We’re having a hard time understanding each other. The two walkie-talkies we purchased at Radio Shack, so we could communicate between our separate cars in remote areas without cell coverage during our cross-country move, crackle with static.
“What?” Heidi asks inside her car, packed with all her possessions – including the wobbly wooden chair with the worn orange cushion she hadn’t been able to bring herself to donate to Goodwill earlier this morning.
“Do you need to stop for gas?” I repeat, then consult the handwritten list of walkie-talkie terminology taped to my dashboard. I had taped a matching one to her dash. “Do you copy?”
“Copy that,” she replies. Chuckling, she takes a moment to consult the list. “Umm … negatory on that.”
“Do you need to stop for a bathroom break?”
“Negatory. Do you need to stop?”
“For a bathroom break? Already? Are you, like, a little kid? We pull away from the curb, and you immediately need to—”
I cut her off. “Negatory.”
“For what, then, Charlie?”
“For this?” Heidi asks as she climbs out of her car in Downtown St. Paul. Above us stands the pyramidal red-tiled roof of the pink granite Romanesque Revival clock tower of Landmark Center. “You are like a little kid.”
“This won’t take long,” I promise as I open one of the cardboard boxes – labeled with the word “t-shirts,” written in black permanent marker – in my trunk. The black zigzag on the chest of the yellow shirt I retrieve from it looks similarly hand-drawn.
“Good grief!” she exclaims at the sight of the shirt.
“That’s supposed to be my line. After all, I’m—”
“A blockhead?” she suggests. “What else did you pack in that box? A kite for that tree to eat? A football for me to pull away at the last second?”
“Is that what you think I think? That, by asking me to move to California with you, you cost me the chance to actually kick in a college game?”
“Is that what you think? Because I didn’t think that – until now.”
Suddenly desperate to look anywhere but her eyes, I pretend to study the shirt in my hands. The zigzag, I suppose, wasn’t meant to symbolize anything in particular – just a simple pattern that was easy to draw over and over in thousands and thousands of comic strips. At this moment, though, it seems to symbolize the constant ups and downs of a relationship – of a life spent together. Or apart.
This down? I doubt it’ll take us too low. Just to the base of such a steep up – if only we can end this detour and get back to our trip.
“Look,” I say, “I’m sorry. I wasn’t trying to communicate in some sort of passive-aggressive secret code by bringing us here.”
“So, you didn’t pack a football?”
“No,” I assure her, “just a camera. I just thought … Charles Schulz was a little like me: a German-American – a Charles who was the son of a Carl – who was born in Minnesota, but then moved to California. I just thought … there’s this statue of Charlie Brown and Snoopy in St. Paul, near the start of our journey, and there’s another one of the two of them in Santa Rosa, near the end of it. I just thought … take one picture here, take one there.”
“That’s so sweet. You are like a little kid – one who hasn’t taken geography yet.”
“I’m pretty sure Santa Rosa and Long Beach are on opposite ends of California.”
“Totally worth the detour: It’s where they filmed my second-favorite Hitchcock movie, Shadow of a Doubt, and my second-favorite Coen Brothers’ movie, The Man Who Wasn’t There.”
“We’ll talk about it during the drive.” She shakes her head, then pulls her walkie-talkie out of her hip pocket. “Do you copy?”
“All right. Let’s take this picture, then start this trip.”
“Let’s,” I agree.
Hand-in-hand, we walk toward the bronze statue sitting in the shade of a tree there in Landmark Park. As far as I can see, there are no kites stuck in the tree.
“Landmark” was originally published by the Journal of Microliterature in 2016.