Silent Treatment

Posted on: May 26, 2015

Read the rest of the "West" saga: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5

Outside Dena’s window, the desert flew past in a never-ending loop. Sandy ground. Scruffy shrub. Discarded tire. Sandy ground. Scruffy shrub. Discarded beer can. Sandy ground...

It was like watching one of the GIFs Chris loved so much. The cat swats the wine glass off the table, and then looks at the videographer and seems to grin. The video loops, re-sets, and the wine is back. The cat prepares its paw to swat.

“Would you be happier if I’d stayed in Austin?” Dena asked.

Chris’s gaze locked on the road, as focused as if he were navigating switchback mountain passes instead of keeping a straight line for hundreds of miles. Dena noticed his jaw clench.

“I just think if you’re never going to talk to me again--” she started.

“Jesus, Dena. Can you just give me some time? If I say what I’m thinking right now, I’m going to regret it.”

The first words in a six-hour silent treatment.

“Maybe I deserve it, though,” Dena said.

“Oh, you definitely do.”

Chris rummaged between his seat and the center console for his aviators.

Okay, so cry. And hide it, Dena thought. She tried to envision what she’d do if their roles were reversed--if she’d walked into a clearing expecting to find a party, and instead found her boyfriend half naked with some guy.

The problem was, she knew exactly what she’d do. She’d laugh.

Dena had felt so numb for so long. Her father’s death had shut off her normal reactions. When she’d climbed into the RV with Chris ten days ago, she’d felt almost inhuman. But in the field with Jennifer--she’d caught her breath, just for a second.

She fiddled with the radio.

--a Connecticut pastor drops dead in front of his congregation after confessing to an extramarital affair. More on this story when we come--

Dena punched the radio back off.

So she had cheated. So what. It wasn’t like they were engaged. And it wasn’t like she’d expected to stay in Austin to be with Jennifer. To don a jumpsuit and fix cars and play second mommy to Jennifer’s kid? Shit. Jennifer’s kid. That had thrown Dena for a loop. There was so much she hadn’t known. Everyone, herself included, was a stranger.

If only Chris hadn’t shown up. She could have gotten tipsy at the bonfire, kissed Jennifer one more time, and then gone with her boyfriend in the morning. She could have left town as Chris’s partner in crime and Jennifer’s mysterious what-might-have-been. Now, Dena could be neither.

“Explain this to me, though,” Chris said. “What is it, exactly, that you want?”

Now it was Dena’s turn to be silent. She tugged at the frayed hem of her shorts, twisting a thread until it broke off in her hand.

“I guess I wanted to feel something,” she said under her breath.

“What was that? You wanted to feel something?”

Chris took his eyes off the road and turned his face towards Dena. She could see her reflection in his sunglasses.

He jerked the wheel of the RV to the right, and they veered onto the road shoulder, before he jerked it left again. A red truck in the eastbound lane honked as they missed colliding by a few feet.

“What the fuck?” Dena said.

“Did you feel something? Did you? Did you get what you wanted?”

“Chris, don’t be a psychopath!”

“No, you don’t be a psychopath, Dena. You don’t. Because do you know what psychopaths even are? People who can’t feel anything. People who will hurt other people because to them, it feels like nothing.”

“Chris, that is not what I meant.”

“Do you even feel guilty at all?” he asked, his voice whining higher as he fought back tears.

“Yes, okay? I feel bad!”

“You feel bad you got caught,” Chris said, wiping his nose with the back of his hand.

“I shouldn’t have done it. Is that what you want me to say?” Dena said. “I don’t know what’s wrong with me. I’m going crazy or something. I don’t even like girls.”

“Yes you do, and that’s not what this is about.This isn’t some true awakening bullshit, and you know it. This is about choices, Dena.”

“Okay! Okay. It’s about choices! And right now, I am choosing to be with you. Even though you hate me more than anyone in America!”

“I don’t hate you.”

“You just tried to fucking run us off the road.”

“You tried to run us off the road. Like, metaphorically speaking.”

“You’re an idiot,” Dena said, cracking a smile.

Chris pushed his aviators up on his forehead and massaged the bridge of his nose where the glasses had pressed red, bean-shaped indentations.

“I’m starving,” Chris said. “I’m going to stop up here, and then can you maybe give me some space until we get to Santa Fe?”


Chris drove onto the exit ramp and followed the signs towards McDonald’s. He parked on the far side of the lot and opened his door.

“Five piece or ten-piece?” he asked, not meeting Dena’s eye.

“Ten piece.”

Dena watched Chris cross the parking lot. His hands were jammed in his pockets. She rolled down her window and leaned out. The air was hot, but dry, and smelled of sage and oily french fries. She thought about calling out after him, but couldn’t think of anything to say.

When Chris returned, Dena took her chicken nuggets and climbed up into the bed above the RV’s cab. She took tiny bites, counting how many times she could chew before swallowing, turning the meat into mush.

Chris turned the radio up full blast and drove them away from the restaurant. Dena sprawled on the bed like a starfish. She felt like a stowaway. Below her, Chris sang along with broken-hearted Taylor Swift, periodically smacking the steering wheel to accentuate the beat of universal pain.

The RV coasted down the access ramp and back onto the interstate. Dena closed her eyes and let the rumble of the desert road lull her to sleep.

Written by: Dot Dannenberg
Photograph by: Jennifer Stevens

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