The highway was different than Linnie remembered, widened and resurfaced, the northbound and southbound lanes split by a neatly mowed drainage ditch. Five years back, if her father would have leaned across the console of the U-Haul and predicted it would look like this, she would have thought: dementia. Then, the highway had been shelled with jilted fenders and bottles of urine, relics of the Escape. Now, it looked as if the roadworkers had chiseled through the broken cement and struck granite.
The Escape. That was the nice way to put it. Thousands of cars logjammed from New Orleans all the way up to Shreveport. Hordes of families venturing into the piney woods to shit, returning to sunbathe on the roofs of their unmoving vehicles as babies wailed and the hurricane crept up behind them. Linnie thanked God her father had gotten out early. She thanked God he wasn’t yet too sick to drive.
She also thanked God she had made the trip back with him, three weeks after the storm hit, to assess the damage to her childhood home and to see what if any furniture they could salvage. They had recrossed the border from Texas into Louisiana, had eased the U-Haul southward over the litter-ridden road. Linnie remembered thinking, This is not Mardi Gras, where the beads bury the streets one night and the next morning are gone. There are no streetcleaners to clear up this colossal mess.
When they got to the house, they found that the U-Haul would be mostly useless. There had been nine feet of standing water, but while they had expected mold, they did not expect the house to look as if it had been shaken. Furniture clawed the walls as if trying to escape; the pool table, the couches, the washing machine. Everything overturned. In the kitchen, the refrigerator lay open in a black gloop of rotted food. The attic was the only area worth picking through, but even that yielded worthless items: a chest of 60’s-era maternity clothes, a set of chipped fiestaware.
At the time, Linnie had been shattered, heartbroken. She watched her father step over and through the rot, watched him bend his arthritic back to unearth a soggy photo, a broken dish. She stood in the entryway for a long time, hugging herself. Then, she pulled him out and drove him back to Dallas. Two months later, he was in a nursing home. Three months after that, he was dead.
It was only later, years later, that Linnie realized she had retrieved something else from the trip: a piercing memory of her father. It seemed to be the only one she fully possessed, the rest blurred with time and stripped to feelings of happy, sad, cold. But this memory was irregular, unyielding. Linnie could conjure up the exact clothing her father had worn (short-sleeve button-down and jeans) and what his breath smelled like (breathsavers and cedar wood). And it was this clamant recollection that caused her to refuel the old Impala, his own escape vehicle, still sitting in her garage, and make one more trip down to the city she had grown up in. She wanted to see the house again, to place him there, to experience what, five years back, she had so blindingly squandered.
But the highway was different, new, and this dismayed her. It did not even have the bones of the old highway, the structure completely done away with. This highway was unrecognizable, a highway built for streamlined electric vehicles and trucks pulling shiny motorboats to touristy beaches. Linnie feared that the city would be unrecognizable as well, that it too had been completely demolished and resurfaced, buried and built over. She regretted selling the house. She should have held onto it, should have been the last one there, standing on storm-beaten wood, pitching cries at towering matrixes of metal and glass. My God, she thought, I buried pets in the back of that house. A dog and two cats. She remembered crying over their graves. Were they still there? Or had someone paved over them? Or were the bones long gone, having floated out of the earth five years ago and mingled in the debris? Huddled in that doorway, her father peripherating the wreck, had Linnie overlooked them all?
The car jumped and veered. Linnie pulled on the steering wheel and righted it. Instinctively, she grabbed the rearview mirror. She had heard of funnel clouds that were not funnels at all but great round masses that gather cars and houses as they roll. She expected to see a darkness approaching behind her, ready to swoop her up underneath it. But behind her was empty. She looked back in front, both hands on the wheel, and settled into the seat. Then she realized: she had reached broken road. The highway was itself again.