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Radio Silence

"Messi? Like the soccer player?"

Megan Preston Meyer
Megan Preston Meyer

It wasn’t dawn, you couldn’t call it that, but the January Pennsylvania sky had paled from pewter to brushed cement. It was bright enough to see past his headlights, and the highway opened up ahead of him sluggishly, lethargically, tire tracks visible in the salt and the slush. His wife was curled up in the passenger seat; they’d had a bit of time to pack, and she had brought a pillow. His son was in the back, in his rear-facing car seat, and the mirror above him showed that he, too, was asleep. JD brought his eyes back to the road and scanned the horizon.

The threat hadn’t been specified, but he had stopped expecting specifics. He’d been dead asleep—rare these days—until he wasn’t, wide awake and overcome by the knowledge that he had to get his wife and child out of the house.

The house that we just bought and just remodeled and… Why? A little explanation would be nice. But he knew he wouldn’t get any. It was just like the first time, going on a year ago now—nothing tangible, no instruction, just a feeling in his gut, or maybe deeper.

The danger hadn’t felt acute—there wasn’t a SWAT team bearing down on their modest two-bedroom bungalow, knifepoints of green bouncing over the sensible PVC siding. JD knew—he thought—that something was coming, but it was more of an ache than a stab.

He had sighed, clicked on the lamp on his bedside table, and roused Molly as gently as possible. “Babe? Wake up. We’ve got to go.”

Fifteen minutes after that, JD had swept the contents of his side of the medicine cabinet into his Dopp kit and shut the mirrored door. His reflection caught him, held him for a second. He hadn’t shaved—there was no time for that—and he had circles under his eyes.

“When did I get old?” he murmured.

Molly was in the baby’s room, packing up his things, but the house was small and the walls were thin and she heard him.

“You’re not old,” she had said automatically. “But… things have been weird.”

“Yeah,” he’d answered. “Yeah.”

Thirty miles later, Molly stirred. “Where are we?”

“About an hour from Akron.”

“Can we stop for coffee?” Molly asked. Then, “How are you doing?”

They stopped at a truck stop, filled their gas tank and their travel mugs. The cashier rang them up, then counted out their change, because JD had paid in cash. She smiled and wiggled her fingers like people do at babies. “What a cutie! What’s his name?”

“Messi,” Molly said, bouncing him on her hip.

“Messi? Like the soccer player?”

JD gathered up their coffee mugs. “Have a good one.”

Back at the car, Molly settled Messi back in his car seat. “Why don’t I drive for a while?” she asked. “You should sleep.”

She started the car and backed out of the parking spot. “Where are we going? Do you know?”

“No,” JD said, pushing the seat backward so he could stretch out his legs. “West, I think.” He closed his eyes.

The first time he’d been woken up, he hadn’t even known that he’d been sleeping. He had been staring at the ceiling fan for close to two hours, willing himself to sleep, willing himself to cry, willing himself to do anything except stare and stare and replay the conversation.

Molly had been composed as she spoke to him, confident—more sure of herself than he’d ever seen her. They had been dating for a little over six months at that point, and JD had once seen her crumple and drink a scalding hot latte when she had clearly asked for cold. “You ordered hot, and iced is $0.30 more,” the barista had said. She hadn’t ordered hot, because no one ordered hot on the first 80-degree day in springtime, but Molly had backed down, accepting it meekly rather than make a scene, burning her fingers on the paper mug because she was too afraid to ask for a sleeve.

The woman who had come to him that evening, telling him she was pregnant, telling him that it wasn’t his, had not been that girl.

How could she do this to me? JD had thought, petulance and misery directed at the ceiling. He had felt betrayed, furious, hurt, and small. I don’t need this, he told himself. No way I’m forgiving her. It’s over.

Then he’d woken up with a jolt, just like in the movies, and as the dream faded into darkness, he knew it wasn’t over.

It hadn’t been easy. He had still had questions—again, specifics would be nice—but he had learned to live without answers. And eventually, just like Molly had changed, JD changed, too… and Messi was the best thing that had ever happened.

JD heard the blinker, felt the car slow, sensed the incline as they coasted up the exit ramp. He opened his eyes in time for the sign. “Cairo?” he asked. “Illinois?”

“No, we’re in Ohio,” Molly answered. “But I think we’re here.”

The last time JD was woken up, they had been in Ohio for more than a year. What they had escaped in Bethlehem was fading away, erased in the news cycle by the next atrocity. He had a job, they had a house—more PVC siding—and things felt ordinary. Not normal, not yet, but manageable.

This time felt different. It was a Sunday morning, six-thirty-ish, about the time he would have gotten up anyway. He took his time in the bathroom, shaving with the kit that Messi and Molly had given him for Father’s Day. It stood next to the sink and he looked proudly at it every morning, but he had never used it until now. He lathered up with the badger hair brush and then picked up the heavy, copper-handled razor, feeling his way along his jaw.

“Did you shave? You look younger,” Molly said later, coming into the kitchen. She was wearing light grey pajama shorts, and her hair was unbrushed. Messi toddled over and tugged at her tee shirt. She picked him up, with effort, and poured herself some coffee. “Been up long?”

“An hour or so.”

She must have caught something in his tone, because JD saw her eyes go steely. “What was it?” she asked. “Another dream? What do we have to do now?”

“Nothing.” JD smiled. “We’re going home.”