It is among the worst discoveries I’ve ever made: that the ice in the cooler has melted and the fried chicken is ruined. The melted ice water is chicken water. It looks just terrible. It is neither brown nor yellow but some in-between color reserved for the absolutely terrible. I can feel my mouth twisting up and the wife is turned around in the front seat, her hand on the headrest, staring, like “What? What?” I shake my head. I carry the cooler to the can next to pump #3 and dump the entire evil thing. When I turn around, the wife’s hands are on her face and she’s shaking her head. Yes, precisely that response is correct. Junior there in the back seat, oblivious, on his game, wouldn’t care if paid to do so. But here is the thing: that cooler of fried chicken was a stroke of genius on my part. And the wife acknowledged it as such. She nearly dropped her ice cream cone when she returned home from her swim lesson and found me in the kitchen, a splatter guard in one hand and a tonged thigh in the other. Consider the savings. Consider the pleasure of a cold chicken bite after driving twenty miles in the desert with its dirt wind and blanket stores. Consider arriving at Bev’s with leftovers for the olds. I even packed ketchup for Junior.
I clunk the empty cooler down in the trunk.
“Jiiiiiiiiiim?” says the wife.
I push things around. Nothing useful, nothing to make up for it. A soda can. A bag of Bugles. I put the Bugle bag under my arm and the soda can in that arm’s hand and shut the trunk.
I get into the car and the wife has her hands on her face. “What haaaappeeeeened?”
“Well, it melted,” I say.
Junior has his head down but says, “What?”
I tell him, “The cooler melted and the fried chicken is no more.”
He does some extreme button jabbing, seemingly for my benefit. I pinch the corner of the Bugle bag and pass it back to him. He takes it by slapping it down.
I pull back onto the highway. The wind is just relentless. It is just punching the van. The wife puts her hand on my shoulder and says, “It’s OK, we didn’t know.”
Junior jabs and I’m thinking so hard that my skull is pushing my forehead in a very uncomfortable way. I feel like a reptile that needs water, that hasn’t ever had a sip. I wish I had claws. I wish I could claw something open and soften my forehead and get the water I need as a turtle, a lizard, a snake.
Instead I keep driving with these regular hands, these useless things. It smells like corn and the wind is shoving and there’s a large early moon.
“Look at the moon,” the wife says.
I lean toward her and look up through the windshield. “I’m trying,” I say. “I’m trying.”
Meredith Alling lives and writes in Los Angeles. Her work appears or is forthcoming in DOGZPLOT, Spork, Storm Cellar, Wigleaf, and others. Her website is meredithalling.com and she is on Twitter at @meremyth.