In the rural hamlet of Lincoln, Pennsylvania, stories weren’t meant to be rewritten. As if born with a script in their hand, the townspeople all acted according to plan. Same as their parents and their grandparents before them, and perhaps their great-grandparents, and even their great-great-grandparents, all the way down the line to what they perceived as the start of their histories, they attended the same schools, they worshiped at the same churches, and they gathered with the same people. They married into the same families and they named their children the same names.
No one moved, nothing changed, and everything was the same.
And so when Lincoln resident Hannah Hill turned sixteen, she knew her birthday would be the same as all the others before her, and as all the others that would come after her. She would rise early, she would say her prayers, and she would buckle into her parents’ car for a trip to the DMV. She would wait there, quietly, patiently, squirming in the sweaty plastic chairs, until the examiner called her forward for her driver’s test. It was the same man who tested her parents before her, and the same man who would test her brother on his own sweet sixteen, two years down the line.
Hannah had waited for this day for years. So had her parents, who drove her to school every morning and swim practice every night for more years than they wanted to count. Lincoln was a town small in numbers, but not in size, and the miles added up, minutes into hours as they drove back and forth down the same two-lane country roads, past the same farm fields, and the same two traffic lights that comprised the downtown. Windows down, Tom Petty on the radio, the odor of cow shit wafting to their nose. Such was the smell of home.
But young Hannah yearned for a whiff of freedom. So she came prepared, hours and hours behind the wheel with her parents at her side, practicing every turn and maneuver she could dream up. It was little surprise that she passed. But Hannah did not shout, nor did she weep. She kept her emotions within, as did her mother, and her grandmother before her. And she held in her smile as the clerk snapped her license picture, mousy brown hair soft and still against her ruddy cheeks.
When the Hill family returned home, lunch waited steaming with warmth from the kitchen table.
Hannah’s stomach grumbled with anticipation as she surveyed the scene before her. Chicken breasts seasoned with flakes of salt and pepper, baked in the oven at 375 degrees. Chopped and folded into the white-green bits of Iceberg lettuce, then blended into a salad with crunchy croutons and hot-orange slivers of carrot. A recipe known by heart.
As always, Hannah retrieved a half-empty bottle of ranch dressing from the fridge. “Mom?” she offered.
“None for me. Or your father. We’re back on keto.”
He nodded. “I want to lose five pounds before the beach, you know.”
Hannah obliged. She always did. Filling her plate enough to be polite, but not so much as to be gluttonous, she let her brother take the last helping of chicken salad. She sat in her chair, the same as always, and she ate her meal, every last bite. When she finished, she helped her mother clean up the dishes. And she kissed her father, right on the cheek, wishing him well as she returned to her car alone.
It was her first ride as a licensed driver, but it wouldn’t be her last. Years later, when Hannah closed her eyes, she could still picture it. Backing out of the driveway, turning left onto Shealer Road. A right at the four-way stop towards town. There, on the left side of the road. Yellow arches gleaming in the daylight.
When Hannah pulled up to the intercom, her voice came clear and bold, filled with a confidence she hadn’t yet known. “I’ll have a Quarter Pounder with Cheese,” she said.
“Is that everything?” the static-filled machine would reply.
“No. Make it a meal. Extra-large,” she cleared her throat. “Please.”
Becca Fischer (she/her) is a queer writer in Montreal, Canada. Her work appears in publications such as Litbreak, Queer Toronto Literary Magazine, and Sage Cigarettes. You can find her on Twitter @bfischh.
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