Pennsylvania Route 417
by Elizabeth Schultz
1.First Place WinnerThird Place Winner
The bar is a galaxy of noise and lights
Our eyes meet like separate planets drawn to each other by gravity
Our orbits circling nearer and nearer as the night goes on
Until we are two people in one big ellipse
That’s how I knew.
You were not my star. We circled each other
Like objects of equal gravity
Coffee and pancakes
The waitress smiles at us with a silly grin. She knows. We do not try to hide it.
We embrace the cliché with open arms
I release my cat into your apartment
We both watch as Spooky meets Temperance
They sniff one another and go to sleep, which would be totally out of character, we both agree
Let’s get out of town, you say, raising your voice over the TV
I am excited. I pause the show.
Hey, you protest, I like this part. I press play.
Two days later we are on the road
I am in charge of the playlist and the map
You are in charge of not driving into a tree
A truck stop parking lot, the sort of place my mother always told me to avoid.
The lights keep me awake past twelve
You sleep and I watch
I have never loved anything more than you
More than this,
Neon lights at midnight and some skeevy truck driver peering in the window of my Buick
We splurge on a hotel and get a noise complaint
I can not stop laughing, but you are embarrassed
We were singing too loudly,
Songs meant for children anyway.
We lay on the bed, staring up at the ceiling. It’s cracked
Can I take you somewhere? You ask
I laugh. What is this?
Somewhere special, you say.
I have never been
It is an old state, rocky and worn away by the hands of time. I want to see the Liberty Bell, but we have other plans
You tell me stories of the little brick cottage until it feels like home
There is a fireplace and a garden
And a little black and white dog named Smokey
I may be more excited about the dog than the parents, but I don’t dare voice that
Pennsylvania Route 417. Almost home.
The road curves, so you never know what’s coming next unless you’ve been down it before
If you’ve been down it before then you know it is twelve miles of farmland and forest with the occasional township dotted in between,
You tell me.
You have been down this road a hundred times
And I think I am supposed to be nervous, watching as the Eastern Hemlocks blur by
I can see your hands shaking on the wheel
You turn off the car and you look at me
With eyes so very blue
They love you, I whisper
They’ll love you, you whisper back. I kiss your cheek.
You open the door