CHAPTER FOUR – Potty Breaks Can Be Hazardous To Your Health
(from the novel, The Rocky Road to the End of the World)
Copyright (c) 2013 by Sandra Bell Kirchman
All rights reserved.
“So, Justin, what’ll it be?” Mark said finally.
After a long moment, Justin replied in a low voice, “I guess I’ll stay.” Then right away, “Sorry, don’t mean to be begrudging. I really appreciate you letting me stay. I’ll try and make it worth your while.”
“That’s fine, Justin,” I said. “Just stay healthy.”
“Uh, so, Justin,” I heard Patty say, as I turned to face the front, “how long have you lived in Spiritvale?”
“A couple of years,” he murmured. Their voices sank to a pleasant buzz, and I relaxed into my seat.
“Need me to drive?” I asked Mark.
“No, I’m good,” he said. “I’m not sure how much longer we’ll be able to use the Jeep, though. Get some rest while you can.” He looked worried, and I conceded his right to look that way.
“I’ll try,” I answered doubtfully. Honestly, I was as worried as Mark looked, and I was being inundated by all the what-ifs. What if we ran out of gas?… What if I broke a leg?… What if the dogs couldn’t keep up?… I was very good at what-iffing.
The car cruised to a stop, and I woke up.
“Why’d we stop?” I asked, not sleepy anymore.
“Two reasons: I need to take a leak, and the news is getting worse. I’m not sure we should stick to the road anymore and I want to take a look at the map.” Mark got out of the car and disappeared into the brush.
“Wha’s happening?” Justin called sleepily from the rear seat.
“Nothing major,” I reassured him. “Mark had to take a leak, and he wants to take a look at the map.”
“Me too,” Justin said urgently. “Excuse me, Patty.”
As he disappeared in Mark’s general direction, I glanced at the sky and realized I had been sleeping for at least a couple of hours. It was getting dark. There was a smell of dampness in the air, signaling rain sometime in the near future. It would be a bad time to leave the Jeep, I reckoned.
Justin and Mark arrived back at the Jeep and got settled in.
Patty laughed. “Those gas station maps aren’t much good for anything except to give you a general idea of where the main roads go. They don’t show most of the grid roads.”
“Yeah, I know,” Mark replied, unrolling a large white map. “Turn on the overhead lamp, Alex.”
Reaching up, I clicked the ceiling light on. “Don’t worry, Patty,” I said. “Mark is an expert in tracking, hunting, map-reading, and survival. We couldn’t be safer in anyone else’s hands.”
Patty grinned and the light of it almost illuminated the interior of the Jeep. “That’s good to know. For once, I’ll be able to tell my folks I used my head.”
“Yep.” Justin nodded approvingly. I suspected they had shared their life stories. They seemed very comfortable with each other. I wondered if Mark and I would feel comfortable with each other again.
After making a few notations on the map, he handed it to me. “I think we’ll keep on going as long as we can. I’ve marked out a route that should keep us away from crowds. You can’t tell about the farmers living along the route, though. You can bet they’ll all have guns. Hopefully, they’ll be sleeping.”
I was the only one who knew that Mark was kidding, but the other two took comfort from his remark.
“I’m going to fill the gas tank with the reserve I brought along. We don’t need it yet, but I don’t want to have to stop once we get going, and I won’t be going into any towns for gas. With luck we’ll find a deserted farm with purple gas available.”
“Purple gas?” Justin asked.
“A low grade of gas that farmers are allowed to use in their tractors, etc. Not legal for ordinary vehicles, but I don’t suppose anyone will be objecting,” Mark replied. “Now, if anyone has to take a leak, take it now. Alex, take the dogs out to stretch their legs, and feed them. As for us, perhaps Justin could rummage through the food sack and see if there is anything we can eat as we go…chips, beef jerky, stuff like that.”
I thought quickly. “Well, maybe while Justin is working on our food orders, Patty and I can take a pee. When I get back, I would appreciate help with the dogs.”
Patty nodded and hopped out of the car. I grabbed a box of tissues and followed her. When we were finished, I spotted a small glade just yards away from the side of the highway. With all the dense brush and trees surrounding it, I thought it would be perfect for the dogs.
Justin staggered a bit when he got out of the car, but seemed to regain his balance after a few tries at walking. Patty handed Tilly Tot out to me, then reached in behind the back seat and passed out the carriers holding LingLing and Oreo.
Oreo was trembling, and I handed Tilly to Justin so I could pick Oreo up. He was a chunky little Shih Tzu, weighed about fifteen pounds, and was ordinarily the pint-sized king of his domain at home. Here, it was a strange wilderness, obviously governed by something else from the smells. Although he was no coward, he didn’t seem very anxious to meet this something else. When we got to the glade, I put him down beside me and walked away a bit to give him privacy to do his duty. He hastily followed me every step I took. So I stood still and let him do some long-distance sniffing.
Patty and Justin took their cue from me and put the dogs they were holding down. Tilly did her job and then casually strolled around the glade, sniffing here and there with great interest. LingLing was delighted and pranced around as if the glade were her own private yard. She had claimed ownership of the big yard we had at home and this seemed no different to her.
One problem arose. LingLing had been trained to the pee pad so well that she wouldn’t pee on the grass. Poop, yes, but not pee. I signalled to Justin and Patty to watch all the dogs while I made a dash back to the vehicle. I was happy to note that Oreo was now so interested in the smells that he didn’t notice I had left. I grabbed a pee pad from the kit bag and hurried back.
Justin was sitting cross-legged on the grass, chewing a blade of grass, while Patty was walking around the glade shaking the kinks out of her legs. The dogs ignored her, all three intensely interested in the magnificent odours, many of which they had never smelled before. I put the pee pad down in an out-of-the-way place, for which LingLing was grateful. She was very private about her personal daintiness.
I decided the glade was as good a place as any to feed and water the dogs. I ran back to the Jeep to let Mark know what we were doing. He nodded and I could see he was getting annoyed again at how slowly things were going. Mark would feel like he was in heaven if his life could be run with military precision. He was the only man I knew who would eat his food as a chore to be finished quickly. He didn’t dine; he shovelled, and then was off to doing something else. Resting was a foreign concept; yet he needed it more than anyone I’d ever known. I told him we wouldn’t be long, and ran back to the glade with the materials.
I fixed their little dishes, and added Tilly’s arthritis medication to her kibbles. Putting the bowls down near each other, I filled the big bowl about half-full of water, trying to conserve it until I knew for sure there would be more available.
The dogs must have been hungry because they dug into their kibbles like they actually liked them. Not even any trouble with Tilly and her arthritis medication. Then they took turns taking drinks. Justin and Patty, bless their hearts, started playing with them, throwing a stick for Ling Ling to chase, rolling Oreo in the grass and tickling him, and petting Tilly and letting her know what a pretty girl she was.
When it got to the point that I knew we’d better get back or Mark would be fuming, I changed the pee pads in the carriers and loaded the two dogs. It didn’t take long to get us all squared away. Patty and Justin were more comfortable, since we repacked the back seat to make it more compact and give the two more room. I got the sneaking hunch that they didn’t mind the togetherness all that much.
“Okay, everyone ready?” Mark said, a little more forcefully than necessary, I thought, as a small chorus of yeses answered him. “Justin, did you manage to get some food ready for us?”
“Aye, aye, sir,” Justin said with a grin. He dug into the pack and pulled out four bundles each wrapped in a napkin and handed them out.
Curious, I unwrapped mine and found two sticks of jerky beef, a large cube of cheddar cheese, mild, a chocolate bar, and an apple. Justin then handed around a can of pop and dug into his own little meal. It was strangely satisfying, and I munched happily, as Mark pulled the car around to head north again.
“When we’ve finished eating, Alex, I’ll need you to guide me once we reach the first bend.”
“Okay,” I said and sighed mentally. It was going to be a long rocky ride to the end of the world.
After I finished eating and wiping my face with the napkin, I dropped whatever needed to be disposed into the plastic bag that Justin passed around, then picked up the grid map. It was a plainly lettered map, divided into rectangles, with the grid roads riding as boundaries to the largest rectangles, or a combination of rectangles. The east-west roads were township roads and the north-south roads were range roads. It appeared we were on Range Road 36 W2M, whatever that meant. I gave Mark the information, to which he grunted without comment.
A pained sigh came from the back seat. I craned my neck to see what the problem was. Patty whispered to me.
“Now I have to go number two. Will Mark be mad if I ask him to stop now?”
I nodded. “Probably,” I whispered back. “But ask him anyhow. When you gotta go, you gotta go.”
Patty nodded back and cleared her throat. “Uh, Mark, so sorry about this but I have to go to the can again, this time for a…um…poo. Must be the huge meal I just had.” She laughed in embarrassment.
Mark was silent, and I was afraid he was going to explode. He gave so much of himself most of the time that people were shocked when they found out he had little tolerance for many people-type foibles. Dog-type foibles too.
Then he said in a strained voice, “All right. I realize it’s hard to regulate your bodily functions. But, in the future, just a heads up that there will be times when we won’t be able to stop for anything. We don’t know what we’re facing from the environment, but we do know what people threatened with extinction will do.”
White-faced, Patty exited the vehicle, clutching the tissue box I had handed to her. She scrambled through the ditch and disappeared into the trees.