December 18, 1955 ... Eight fifteen. PM. Midway through the state of Ohio, almost nine hours since leaving Skokie.
Stopping at another Howard Johnson’s, having eaten and used the washroom, as gas was being pumped into the Ford and an attendant checking beneath the hood…
“Think we’d better start looking for someplace to sleep?”
“Yeah, Marcie, I figured another hour or so. I’d like to get a little further up the road so we don’t have too far to go tomorrow, in case it starts to snow.”
“Marcie,” about forty minutes since leaving the service oasis, her jaw, once again locked in stony silence, Marsha was, once again, on the far side of the seat. “what’s wrong?” Putting his hand on her shoulder, “You’re not mad at me again, are you?”
“What’s the matter, then?”
“Mitchell, shhh, I’m concentrating.”
Other than lights from an occasional roadside business or a farmhouse, all that could be seen beyond the soft glow of the dashboard were the taillights of cars before them, the headlights of cars to the rear, or those approaching from the other side of the turnpike.
“Honey,” holding her shoulder, “what’s the matter?”
Whispering a word he couldn’t quite hear, “What?” Turning the radio down, “I didn’t hear you.”
“Gas? No, we’re fine. We’ve still got almost a full tank.”
“No, Mitchie, I’ve…” Pressing her forehead against the window, closing her eyes and tightening her jaw, “got gas.”
Taking a moment to register, “Oh, that kind of gas! So get rid of it!”
“Yeah, sure, how?”
As though it were the simplest solution in the world, which in fact, for him it was, forgetting his embarrassment of last night, of course, “Fart.”
“Mitchell!” Turning to him, looking at him, “I can’t do that?”
“You can’t do what? Fart? Hell! Just about everyone knows how to fart! Even me!” he said jokingly. “Remember last night?”
“Yeah,” smiling, “I do! But I’ve never done it…”
“No, no!” Interrupting, “I know you’re a nice girl, Marcie, but I just can’t believe that you’ve never farted, even once!”
Not wanting to laugh, “As I was saying!” feigning anger, “I’ve never done, uh, what you said, in front of anyone, and most certainly not in front of a boy!”
“Boy? Marcie, I am not a boy, I’m a man!” Now his turn at pretended anger. “And I’m your husband and I give you permission to fart! Oh, by the way, you wanna try f-a-r-t?”
“Mitchell, no!” Laughing, even as she bit her lip against the urge, “I don’t need your permission to do anything, but I just can’t do that in front of you. It’s too embarrassing.”
“You’d rather be in pain, then?”
“No, of course not!”
“Then go ahead, do it!”
“You guys think girls are like you and that we can do all the disgusting things you do!”
“Like you told me last night, it’s a natural body function. And besides, if God didn’t want us to fart, he probably wouldn’t have given us assholes… How’s about…”
“Forget it! I won’t say that either!”
“And you’re the one that keeps telling me how much girls are like guys.”
“Well, yeah, we are, in some ways.”
“The go ahead, I dare you… fart!”
“But not in that way! No, I can’t, I just can’t!”
“Okay, honey, I’ll stop at the next…” chuckling, “gas station.”
While Marsha was in WOMEN, he used MEN.
Because they were at a Howard Johnson’s again, and so long as he was thinking of doing it, and not telling her, they sat at the counter where she had a cup of hot chocolate and he two cups of black coffee.
Before leaving the oasis, the gas tank was, once again, topped off.
“Mitch, we going to find a motel soon?”
“Yeah, baby, soon.
“For Eddi and Mick in Cleveland Heights, here’s Tennessee Ernie and ‘Sixteen Tons’.”
The radio droning on: “For Maxine and Miles in Painesville, here is ‘The Shifting, Whispering Sands’.”
…“For Shawn, Brian and Alyssa in beautiful Ashtabula, Ohio…”
Asleep, Marsha’s head lay upon Mitchell’s shoulder.
“For Steve, Karen and all you kids in good old Erie, P.A., it’s ‘The Naughty Lady of Shady Lane’!”
Running parallel to an east bound train for the time it took for the train to pass, remembering the lonely train ride through Pennsylvania and New York state on his way to Cape May almost three years ago, Thank you! he thought. Glancing at Marsha’s serene face, Thank you, God! Thank you!
…“For Lonnie and Pat!”
…“For Ida and Jim!”
Lifting her head, opening her eyes, muttering, “Where are we?” Without waiting for an answer, snuggling lower on the seat, putting her head onto Mitchell’s thigh, Marsha’s eyes closed again.
…“For Carter, Herb and Dave, and all the gang at the Westlake Inn in downtown Altoona, here’s one from the smash play ‘Damn Yankees’.”
“Whatever Lola wants,” Mitchell sang along softly, “Lola gets.”
… “Snow this morning throughout New Jersey, New York, and well into Maine and Connecticut.”
Reaching over the rear of the seat, taking a blanket off the back seat, he covered Marsha.
…“For Donnie, Harry Belafonte!”
…“For Bonnie, Nat King Cole!”
Readjusting her body, in her sleep Marsha unknowingly emitted a short, fluttering sally of stomach gas.
Glancing at her, putting his hand on her hip, he smiled.
“For Laverne, Joanie and Reed, and all you late birds in Teaneck, New Jersey, here’s Mitch Miller and ‘The Yellow Rose of Texas’!”
Snow began to fall.
“Your request is our demand, so, for Maynard, Luke and Judy in Younkers, though long gone, here is ‘Autumn Leaves’.”
The Ford crossed the George Washington Bridge, and soon the…
“For Leni, Laurette and Larry, and all you early birds in Brooklyn… ‘Hearts of Stone’!”
…Henry Hudson Parkway.
About ten minutes from entering the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel, “Marcie… Marcie, baby.” Still on her side curled in a ball, Marsha still slept with her head resting on the outside of his thigh. “Honey,” shaking her shoulder.
Taking the blanket along, sitting up, yawning, she opened her eyes.
The wipers clicking wetly back and forth, there were two heavily beaded semicircles of slushy snow on the windshield.
“Snow? Mitchie, it’s snowing!”
Glancing at her, smiling, “No kidding!”
Looking at the clock in the dashboard, “Three-thirty! Mitchell, I can’t believe I slept this long!” Calculating the time since leaving Skokie. “My, God, you’ve been driving for seventeen hours!”
“Not really. Considering the time difference between Chicago and New York, it’s only sixteen hours.”
“New York” not registering on her, “You’ve got to be exhausted! Don’t you think it’s about time we find someplace to sleep!”
Beyond exhaustion, between the wedding yesterday—actually now the day before yesterday—and the hours on the road yesterday and last night, he’d driven in a wide-eyed daze for the past three hours, reviving and getting a second wind only as he outran the late night signal from the Pennsylvania station and picked up the early morning signal from New York City.
Now, running on the last dredges of reserve energy, pumping him up, the adrenalin of his anticipation of Marsha’s reaction to the apartment making him all but hyperactive, “Yeah, baby, we are going to stop, in about a half-hour…. Look out your window.”
Rubbing the condensation on the window with her sleeve, “My God, Mitchell!” Shaking her head in disbelief, cranking the window down to see past the inner moisture and outer slush, cold air immediately filling the car’s interior, “I can’t believe it! That’s…”
Off in the distance, midway across the channel but perfectly visible, even in the falling snow…
The lady is there! Floodlights shining from the base up and her crown down, in the distance the lady appeared to glow an almost eerie green.
“…The Statue of Liberty! Oh, my God, Mitchell, she’s beautiful! I can’t believe it!” Her head turning to the right, continuing to look as they drove on. “Why didn’t you tell me you were going to drive all night? You should have woken me! At least I could have kept you company.” Quiet a moment, then, “We’ll be home soon, won’t we?” she asked softly.
“Yeah, Marcie, we’ll be home soon.”
“God, Mitchie… home, our home.”
Though the simplest of statements, it filled both their hearts….