Between Here and There

by Amanda Koprowski

“Between Here and There” placed second in Southern New Hampshire University’s 2021 Fall Fiction Contest.

Route 66 painted in white on the road

Myra says, “Let’s go on a road trip,” and Alice looks at her like she has two heads, because there is work and family and because Myra always says things like Let’s open a thrift shop or Let’s join the Polar Bear Club, and she can only be taken seriously perhaps fifty percent of the time.

But maybe long-term exposure over the course of their friendship has simply worn away her resistance, and besides, it’s been an endless year of lockdowns and quarantines and sitting alone for far too long with her own thoughts. So, Alice just says, “Okay. When do we leave?”

Myra grins.

They head south so Myra can get her kicks on Route 66, even though it hasn’t existed as part of the interstate in years and what they’re actually doing is driving the parallel roads that have replaced it. Still, sometimes they pass exits that ask them to take time to enjoy “Historic Route 66,” and sometimes they see where the ghost of a road follows them.

They pass through towns with names like Crab Orchard and Bucksnort and watch as civilization grows a little more sparse and further in-between than the crowded Northeast. At rest stops and gas stations, Alice gets out and stretches her legs and uses the restrooms. Myra does the same but always manages to find a red quarter machine if one exists. She amasses an array of additional passengers from her prizes: a ninja, a rubber gecko, a round something that Alice can’t identify beyond its two mismatched eyes. They all sit patiently in front of a radio that mostly picks up country music and right wing talk shows.

One such container Myra simply hands to Alice and says, “Here.” It holds a necklace with a turtle made of some sort of shiny, black stone.

Alice has loved turtles since she was five.

She doesn’t say thanks, just slips it over her head and doesn’t stop grinning for an hour. Myra looks pleased.

They stop by the Billy Bass Adoption Center in Little Rock and are serenaded with a surround sound rendition of “Take Me to the River” by a hundred fake fish. They find a tourist trap in Oklahoma with about a thousand different sodas, most of which Alice has never heard of, and she tries something that appears to be blueberry-flavored. It’s a mistake.

In Groom, Texas, they visit the second largest cross in the Western Hemisphere. Myra questions just how many giant crosses any given hemisphere needs. There are life-sized statues representing the Stations of the Cross standing next to it, and Alice takes photos of Myra making lewd gestures at a pious and sad-looking Mary.

They’re probably both going to hell. Alice doesn’t care.

They linger by the Grand Canyon for two full days. Myra has found another quarter machine in the restaurant next to their motel and has her newest treasure, a silver robot that looks sort of like Godzilla, out and ready. She takes forced perspective photos of him stomping on pine trees lying across the divide.

Alice turns from her for a while and takes in the sheer vastness of the cliff side, the effects of millions of years of endless erosion. She feels insignificant at the thought of such time and power.

When she glances back at Myra, the robot has vanished. Myra only stares out at the remarkable tableau in front of her, the sun catching highlights of near blue in her black hair as she tucks an uncooperative strand behind her ear, fighting a losing battle with the wind. For once she doesn’t look amused, simply awed.

Oh, Alice thinks.

They enter California and head for the coast, riding the 101 north. They walk around Hearst Castle, with Myra ensuring their fellow tourists know Rosebud was a sled (over and over and over again). They stop by the beaches around Santa Barbara, and Alice watches Myra run laughing into the surf. She thinks about how much she likes the color of Myra’s swimsuit and how much it fits her.

They see about forty different signs for Ostrichland, USA, so by the time they’re at the turn off for it, Myra is absolutely dying to see it. Alice could care less but figures it’s worth it to watch a particularly obnoxious bird seize Myra’s sunglasses and run off with them. Alice has rarely laughed so much, and Myra’s complaints about “that fucking kleptomaniac ostrich” just make her laugh harder.

At Pismo Beach, they find the butterfly grove. Alice has never seen so many butterflies in her life and is a little overwhelmed by the sheer mass of black and orange bodies that surround them. She’s almost afraid to move, fearful her clumsy human body may inadvertently crush delicate wings, tear frail insect legs.

Myra patiently waits by a bush, hand outstretched, until a few brave butterflies decide to explore her arm. And Alice knows this moment will always stay with her, Myra with her arm in front of her, butterflies dancing along her skin, wonder in her smile.

The motel is nothing special, just a clean place to lay their heads after a long day of travel. They rent a terrible romantic comedy from the VOD and microwave popcorn in the kitchenette.

“Hey, you’ve got a – here.” Myra reaches out to pick up a kernel that has dropped onto Alice’s shirt. They are close, as Myra seems to realize too late, trying to draw her hand back. Alice grasps it with her own, let’s their fingers intertwine. The turtle necklace lays cool against her chest.

When they kiss, it’s like their hands fitting together, like sitting in the car next to each other, singing along to “It’s the End of the World as We Know It” and yelling out “Leonard Bernstein!” in unison, like Myra saying Let’s go and Alice saying Okay.

Category: Competition, Featured, Fiction, Short Story, SNHU Creative Writing, SNHU Student