Welcome to Historical Fort Menarche
“...and this battle site.” Their ear-haired guide indicates a weedy berm. “Of course, snowplows sand the bejeebers out of this place nowadays but back then, you betcha. Tents here, the canteen over there. Thousands of mules tethered near those woods...” The guide's hands divide land and people and less-than-people into discrete chunks of dirt and meat. "Plenty of good massacre photos at the visitor center," he says to Carla, winks. He says, “Remember: if it wasn't for good nurses, bad guys mighta prevailed!”
Back on the road, Carla counts bull thistles, draws X-eyed emojis in window condensation, wonders about Aunt Carlynne. Carla sees her surrounded by war buddies, cracking jokes in a flak jacket. Assembling her gun blindfolded behind a sand dune. Taking a belly of shrapnel. Being sponged by an orderly with ham-sized pecs...
“She's probably drunk,” says Mother. "Soldier life is 99% 'Hurry up and wait.' How much farther?" This question posed to Carla's stepfather Dougg.
Dougg's face explodes with glee. “They've got infrared helmets now, Car! They can flush snipers.” His grin in the mirror is so infiltrated with the discomfort of everyday conversation that Carla wishes she'd brought along her Health and Safety textbook so she could relieve him of the obligation by clonking him in the snotbox.
It's day three of Dougg's Cross-Country Extravaganza. The land here is flat, devoid of mystery. Overrun with beans, corn, rotting “Fetus Saves” billboards. Soon, the adults have traded potshots and stopped speaking mid-sentence, and Mother snaps off Dougg's doo-wop with a jingle of gold-plated bracelets, and all that's left is the silence of miles.
Mother tilts back her seat. This means the entire planet needs to shut their pieholes, but the silver lining is that Carla will order Blanket Heaven tonight at Waffle World, because by then, Mother's head will have cleaved.
When the nausea hits, Carla's crossword book slides from her lap. She rests her cheek on the window. Focuses hard on her breath. Foggy. Clear. Foggggg... “What's it feel like to die?” she creaks.
Mother covers her face with a polka-dot scarf.
“It's peaceful,” says Dougg. Carla's womb is whumping like a revolutionary's drum. Dougg says, “When you're super-old you're allowed to stay in bed, and one day, violas! Just fall asleep.” Carla wants to eviscerate him. Did he think she was five? It suddenly enrages her that Mother never shares useful information about anything that actually matters.
“The closest Dougg got to death,” say the polka dots, “was a party at the Petersons' where he tripped over a Siamese cat.”
That seems to be the end of the story, thank God, because Carla finally understands the confluence of the signs: the Universe has issued its inevitable decree that her belly will detonate amidst a sea of soybeans at 75 mph while Dougg's Buick slowly fills with Eau de Pig Parfum.
She wants to cry for help—but how? and who would hear it?—and then an unearthly moan squeezes from her chest as a fistful of spears lances her inside-out, just as a cattle truck starts merging—kind of fast, kind of too fast—and all Carla can think is, If I ever live through this and make it into battle, I will cut those fucking mules free.