Things to Consider While Locked
in the Back of a U-Haul
by Dani Rado
While locked in the back of a U-Haul, you’ll have time to consider certain circumstances of your life. First, consider how you got here. I know, we’re not supposed to blame the victim, but let’s be honest, there are certain types of people to whom certain types of things happen; people like girls and things like getting locked in the back of U-Hauls. Considering you’re a girl and you’re on the back of this U-Haul, we’ll call that cause enough.
Next, consider what the back of this U-Haul is like; how the metal wall is hard and cold but strangely yields to your fists, how the smooth dents might not have been caused by furniture banging against them but by similar girls and similar situations. But don’t consider other girls right now; assume your experience is unique; that this is the first time something like this has happened to someone like you. Pound repeatedly on the thin metal of the right wall. This is considered the right if you’re facing the way the vehicle is going, the way the driver must be facing. However, it’s the left side if you’re facing the way you’ll be facing when that rear door opens and you’ll have no choice but to turn and face it. Kick the wall. Scream for good measure.
The walls and floor rattle as the U-Haul hits a bump in the road. It feels as if a pothole could split this carriage and send you tumbling out into the traffic you hear all around you. Consider which would be a better (or worse) fate—to be cut loose from this U-Haul and splayed into the street below, or to be cowering in the corner when the rear door is finally drawn up by that same person who drew it down?
The next thing to consider, then, is not the swelling in your hands nor the motion sickness in your stomach, but the nature of the driver of this vehicle, who, before he became the driver of this vehicle—and before he became the one who drew down the rear door, and before he becomes, as one would assume, the one to draw that same door up—had been a new employer, and potentially, as some bosses have been known to become in exceptional situations, a new boyfriend. He had, before he drew that roll-up door down, that easy charm and smile, let’s not forget youth and good looks that disarm girls far less intelligent than you. The thing to consider is what he’ll become when he’s done being the driver of this vehicle and has finished opening the rear door.
A pain in the big toe on your right foot (which is the right one no matter which way you’re facing) tells you the toenail is split. Continue to kick as you consider the fifth thing to consider—how long it will be before anyone notices you’re gone. Perhaps now you feel a brief pang of regret for recently leaving that lover who would have noticed such a thing. Though it was this lover’s ability—or tendency, or damn compulsion—to notice every damn little thing that precipitated your leaving. Now, that ex-lover will certainly not notice your absence, or at least not this manner of absence. In another manner—specifically in the manner in which she opens the door each day to the emptiness of an apartment brought about by moving boxes and the use of another U-Haul at another time—consider that your absence is keenly felt.
Or consider where this vehicle—this U-Haul that’s otherwise empty except for the driver in the driver’s seat and the passenger not in the passenger seat but in the cargo hold and so now more cargo than passenger—is ultimately going to end up. Eventually, it will need to be returned to its pick-up location, the spot where you, after being assured you’d be reimbursed, walked in and signed for the truck, paid for it with your own credit card, and tried to flirt with the pock-faced man behind the counter, who for some reason refused to flirt back. Consider how you didn’t think it odd at the time that the new employer didn’t pay for this himself and instead asked you to use your card and your name, which now resides on those papers in that office as the last potential trace of you.
Consider, as you lean to the right as the U-Haul turns left, how much the extra mileage will cost if this asshole keeps driving in circles.
Maybe eventually the rental company will send someone to look for you or, more likely, the vehicle. Don’t consider that, for them, retrieving the truck will be a higher priority than retrieving you. You know they won’t look tonight because the man behind the counter, the one with the pock-marked face, seemed invested in his job only enough to give you a hard time, but not enough to stay at work late tracking down errant vehicles. Maybe he’ll notice in the morning.
For now, feel grateful you had to sign for the truck and leave proof that you were there. You don’t doubt that the name this new employer and current driver told you isn’t his real one, and that the only thing that could lead back to the real him now is you. Whatever other motives he has, motives formed long before you responded to his ad for a personal assistant, one must be the erasure of this final clue that is the girl locked in the back of this U-Haul.
Consider a U-Haul abandoned on a dusty service road, the rear door partway up, license plate removed, VIN scratched off, the driver’s door ajar and inside the cab a glove box gaping with no wallet, no phone, no keys, no rental forms, and no sign of any struggle except the rear door’s strap swaying in a breeze that gathers a fine layer of blanched dirt onto the bed of the vacant carriage. How long will it take the two boys from the near-by houses to wander to the ridge of dead grass that runs along the cleared space under the power lines and see an empty U-Haul waiting there below? Before yellow police tape cordons off the truck and surrounding area? Before orange crime scene flags are placed by what could be a shoe print and what might be drag marks, and what definitely is the withered air freshener that must have been hung on the rearview mirror so many rentals ago and now lies in near the border of underbrush being covered by drifts of dirt as the cool evening air moves in? Before search and rescue dogs are brought in? How long before a missing persons report is matched to the girl who rented this U-Haul and tried to flirt with the pock-faced man only hours ago?
Stop kicking. The pain in your toe to pulses a new rhythm. Get down on your knees—not to pray, because you won’t give your mother that satisfaction—but to sweep the floor with your hands. Sweep in a circle around you, turning again and again to search the area. When you realize you should be more methodical, creep to the edge and run your fingers along the ground adjacent to the wall. There’s a build-up of dirt and debris there. Slowly, crouching now, move along the perimeter. Wonder if the driver of this vehicle has noticed the lull in your screaming, and if so, if he’s pleased by it or if he’ll soon pull over, throw the rear-door open, assure himself you’re not dead, vaguely wonder what you’re up to, and draw the door down again, reminding you of when the door was first drawn down, etching in your memory his face as his head turned sideways in order to watch until the last possible moment your changing expression as it dawns on you this is the early coming night you now find yourself kicking and screaming against. It makes you forget it was only noon when this all began.
In a corner you find something small, hard, and sharp, maybe a tack loosed from some bureau or couch moved in the U-Haul long ago. You hope it’s metal. Suck on it to make sure. It tastes like when you bite your cheek too hard, but don’t consider blood right now.
Go back to the wall. Stumble on your way there as the U-Haul makes a hard right. Beat the wall with your fists. Kick it. Feel the pulse again in your split toenail; your sock is soaked with the thing you’re not supposed to think about.
Scratch your name into the wall. After you finish, consider writing “was here.” Instead put the date, your new employer and driver’s name, even though you know it’s not his real name, and your current address, which is not the one written on the license in your purse that’s now sitting in the passenger seat next to the new employer, where you placed it after renting the truck because you imagined you’d be sitting there as well. No, that address is where your ex-lover now sits, aware you’re gone but not gone like this. Or maybe your license has already been removed and tucked into the rear pocket of the unnamed driver’s jeans, to later be tacked in a row with others on the wall of a shack or some basement room. But don’t consider the names, photos, and addresses imprinted on the licenses of other girls who, although like you, are nothing like you at all.
Consider what other information to write. Add your phone number, though your cell is sitting on the passenger seat as well. Consider putting your mother’s number next to your name with something like “mom” written next to it. Or “please call.”
How long will it take to notify your mother? Will they call right away, or just write the number down in their notebooks and wait until there’s more to report, more than that there’s nothing to report? Or until they need the mother to make an identification, like most mothers do in stories like this.
Don’t think about such things. Make a list in your head of things not to think about. Put blood and your credit card at the top. Then your mother and her faith in faith. You never consider adding your ex-lover to the list of things not to consider, but you do include identifying bodies.
Return to the wall. Instead of writing more, pound and kick.
The U-Haul stops and you lurch to the front. You’re right behind the driver’s seat where the new employer, now unnamed driver, and soon to be ex-driver, sits. You smack the wall, hoping the vibration will jar his head, maybe jar out of it whatever thoughts have been sealed in it since he placed the ad, hired you, and started driving these roads in seemingly endless circles—thoughts content with the execution of the plan so far, happily imagining future ones.
If this is the last stop, if he’s about to turn off the engine and become the ex-driver, if by opening the rear door he’s about to become that something else, then add that something else to the list of things not to consider. Quiet your breathing. Shake the needles from your hands. The cab’s door doesn’t open and close. In a moment the engine sputters back into motion. The vehicle turns left, you lean right, and this time your legs gives and you tumble to the ground. Bits of dirt bite under the skin of your palms.
You have to admit—with your sight already gone, your hearing reduced to an incessant buzz, your hands sore, dust in your nose and a metallic taste lingering in your mouth—you’re feeling weak. As the ex-lover would have said, know your limits. You wonder if the engine’s exhaust is seeping up from underneath and into the carriage. You wonder if this has been the plan all along, if this is the explanation for the tortuous course we’ve been on.
You sit in the middle of the box, pull your knees to your chest and wrap your arms around your legs. You consider what to do next.
The ex-lover would have helped, would have advised you not to go on the interview to begin with, would have said that this new employer did not seem “on the level.” The ex-lover would have employed that phrase, as ill-fitting clichés often slipped from her mouth, the type of clichés that only work when actors imitate real life and not in real life itself. She’d try them on but never muster the gusto to pull them off. Either way, it can’t be denied that the original ‘Help Wanted’ ad was not on the level. Who will inform the ex-lover of your current circumstances or your soon-to-be circumstances, which are on the list of things not to consider? She’d already have called the appropriate authorities if she knew. She’d be in her car right now, tracking down this U-Haul and not waiting for the pock-faced man to file a missing vehicles report. You grip your knees to secure your body in a tight ball. You’re sore and tired. You know you should sit up.
Consider what it is you are up to, as your mother would put it. Consider what she will say when they call her—how this stemmed from your lack of faith, your failure to attend church, your pride, your sinful lifestyle with that woman, your registration as a Democrat, your reluctance to accept Jesus Christ as your savior even in this, your most obvious time of need. How God, as a test, constructs each moment of everyone’s life in order to rescue her from her own ignorance. How you had the chance once to be saved and approach the pulpit with penitent knees, your mother at your side. How you could be saved this very moment. How you could open yourself up to Him here and now, in the back of this U-Haul. How you definitely shouldn’t consider of yourself opened in any way right now. But she wouldn’t say that, that’s what you would say to her if she were here; that your body being split is on the list of things not to consider.
You need to consider more things. You feel around for your tack. You find a small cold object and hope it’s it. What else? There’s only a short time left for edits. Consider which ones to make.
You kick and pound the wall, the rear door, the other wall, behind his head. Another sharp turn and you stumble into the corner. Your toe doesn’t hurt anymore, but instead offers up the idea of numbness to your entire body. If it accepted that proposition, this could all be over.
Consider what it is to be truly numb—your body still, your mind far away. Could you make that happen when you most need it? Not right now, but when this unnamed driver, soon to be ex-driver, becomes the something after that?
Lay yourself on the floor. It should be cool except for the exhaust pipe, which pumps heat along your back. You stare at the ceiling. You try to imagine stars in the darkness, but can only imagine yourself in a field, the overgrown grass folded underneath you, comfortable except for the dried ends that prick with the slightest movement, and alone, no lover—current or ex or potential—with you.
The bumps in the road—and make no mistake, the road is getting bumpier—make it difficult for you to lie still. Your head vibrates against the floor. Your body hums and bounces as the U-Haul bounds along. Try to hold your position. Try to relax. Put your hands behind your head. Cross your feet. Consider things far away.
© Dani Rado, 2016
Dani Rado received an MFA in fiction from Notre Dame and a PhD from University of Denver. She’s served on the editorial staff of the Notre Dame Review and Unstuck, and has been awarded artist’s residencies at the Prairie Center for the Arts and Sundress Academy for the Arts. Her fiction has been published in Harpur Palate, Mochila Review, Clackamas Review, 5th Wednesday, and Unstuck, among others. She lives in Denver, Colorado.
Things to Consider While Locked in the Back of a U-Haul was read by Roya Shanks on 6th April 2016 for Mistakes &Missteps