All you have to do is count. That’s how you can tell when you’ve crossed the state line. Feel the car slow down. Feel it stop. Feel the acceleration roll your body against the back of the trunk, and count.
The Border Patrol checkpoint, where the car would have slowed and stopped, is exactly five miles from the California border. They’ll drive no faster than the speed limit, which is 70. Do the math. Count it off. Two-hundred and fifty-seven seconds.
He counted because that’s all he could do in the three-by-two box he’d been crammed into. The trunk of the old Buick was roomy. That’s what his mother had always said when they went grocery shopping. That’s how it felt when he’d sat in there, lid up, pretending he was in the cockpit of a fighter jet. But with his knees pulled to his chest, face pressed against the matted and stained fabric, the trunk did not feel that large at all.
He counted because it was easier than remembering the slide, the path that had led to his mother slapping him in the face and his father tying his arms behind his back. Counting was easier than wondering if, through the drugs and alcohol, his parents still loved him.
But he did wonder.
He wondered if his mother would enroll him in a school somewhere in California. If the police didn’t find his father and if they could rent a house, he wondered if he’d make friends in a new neighborhood. He wondered if his dad would ever throw the football with him again like he did that summer three years ago. Before the pile of cocaine grew as high as a sand castle on their coffee table, and his father locked that man in the bathroom, and before the two gunshots split apart his ear drums. Before his mother’s screaming and the sirens in the distance. He wondered if being in the trunk of that car with his parents on the run meant he was on the run too, or if it meant he was just along for the ride.
Or maybe, it meant that when they came down from their high, he’d still be the only witness to the stupid thing his father had done. And maybe, they’d drive straight to the coast, keep driving until the car was in the ocean. And maybe, they’d climb out of their seats as the water filled the Buick, swim to shore as the trunk bubbled and caved and welcomed the flood.
No, they wouldn’t do that.
But he knocked his feet against the trunk, tried to jimmy it open, just in case. When it didn’t budge, he went back to counting. One hundred and thirty-seven seconds until they left Arizona for good, until his mother and father’s crime spree went from local to national.
He wished he knew how many seconds he’d have to count off before he found out if they’d ever let him out of that trunk.