I needed to get off the road because my eyes were blurring and each blink lasted longer than the one before it and each revealed a dream. I had a boyfriend in college who theorized every dream was an alternate reality we were stealing glimpses of. The theory evolved to suggesting we never knew if we really were dreaming or awake, because we accept the logic of a dream in its moment, no matter how absurd it might seem. I told him I dreamed of turning in a paper for our philosophy class where we’d met, and I was sitting in the classroom when I realized all the words that were supposed to be italicized—the titles of books, the points of emphasis—were cast instead in bold print and I felt certain I’d flunk the assignment. He told me I was boring and broke up with me, not in the moment, but it had might as well have been because, from ten year’s hindsight, what was the difference between a second and a minute and hours and days?
Blink once, I’m with him.
Blink again, kittens surround me and I’m trying to get them all not to eat daffodils, and not to trample upon rows of them beneath a warm summer sun. To get them to be still.
I cracked the window and slapped myself across the cheek. Anything to stay awake for the time being.
The sign said DETOUR, but didn’t say what road it was a detour for. After I pulled off and parked at the side of the road, and after I closed my eyes, and after I heard the groove of guitar music, and I got out of the car to go into the bar called Penny Lane’s, and pulled up a stool, I learned the name of the town itself was Detour.
There was a man with the stubbly beginnings of a beard named Tracy who sat down next to me, and when I told him I hadn’t meant to wind up here, he told me no one does and he asked me what my drink was, and I told him tequila so he ordered me a tequila greyhound, and though I don’t ordinarily care for grapefruit juice, it went down smooth, not too sour.
The lead singer of the band was pretty in a punk rock sort of way, hair curly and long and dyed pink on the left side, head shaved to the right. It looked like something she’d done herself. Maybe it was a work in progress. I decided she’d started to shave her head and then left it half done before she went out to play that night. She sang a song about setting fire to stones and skipping them over a lake so that, however temporarily, the surface of the water would look like it had more stars than the night sky. The drummer had coke bottle glasses and watched the singer from behind like he was in love with her.
Tracy and I wound up in a little room in between the men’s room and the women’s room. Russian dolls lined a shelf over piled up brown paper towel. Some of the dolls were in states of being undone, revealing some of the smaller dolls from within. There was a woman halved, and watching me. I thought of all these people inside people and I only had the one inside me, only a fraction of him. I have to confess I’d never had sex while standing before. When we threatened to lose our balance, when he didn’t seem to care because he was finishing, I reached out my hands and held the shelf of Russian dolls, only it wasn’t very sturdy and all of those dolls came tumbling, tumbling down. They were broken as far as I could see, the inner dolls’ keepers not strong enough to protect them. A fractured, oddly yellow face looked up at me. Not as sad as I would have thought. Almost freed.
Tracy invited me back to his place, but I said no. I was alone then and I straightened my skirt before I left the little room and walked past the band. Back outside, the air was thick enough with humidity I thought I might drink it rather than breathe it.
I thought of the broken dolls when I read the blue plus sign on the test three weeks later. It hardly occurred to me to reach out to Tracy. I didn’t have his last name and didn’t know how to reach him if I wanted to, short of driving back to Detour. I didn’t have intentions on that.
I folded paper cranes, an old habit, but did it now with a purpose, to match the size of the life growing inside me, according to Internet research. First the size of a lima bean, then a lime, then a grapefruit. I had to tape pieces of paper together in the latter stages, so that the folds could yield something large enough to match my swollen belly. Those last cranes looked too big, too unwieldy to every fly. I painted the last one bright yellow like the divider lines on big roads, like the broken doll’s face in that back room. Yellow like daffodils.
Michael Chin was born and raised in Utica, New York and his hybrid chapbook, The Leo Burke Finish, is available now from Gimmick Press. He won Bayou Magazine’s Jim Knudsen Editor’s Prize for fiction and has work published or forthcoming in journals including The Normal School, Passages North, and Hobart. He works as a contributing editor for Moss. Find him online at miketchin.com or follow him on Twitter @miketchin.