But Nora and I had miscalculated, because, sure, we wanted to drink on Spring Break (hence, Canada). We just hadn’t expected Toronto to be so damn cold. Hadn’t expected Amy would keep farting. Hadn’t expected Harrah wouldn’t un-wrinkle her now runny and red nose.
“What did you invite her for?” Harrah kept whispering to Nora, even though she knew that’s how Nora was. (That’s how Nora still is.) Always giving out invitations she assumed people would turn down.
And that’s how the trip was. Icy, I mean, right until that last night when we were too hungover to do anything other than hang out in the chain restaurant next to our hotel. And there were these dudes there, these older men. They were around 30 or 40 or something. And these guys, they kept sending over shots and pointing at their whiskey glasses, like that would make us drink up, like drinking up meant we should talk to them.
Nora and I hid our faces behind some laminated dessert menus, so those creepers couldn’t see us smile, couldn’t see us laugh. Because it was funny, I guess. It was weird, too. It felt weirder later. Like, I don’t know, that pirate ship, so big, so bright, so blunt, a port in the storm. For a while, it was mostly funny, at least until, four whiskeys later, the oldest guy came over, put his hand on the small of Harrah’s back and said, “I sell bonds. Does that mean anything to you?”
And Amy stood up, made like she was going to throw her hands. “You see this fist?” She said to the guy. And Harrah, who liked decorum almost as much as a reason to break it, stood up, too, held out an elbow and threatened to ram its point into the fleshy part of that guy’s temple. Told him if she did, she’d feel so gratified.
And the guy started swearing and his friends were still leering, so Nora stopped laughing, started gathering our coats, and I paid the bill, because it felt like something was about to come due. And I was scared, until we tumbled outside—me grabbing Harrah, Nora grabbing Amy, Harrah and Amy linking arms—because it was cold, so cold that no one followed us, so cold that no one could be bothered to bother us, so cold that we could trick ourselves into feeling safe and warm.
Jeanine Skowronski is a writer based in N.J. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Lost Balloon, Janus Literary, X-R-A-Y Lit, Tiny Molecules, Five on the Fifth, (mac)ro(mic), Complete Sentence, Crow & Cross Keys, Fewer Than 500 and more. She placed 2nd in Reflex Fiction’s 2021 Winter Flash Fiction competition.
Header photograph and artwork by Jordan Keller-Wilson