Life became a series of beeps and small talk after Maria entered the service industry. The small talk was sparse and ended promptly, for Maria never bothered to initiate it. But the beeps were always constant.
“How are you today?”
“I’m great, you?”
Beep. Her queued responses were committed to memory.
Beep. Beep. And a cluster of clunks on the keypad for the pound of apples this man had fooled himself into thinking he would eat.
Beep. Maria felt a tad bit better about her dead-end job after she scanned a bottle of medicated dandruff shampoo and prune juice. Another cart strolled off with its plastic covered cargo, and another rhythmic checkout followed. There were only a thousand more beeps until clocking out, on the bright side.
The beeps were a curse and a blessing, almost. They were her lifeline, as gentle and precious as a heartbeat. Those staccato beeps, so evenly pitched, tormented her, but brought her to peace. They kept her calm and rational, and kept her safely locked in the mindset of a compliant working woman. Sometimes Maria felt like she was worse off than Sisyphus, toiling to roll his boulder up the hill day after day. He, at least, was happy enough by his purpose to keep moving on. Maria was by no means happy, but had to keep moving on anyway. The Greek gods had found a better form of punishment in the modern world.
She still heard the beeps as she walked to her car. Key in the ignition, foot on the gas pump, eyes glazed across the asphalt. Today’s events, though no different from any other day, compelled her to take a detour. She wanted to go to the road. The road she had spent the entirety of her short adult life trying to get back to. The road with yellow lines reflecting the infinite sunlight. It held adventures and romance and everything Maria ever wanted. The sun always shined on that road.
“Babe, can you get some green beans before you leave?” The voice mail disrupted her daydream.
“Nah, fuck you, babe.” Her phone was shut down. It was the always the green beans, wasn’t it? Or the potato chips, the shredded cheese, and of course the flavorless white bread. Her boyfriend never forgot to insist that when those sugary energy drinks were on sale, she had to buy them. He made it seem like the deal of their lifetime, as if high fructose corn syrup could cure their financial struggle.
She was one speeding ticket from getting her license revoked, and she floored it down the highway anyway. It was a drag race now. Her opponent—a motorized bag of frozen green beans. The pressure was on, and she knew all the money was on the green beans and not her. But none of it mattered because she had a winning spirit. She was the underdog in this race, and there’s always someone in the crowd cheering for the underdog with the hope of saying, “I told you so,” when it was all said and done.
At least that’s what she was supposed to be. She was supposed to be the beacon of hope from the family that never hoped for much. Potential. That’s what they all told her, it was the ultimate buzzword. She had potential. They weren’t saying she’d go on to do great things, just that maybe she could if she tried hard enough. Did she try hard enough? Did she ever meet her potential?
No, no, no. She thought she was held back from the status that the Lord Almighty had blessed her with. The child was a blessing, really. At least that’s what her parents and her brothers and her fifty million cousins told her. What a long and painful blessing it was.
In fact, that’s when the beeps really began, at the hospital bed. Maria became the baby mama who thought she could be a baby’s mother. And just like that, her potential was gone. It was drained from her account like a check she forgot to rip up. How could she complain to the poor bank teller who had nothing to do with it?
She drove faster. Oh, she loved her baby. She loved that baby more than every sign that whizzed past her, reminding her of other towns with other grocery checkouts.
“Don’t let them bring you down, sweetheart,” she said, “Once they say you’ve got potential, you better run far away.”
“Just like mommy’s doing right now.”
Her phone would have been ringing every second, trying to tug her back into the real world. When she was a girl she never knew what she wanted to be when she grew up. But when her kindergarten teacher asked her, she sure as hell never said, “I want to be in the real world, with real responsibilities and real people depending on me to survive.”
If only one of her teachers had told her that, instead of a bright future her potential was supposed to lead to, she would fall in love with a man. No, not a man, even. A stupid boy. Surely she would have hit the books then. Now she was hitting the gas. If her phone wouldn’t bring her back to the real world, the police sirens would.
Instead of the instinctive steering to the side, she drove faster. Today was not a day for instinct. She wasn’t going back without a fight. She imagined that, if she ever found the perfect man in her life, he would be in the passenger seat firing back at the cops with a nine-millimeter. The baby, their precious child with her own trust fund of stolen bank notes, would be in her car seat. With every shot fired she would let out an endearing, peaceful coo.
Maria shot a glance at the empty car seat through her rear view mirror.
Now there was another car closing in on her from afar. The lane to her right was already blocked, and the sirens behind her tripled in sound. Still flooring it, but quickly approaching a police car’s bumper, she rolled down her window.
“You can’t take me back there!”
It was likely no one heard her over the roar of her engine and the sirens.
“I’m going to the road!”
With that, she jerked her steering wheel and plunged into the neighboring woods. Down the hill she went, leaving behind the green beans again. She also forgot the sugary energy drink. Well, she was glad about all the things she forgot to get from the supermarket. It would have been one too many more beeps to purchase them. Who was she kidding? She was still hearing beeps this whole time.
Down the hill she went, and the beeps still followed. It was a long hill, as if it had a life story. A story she could sit back and relax to while listening, so intently, as her car is pushed downwards by the great momentum of it all. All she ever wanted was a life story. She wanted to be an aged oak with a millennium of friends, family, and accomplishments in her tree rings. No weeds would grow under her all-encompassing shade. Neither would green beans.
The sirens became a distant alarm clock, one that would have no luck getting her out of bed. The hill was an exhilarating snooze button. And the great oak tree welcomed her with open branches, eagerly awaiting the metal embrace.
Her plan had worked. No one followed her down the hill. Not only that, but she even managed to get the beeps to stop. They stopped at the same place they began: the hospital bed.
atricia Fernandez is a recent high school graduate taking a gap year before college. Originally from Miami, Florida, she is of Cuban descent and is deeply proud of her culture. She has lived in North Carolina for the past ten years and loves to travel and explore new places. She loves to read, write, and study foreign languages and cultures.