Unfit
fiction by Salvatore Buttaci

April 18, 2011

Nothing else mattered. If it wouldn’t bring the cops, she’d ride the blue Bronco like a wild stallion into Hell, rather than give her children to him.

Wind whistled through the window slit of the driver’s seat where Carol sat, pedal cautiously from the metal, her two boys seat-belted and screaming in the back seat.
Close to twenty minutes ago, while he was at work, she loaded the kids into the Bronco, and aimed it in the direction of out of town on her way to out of state. Somewhere he could never find them.

Tears of anger misted her eyes. At this hour in the morning the big-truck convoys rolling up and down I.81 made it easy for her to maintain legal speed. Still, at every opportunity she dodged out from behind one semi, passed it, then bided her time before she skirted around the next truck. Glancing in the rearview mirror, she tried to soften her face into neutral, show a smile the boys could feel reassured about, but it didn’t work. At five and six years old, they were not that easily fooled, so the screaming continued to drown out her sweet talk till she dropped it and once more reverted back to talking to herself or to the windshield dotted with bug splatter and streaks of road dust.

“A whore? Yeah, and who made me a whore?  And that bastard judge says I’m unfit to be a good mother.” Carol raised her right hand and popped up her middle finger to the absent judge. “But he’s a fit father? A drinker? A wife beater? Judge, you see these bruises? He did them. And he smacked my two boys around like they were rag dolls!”

A blaring horn startled her. Now the yellow Escort she had just cut off was giving her the finger, yelling choice words as he passed her on the left. She smiled, but kept her two hands on the wheel.

“No justice” became her litany, something to fill her head on lonely days in that lonely apartment where she felt herself dying a breath at a time because Brian and Cal were across town, prisoners of a father who pretended he was lily-white pure. Respected. The good parent.  And “no justice” was what she repeated in her head on lonely nights in motel rooms where she felt herself used and abused once more, except those times by strangers who performed by rote. Nothing personal. A little action and they were gone.
“Mommy, we have to go back!”

But Carol went on talking out loud to herself, ignoring her two sons. “Your Honor, you have no honor! You take my kids from me so their father can finish the job. Then what will you say? I’m sorry Mrs. Darbin. You were right. So right.”

“Daddy will be mad,” said Cal. “Take us back!”

Then Carol glanced up at the mirror. It was time to pass another truck puffing uphill in front of her. In another three miles they’d be in Pennsylvania, begin a new life, she’d find a different job, maybe flap pancakes. Do some factory work.

In the mirror she glared at the boys to sit still. Then looking out the left side mirror, she noticed the patrol car at a distance behind her. She eased her foot off the gas pedal and decided not to pass, but to remain behind the slow truck. Be as slow as the truck until the patrol car passed by. Her heart pounded away. She swallowed nervously. If he stops me, he’ll call the precinct. Then he’ll know. But each time she flicked her eyes to the side mirror, the patrol car remained where it had been. Just a little more time. We’re almost free. Goodbye, Maryland. Goodbye, Mr. Lawless and Disorder. Mr. Boy Blue who left the three of us black and blue. Goodbye, goodbye.

Finally the highway welcoming sign made it official: they were now in Pennsylvania and as she rolled the Bronco off onto the shoulder to take a long deep breath, she heard the siren grow from a tiny sound a lifetime away, louder and louder, until at last the patrol car pulled deafeningly behind the idling Bronco.

Carol let her head drop to the steering wheel. She was crying hysterically now. The boys were pulling on the handle trying to unlock the door, and the policeman was tapping on her window. Noticing him, Brian and Cal turned pale, then forced smiles, in the back seat.

“Did you know you were speeding, Carol? And did you know that kidnapping across state lines is a federal offense? Kidnapping my sons? Please step out of the vehicle.”

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