“Do we have to go so fast?” Nana says as she grips the dashboard.
“We’re not going that fast,” I say, as I note the speedometer set squarely on 55. If nothing else, Sheldon is a careful, methodical driver who would rather die than break the law, even a minor one.
“In my day, we didn’t go so fast.”
“In your day, you didn’t have superhighways,” I say, watching the road ahead of us wavering in the Iowa heat. Mirage puddles glimmer ahead and then disappear just before we reach them.
“Well, we didn’t need them. No one felt the need to hurry so much. Everything these days is ‘hurry, hurry, hurry...’”Nana tightens her grip on the dash. “I’m afraid.”
Sheldon slows down to 50. Phil and Sal’s van, which has been following us, also slows downs and then whips around and passes us. As the van passes, I can see Sal’s mouth moving, “Is everything okay?”
Sheldon nods and waves the A-OK sign to the Millhouse vehicle. He glimpses over to his shoulder to Nana. “Better?”
Nana loosens her grip, but keeps her hand on the dash. “Maybe a little.”
“If I go much slower, I’ll be pulled over for being a nuisance.” Sheldon is being surprisingly patient with Nana.
“I’m 89 years old,” Nana says, her voice wavering. “And I’ll die soon.”
A simple declarative statement. I don’t know what to say–any reassurance would ring false, so I say nothing.
Sheldon shuffles around in his seat.
I can almost sense his shift from grandson-in-law to therapist.
Sheldon draws in a deep breath. “So how do you feel about dying?”
The silence is palpable and hangs in the air like a hint of rotting flesh.
Nana pulls her hand away from the dash. She draws in a deep breath, tugs at the collar of her green Qiana blouse, and smooths out her matching Polyester pants. The pant legs have a sewn-in crease, but the left one is crooked. “What am I supposed to feel?”
“I don’t know. You tell me.”
“Do we have to talk about this?”
Nana turns around and wags her figure at me. “You keep out of this, little missus.” She places her left hand on Sheldon’s shoulder. “I’m not afraid to die, if that’s what you mean.”
“Well, then, what are you afraid of?”
Nana turns around and looks directly at me. “I’m afraid something bad’s up with Nicole, and I’ll never find out about it.” She stares at me, her eyes boring into me as if any secret could be drilled out through sheer O’Toole will power, and then she turns away. She runs her fingers through her hair.
I look out the window and watch as cornfield after Iowa cornfield passes by in a blur.
“I’m afraid I’ll never see my Nicole again.”