She carefully took the paper out from the bottom of the secret shoebox. She handled it with care because she’d touched it many times. She was worried that it was becoming fragile. Sometimes she simply opened the box, moved aside the things on the top and caressed the parchment with her eyes. Just to make sure it was there. And to remind herself.
Other times, like today, she unfolded it. There were many folds and there was a specific order. She always enjoyed folding it back up. Matching the up grooves in the paper, seeing where the breaks were. Opening and closing when it didn’t line up right, triggering more study. It was a silly puzzle, but one that required just enough concentration to make it seem important.
Unfolding, on the other hand, now that was an exercise in revealing. The first open was like a book, really more like a pamphlet. Then she released it like an accordion, or, maybe, a fan. She used to pretend she was playing an instrument and pull the folds open and closed. She didn’t do that anymore. Mostly because the creases lost their spring over the years, and increasingly because she thought she should be more gentle.
After she spread out the panels, she unfolded it from the bottom, doubling the size in her hands. She could start to see markers appear. She unfurled another layer and it was spread out all in front of her.
She ran her finger along the long red line. There were other red lines that were parallel, others that crossed, but there was only one that followed from the top all the way to the bottom. From the beginning to the end.
She lived near the top of the line, relatively. One time she got very close to the top, crossing over the Mighty Mac for a family trip that began with such hope, as they always did, but ended in a worn down cottage and standard issue disappointment. The bridge was impressive, though. And a little scary.
But the most scary, and the most wondrous, was the endpoint of that long red line. One thousand, six-hundred and twenty-six miles away. But she only knew about 175 miles away, personally. The possibilities of more than a thousand miles away was exhilarating.
She only knew from TV. Palm trees. Alligators. Salt water. Hurricanes. Coconuts. Shrimp. Black beans and rice. Spices!(!) Waves. Rocks. Bright blue water with concrete pylons and a road connecting rocky islands.
She was from the world of cars, of motoring. And yet she took her beat-up green short bed truck only within a sixty-mile radius of her home.
When she took out her map, and opened it up, and laid it out, the entire world was in front of her. At least a world that was near the 1-75 corridor. That road that would take her to paradise.
She opened up the map and imagined her adventure. She swore she would take the road herself, one day. But she had to finish high school. She hoped to make it to the next stop, maybe along that corridor. She wanted to see a bigger world. That kept her in school. Kept her working to make some grades. Kept her from messing with the boys that called her cute, after they called someone else out.
She heard the argument getting louder downstairs. She very very carefully refolded her map. She put her dream back in the box under her bed. But in her head, she was trying to push the accelerator down with her right foot. As hard as she could.