The gas station guy said, You folks all right?
He said, You living in this car?
Look, he said, none of my business but in my experience the longer you live in a car the bigger it gets. So as you never find your way out.
He said, Yeah, we got sandwiches. Tuna wrapped in cellophane and shit, you don't want them. Best place for the kids is down the road a bit, take a right, keep to the left at the fork, after the pond you'll see the Traveler's Diner. They got soft-serve, chocolate-dipped.
He said, My girlfriend and I lived in a car for a year and then a baby happened. And we were like, A car? This is no place to raise a baby. So we tried to take the baby out of the car, but the baby didn't want to leave the car. Every time the baby's legs or even toes reached just the tiniest bit outside the car doors or windows, I mean just the tiniest fucking bit, the baby started crying, and when we brought the baby inside again the crying stopped. We tried this a few times. It was like a joke now, so we laughed, but it was painful laughter, you know?
He said, It was like the baby had needs and we had needs and the needs did not match up. But what's worse, me and my girlfriend didn't match each other. Like there were times when the baby needed to eat and my girlfriend needed to feed the baby. And here I was driving, thinking, How do I fit into this picture? After the feeding, my girlfriend would sleep and I would park the car and hold the baby and I would squeeze the baby with the thought of how I am doing something useful now, putting my hands on this baby which will stay with her for the rest of her life and guide her with the feeling of being held. And later when the world breaks in on her all of a sudden, like a boy pulls her hair and smacks her in the face or eats her crayons, she will cry and fall apart but also somewhere feel a sense of holding because of how I had held her once. And then the mother of this baby, my girlfriend, would open her eyes while I was doing this holding and squeezing and she would get this weird background in her eyes, like a wave starting to build just before you can see it, like she was saying to me, the feeding is not even the goddamn beginning of what it means to be a mother, to be a mother is to hold a baby that goes beyond all other holds, and she would take the baby back and hold it with a triumph that put me to shame.
He said, And then the baby would show us her power. Because her power was not the fake power that two adults driving in a car with a baby feel they have while also deep down realizing they do not have it, but a real power that acted on us like a pile of rocks dumped on our heads. Her limbs would thrash and we would bind them. Her mouth would scream and we would hush it. Her body would flare up burning and we would touch the back of her neck in panic. She would puke and overflow her diaper and then we would puke and spend hours squatting over rest stop toilets. She was rubbing her power in our faces, and celebrating our weakness in the face of her power, and I could now see a gleam in her eye every time me and my girlfriend collapsed on one another and said without talking that we were done, now this time finally we were actually done. But we weren't. We kept going.
Have you been to the caverns? he said. No more than half an hour from here. You really should check out the caverns. Kids love them. They got this elevator takes you down about a mile below the earth's surface. What do you call them, stalactites, stalagmites. An underground waterfall a thousand feet high. They have light bulbs strung up on wires down there, but here's the gimmick. At a certain point they shut them off. You ever seen night this black? they say.
He said, I used to touch her nose with the tip of my nose.
He said, I'm not proud of my part. I'm not proud of what I did or didn't do.
He said, I still see the baby, mouth open, just howling, her hand on the window. My girlfriend had finally taken the baby outside the car, left me inside. It was the right thing. I was never going to leave that fucking car. My girlfriend pressed the baby's hand against the glass to make her wave goodbye to me. Babies that age can't wave on their own.
Not like your baby, he said. You can wave, can't you, darling? Let me see you wave. Say bye- bye to the gas station. Bye-bye, gas station! Bye-bye, gas station!
He said, Seriously, the caverns. Your kids'll love them. Underground waterfalls right now are roaring under our feet.