When Mom got sick I quit my job and moved back West, where the wide roads were choked with cars and no combination of busses and trains could get me from the neighborhood of old bungalows and new construction sites to the big hospital north of town in under two hours. Denver had exploded while I was away. I missed turns looking for landmarks that no longer existed, not recognizing the glossy condos and artisan bakeries where the liquor stores and vacant lots of my lost city used to be.

**

One afternoon in August found me running late in the driver’s seat of a borrowed car, shoulders tensed, foot on the brake and eyes on the stoplight, that three-eyed, no-mercy gatekeeper of the intersection at University and Arkansas. Gasoline tang, heat shimmer, radio static murmur.

“Hello, honey,” said a voice. A man, thick arm slung over the steering wheel of the green sedan in the next lane. Red trucker hat, a white-ribbed tank top, and blue tattooed script wended up his bicep. A bassline thudded in the dark pocket of his car, and his dark eyes flicked over the bare skin above my neckline, tan from days spent pulling weeds from the zinnias and yarrow in my mother’s garden while she watched, untouched eggs on the blue plate in her lap.

“How you doin’?” he asked, white smile in the shadow of his hat brim.

“Been better,” I said and smiled slightly as I eased my foot off the brake and let my car roll forward. But the green sedan followed, stopped when our open windows were parallel again.

“Your family got their health?” he said. I looked up at the light—red, and a long line of cars in front of me.

The voice again, the smile like a slice of moon: “Your family doing alright? Hey, I’m talking to you. Family got their health?”

I whipped around. “You know,” I said, loud, so he’d hear every word, “the family’s not good, actually. My mom has cancer, and she’s gonna die.” I waited for the inevitable muttered sorry, the embarrassment, the sudden, urgent need to fiddle with the radio. The crosswalk sign flashed its red palm: do not cross.

But he didn’t recoil—he didn’t even look away. He looked at me through our two windows, and he made a low humming noise, way back in his throat. And he nodded, slow. “My girlfriend, she died of liver disease, you know,” he said. “Next Tuesday—yeah, Tuesday, that’ll be three months.” I looked back at him. The cars in the intersection ahead made a sound like a sigh.

“I’m sorry,” I said. “I’m so sorry.”

“Yeah,” he said. Nodded. “But you know, I was lucky.” The cars at the intersection slowed down, stopped, and he leaned his head further out his window, spoke faster. “I got to take care of her. I got to go from one kind of love, from the lover kind of love, you know, to being her caregiver.” The light turned green, traffic lurched forward. The cars in front of mine turned left into the sunlit intersection, a glittering arc, the low rev of engines.

We rolled forward together, still synced, our windows kept parallel. He spoke faster, louder. “There’s nothing like that, honey, nothing. There is no blessing like that,” he said, and then he said something else, but car horns blared behind us, and I couldn’t hear him, and he raised his hand out the window, his fingers splayed, waving, and I went south while he drove west, toward the mountains, blue-grey like smoke, the color only distance gives them.

**

We drove back the same way, passed the plywood skeletons of new houses, passed free-trade coffee shops and green-painted dispensaries. Mom reclined the passenger seat as far back as it could go, closed her eyes. The shadows of old sycamores moved over the new, smooth dome of her scalp as we drove through our city, the one she used to drive me through, that place and that time we had lost and were losing. Our world, crossing through all those others.

As we got closer, I slowed and scanned the faces in the idling cars. No green sedan.

“Are you wanting to stop somewhere?” asked Mom. Her eyes opened, caught the sun, a brown-green gaze intersecting my own.

“No,” I said. “No. Let’s keep going.”

__

Ashlyn Mooney is a 23-year-old teacher, writer, and ambulance driver from Denver, Colorado. Her writing has appeared in The Smart Set and Westword.

Photo by Heather Kresge