“You know what, Lydia?” I said to the little girl as she helped me load groceries into the trunk of the car. “Would you like to ride home in the front seat?”
Her eyes lit our dark corner of the Walmart parking lot and she bounced a few times in various directions. “Really? Are you being real? No jokes or something?”
“Yes!” I opened the door for her and cleared off the seat. “It’s rare for the two of us to be out alone together, and it’s a short ride home, even avoiding major roads. It’ll be fine.”
She squeezed in under my arm and was happily buckled before I even got her door closed.
“This is the first time I’ve ever been upfront in a car before,” she announced as I climbed in next to her. I knew this, of course. She had also mentioned this on the way TO the store. I simply smiled at pushed her knees back, discreetly, making sure the shoulder strap didn’t run across her neck. Then I smiled and maneuvered my way out of the parking lot.
I keenly remember the unique joy of riding in the front seat of a car. It’s invigorating for a child. It makes you feel empowered and glorious. Like you can see for miles and are galloping along the road at terrific speeds. Riding high and proud on the very head of the horse. You just want to throw your arms back and let your hair trail behind you as you yell “Yeeeehaaaa!” into the night sky, branches whipping by on both sides, reaching for you like long bony arms, but you are untouchable, you are invincible, you are a shooting star come to earth. The wind flying past you as you charge towards home.
I grinned and slowly turned onto a frontage road. It made me proud to know I was giving Lydia this amazing experience. I glanced down to take record of the look on her face. But I couldn’t see her face. She was leaned forward into a ball with her hands covering her head in an odd sort of cocoon.
I slowed down. “Oh no. Lydia… what’s the matter?”
Her folded body shrugged casually.
“No, why are you covering your face like that?”
She parted a pair of fingers and glanced back at me. “It’s okay. I’m just playing a game.”
I looked back and forth and into the empty back seat. “A game? With who? What are you talking about?”
She sighed, “I’m just playing it with me. I wanted to see if I could do something.”
“What? What do you want to see if you can do?” I asked the question even though I was fairly confident the answer was going to be nonsense.
“I’m trying to get all the way home without seeing the color red.” She smiled and her fingers snapped back shut like a quickly closed window.
“No no no. Come back. Why? Why would you do that? You’re riding in the front seat, don’t you want to see all of the cool things you can see from the front seat?”
“Not if they are red,” the little girl replied. “Because then I will lose the game.”
I shook my head. The night was dark. I could barely see the trees reaching for us as we rushed past. Actually, they didn’t even seem all that interested in reaching for us. And you could hardly call what we were doing “rushing”. We were a pair of turtles barely crawling through this black and white world, and one of the turtles had its little head sucked inside of its shell because it decided it didn’t want to see the color red for the rest of the day.
“Alright,” I said finally. “Okay, I’ll let you know when we get home. Can the game be over when we get into the garage, or do I have to guide you into the house like a blind girl?”
“It’s over when we get in the driveway actually,” said the bundle on the passenger seat.
“Of course it is…”
We drove on. I turned on some music. I rested my hand on the little girls back and gently scratched. A pair of fingers parted and she winked up at me.
“Thanks for letting me ride in the front seat,” she said. “This is the funnest car ride ever.”