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Mark
Juan Andrés Ercoli, Argentina
An Anecdote

His mother rushed through every corner of the house. Juan only saw that amount of dexterity when they shopped together, objects vanishing into thin air as they fell into the backpack. Father was getting the car ready. Or unready, Juan thought, basically since he always used the same cloth over and over, wiping dirt with another layer of dirt. He couldn’t imagine what for, though, as the billows of dust were forming a daylight starry night. He had already packed everything and was intentionally diverting his mind from the pre-holiday chaos by sharing a cup of tea with his grandmothers. Ninety years of wisdom produced the same Napoleonic remark every time: “Dress me slow, I’m in a hurry.” His other grandmother, 88, had been summering since birth: “No time for that adrenaline,” and sipped the tea, her eyes gawking above the rim of the cup.

The honk blared and his godfather crossed the threshold of his house, countless bags in hand. The white of his mother’s eyes appeared, as they did every so often, while his grandmother weighed in: “No one told me we were heading there.” 

Turn the AC on, now off, now on. Please, stop the car, someone needs to go to the toilet. Fasten your seat belt. I can’t drive without music. Pay attention to the GPS. No, this shit doesn’t work. Turn right. No, sorry, left. Ah, you missed the exit. The grandmothers exchanged glances. The godfather told jokes. Juan just chuckled at everything.

Godfather pulled out cookies, bagels, pastries, sandwiches, a ham leg from a bottomless Mary-Poppins-like purse. “Come on, kid, you gotta eat something.” Juan decided he wasn’t going to argue with that, so he stuffed his face with as much food as he pleased. “If you want something else, tell me, I found a good offer at the supermarket.” Godfather’s life revolved around discounts and sales. His voice tightened as he spoke; he stopped buttering the bagel, then one of his hands hovered hesitantly before plunging towards an imperceptible corner of the purse. A bottle of fine wine came into view, its void quickly filled by the rustle of several packages that slightly transformed the shape of the purse. “I have the glasses,” announced his mother, half of her face turned towards the bottle, the other towards the ongoing route. The corkscrew was in one of the other bags. The pleasantries of travelling with the family.

•  •  •

Crammed full, stomachs churning, some of the members, particularly the grandmothers, set themselves to sleep, nestling their bottoms into coziness. Snores prevented the father from listening to music so he just surrendered and turned the stereo off. He became lost in his thinking and got distracted and so did his driving. Soon, they found themselves on a route that was unmarked, silo after silo, nothingness after nothingness. The alarm and tension in the air awoke those in deep sleep and everybody began testing their wits to find the right way. Common sense dictated to make a U-turn. After all, they had spent only a few kilometers on that route.

Father prepared himself to make the turn, checked the rear view mirrors, gave thanks that no car had appeared for the whole duration of his mistake, and directed the steering wheel towards the shoulder. The unpaved shoulder. The wet, muddy, slippery, unpaved shoulder. They found themselves literally in a rut, which put extra strain on the travellers. Hams and cookies hurled themselves against taut stomach walls.

Juan was the youngest and seemed the strongest, so he slid out of the car and prepared himself to push. The rest also had to alight from the car since their weight was too much for his arms, plus the car, plus the full bellies, plus the multiple backpacks. Juan gave just a mild push and a roar of horsepower freed the wheel from its prison. Shouts of celebration erupted from the travellers. It wasn’t as bad as they thought. Juan took pride in his weekly gym session; his mother cried out in joy since it meant they could now find a gas station for her to relieve herself from the wine; Godfather celebrated with a bottle of champagne that he somehow managed to grab in his euphoria; the grandmothers embraced in a familiar hug, partly delighted, partly as a way to lessen their fatigue.

Giggling, the father spun along for a few meters until the car took a turn to the right. Juan let his arms drop; tears went from joy to desperation. The champagne exploded into a thousand fragments against the pavement, boosting the mother’s agony; the grandmothers swore in disdain. The car lurched down a steep slope whose end was marked by a fence.

The whole family darted towards the car in a mob. What were they going to do, who were they going to ask for help, why was he so stupid, can you please stop talking about bottles of wine, can’t you see I’m peeing myself?

The rocks. Juan caught a glimpse of the rocks. Hope and anticipation grew among the members of the family. Everyone helped. They picked up two or three each and placed them behind the tire that seemed the most stuck. One of the grandmothers tried to unearth her velvet high heels as she hobbled. They moved away from the car and impatiently waited.

Father set the gear in reverse. Juan pressed his hands against the unyielding bumper, the strength of his body converging at his fingertips. Fingers crossed, and this time no food or drink dared to appear. Father let go of the clutch and languidly pressed on the gas as the wheel began skating along the mud, the engine trotting ever faster until reaching a point of breaking down. Faces dropped in sadness while Juan’s frown turned blue. Their first try was over. They took a breathing break. Not even crickets could be heard. Nature was mocking them through its silence.

Before long, Juan found himself pushing harder again, the father stepping on the gas. The rocks shifted slightly and the tire tread grabbed on and yanked the car back towards the road. As it did, the tread catapulted mud, bits of rocks, grass, and a worm or two into the air. Frowns turned upside down, cries of glee filled the air, and a curtain of muck splattered Juan from head to toe. Mud smeared his face. Laughter erupted. The need for a gas station faded. Juan screamed at his father as he felt the wave of impacts. The father splashed the mirror with spittle. The grandmothers forgot their weariness as their bellies bounced up and down in unison with their guffaws. Juan glowered at them but couldn’t hold it for too long. His face lightened as his smile grew, hidden behind a mountain of mud. Soon, he joined the merriment as he wiped himself with the dirty cloth. No cars came. They were off to an outstanding start.

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