By John McLaughlin
The engine produced a dubious groan when he pressed on the gas, but it was a cheap rental and they only needed it for one more day. It was another thirty-minute drive to the motel, and then just a ten-minute walk from there to the wedding hall. There’d be plenty of time to unwind with a drink beforehand.
Dave Reilly poked his wife in the passenger seat.
“Damn, I hate these things.”
“Hate what?” she asked.
She followed his outstretched finger. It was, indeed, a roundabout; a big traffic circle in lieu of the traditional intersections they were used to. They weren’t exactly common and she wondered why there was one here, of all places. But the strangest part was that it had only two exit points—forward or backwards—marked with wooden sign posts.
“Relax, babe,” she soothed, rolling down the window to light a cigarette. “You can take it slow, there’s no one else on the road.”
He slowed down on the approach and took the Toyota gently around in a semicircle. About halfway along he spotted a yellow mailbox stabbed into the patchy grass at the curb. With its beat-up little door hanging askew, it was hard to miss. And there was a big wooden—or maybe it was cardboard—arrow nailed to the side, pointed straight up at the clear sky.
“Do you see that?” he asked Dawn.
“That’s strange. No houses around here, so whose is it?”
“No idea, and it doesn’t look like a government box, either.”
The motel was further ahead, so he took the only exit off the roundabout and they continued on their way.
“See, that wasn’t so hard,” she nudged him with a smile.
“Yeah, thank God it’s still light out or I wouldn’t be able to read those signs for shit,” he joked.
They drove on for another few minutes, staring lazily out at the low grass stretching to meet trees in the distance. He could almost get used to the country life. Maybe he’d bring it up to Dawn later at the reception.
Dave suddenly sat up. “Is that another one?” he asked with a chuckle.
A second roundabout rose into their line of sight, right ahead.
“That’s weird,” she said. “No one seems to live around here. Maybe there used to be more roads and they’ve been grown over with weeds?”
The motel was still further up the road, so once again Dave merged in and took the only exit off the roundabout. The Toyota went around, same as before. And then they saw a yellow mailbox: crooked door, with a nailed-on arrow pointed at the dirt.
“What the hell.”
He pulled them to a slow stop adjacent the curb and Dawn leaned out of the window to take a look. Yep, it’s a mailbox. She yanked on the wooden arrow and it swung freely around a rusted nail.
“This must be some kind of postal service thing, right?” she asked. “I mean, what are the chances otherwise.”
“Well, it’s kind of an odd design they’re going for,” said Dave.
Dawn crumpled her empty pack of Menthols, edged open the crooked little door, and shoved it inside the box.
“There ya go, express delivery coming up,” she said with a wicked grin.
Dave laughed and pulled the car back into the street, taking the exit.
Another few minutes were spent in hypnotic silence, fields of green racing past.
“What’s the GPS say? We should be close,” he finally spoke.
She cradled the device in her palm. “Yup, it looks like two more miles.”
The sun was unforgiving this afternoon, blurring his vision a bit, but Dave could just make out some signposts up ahead.
“Okay, you’ve gotta be shitting me.”
As they approached the traffic circle, Dave could clearly see that, yes, there was another yellow mailbox. He couldn’t say exactly what it was about this scene that made his pulse quicken and his breath catch in his throat. It was, after all, just a barren roundabout with a mailbox.
This time, he drove the car in at a snail’s pace. A thought was percolating just beneath his consciousness as he braked the Toyota alongside that yellow box.
“Come on Dave, we’re almost there. Why the pit stop?”
“Baby, could you open the little door and peak inside for me?” he pleaded. “Just a quick one.”
She threw him a look like he had really lost it, but was willing to entertain him regardless. Dawn reached her slender arm out through the window and pushed aside the crooked door. Dave felt something in his stomach drop when he saw the expression on her face. She pulled her hand back inside the car, and when he saw the empty pack of Menthols in her lap, he gunned it and ripped out of the exit.
The motel never showed up. They drove through two more roundabouts, past two mailboxes containing crumpled up cigarette boxes before Dave finally said, “Fuck it” and swung a hard left, taking them onto the grass–anywhere but those roundabouts.
They’d been driving for about three hours and were still halfway to nowhere, like an electron that can’t settle on a spin. They left that strange road in the rearview but the trees never got any closer.