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Travelogue of the Perennially Lost

Wendy Nikel is a speculative fiction author with a degree in elementary education, a fondness for road trips, and a terrible habit of forgetting where she's left her cup of tea. Her short fiction has been published by Analog, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Nature, and elsewhere. Her time travel novella series, beginning with The Continuum, is available from World Weaver Press. For more info, visit wendynikel.com.

Our concert tickets said 7PM, but by 8, we were crossing the Minnesota River again, scrutinizing the MapQuest sheets by the dome light, and wondering where we'd gone wrong. Had we made the turn east onto West Old Shakopee Rd? Or west onto East Old Shakopee? And who's more to blame for a date so ruined: the driver or the map-reader?
As the streetlights' glow slowly faded behind us, we knew we'd missed the show. But the stars were so bright out here beyond the city that I begged you to stop and pull over.
A cornfield, a blanket, and the car's CD player was a remarkably satisfying substitution.
We planned our honeymoon on the island of Grenada: white sands, waterfalls, scuba diving, rum punch.
But we stepped off the plane into the cool European winter, thousands of miles from our hotel reservations. You spent three hours fumbling in high school-level Spanish to the man at the airline counter, trying to make him understand the mistake. But then I took your hand and guided you to the window and pointed to the view outside. Mountains rose majestically to the east, and I gave a smile and a shrug. Dragging suitcases filled with tacky Hawaiian shirts, we hailed a taxi to the Alhambra.
We spent our nights in noisy co-ed hostels and our days in awed whispers of palaces and cathedrals.
The hospital's address had been saved in the GPS since before my 35-week appointment. But how were we to know that there'd be a snowstorm that night that would leave Hwy 131 impassible?
We'd never driven these back roads in the daylight, much less in whiteout conditions. After the fourteenth time the electronic voice said, "Recalculating...."--disrupting my rhythmic, labored breathing--I yanked the screen from the dashboard and tossed it out the window.
(So yes, for the record, I'll freely admit: This one was partially my fault.)
We found our way back to familiar roads just as I started pushing. I certainly hadn't planned to give birth in the back of our Corolla, as you stood knee-deep in the snow of our driveway. But when you bundled us both up and carried us inside, the flakes settling gently on the lashes of our brand-new baby was the most beautiful thing in the world.
The kids begged us to rent the X426 Glamper-model RV, complete with a retractable roof and robot guide. But somewhere deep in Denali National Park, someone left the lights on all night and killed the whole thing's battery.
The kids had never seen us argue like that.
(I'd never seen it, either.)
But when I lost my cool and stormed off into the forest, you were two steps behind me with an apology, an embrace, and the reminder that it's better to be lost together than apart.
When the ranger arrived at the Glamper three days later, our ten-year-old had already read the manual and the two of you had jury-rigged a solar panel from empty aluminum cans. We invited the ranger to roast a marshmallow with us as the robot lectured on local fauna.
The kids sent a self-driving car to pick me up, in case I'd forgotten the address. The coordinates were already punched in, and without so much as a steering wheel, there was nothing to do but watch out the window as the too-familiar streets passed me by. Block after block, neighborhood after neighborhood, past the restaurants where we'd eaten dinner, the parks where we'd walked the dogs, the school where we'd watched the kids graduate--all the places we knew so well.
The car arrived on site with time to spare. The location was right, but it felt so wrong.
Section B, Plot 4, Grave 1.
For the first time since I met you, I felt lost.
The End
This story was first published on Monday, December 21st, 2020
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