Mom wished she’d taken the other bridge, though she had no reason to believe that I-55 would have taken her where she wanted to go any more directly. The road they were on, and the car they were in, went off toward the North, through the tip of Memphis and into the areas promising exits to suburban neighborhoods. She was boxed in and rolling on and on waiting for directions. My aunt scrambled about with the map in the backseat barking out directions between coughs. Arlene coughed in deep hard rasps. Mom flexed her hands on the steering wheel.
“Hold on a minute,” Mom turned the radio so far down it might as well have been turned off.
“You need to turn south.” Another series of wet coughs exploded from the back of the car.
“Which way is south?” Mom asked glancing at her sister in the rear view mirror. She had to say it again after the hacking stopped.
“Right I think.”
Mom passed another exit before my aunt could get her breath to answer. “Ellen just get off the highway, we’re getting too far away from Graceland.” An orderly procession of cars with their headlights on forced the Buick further away from their goal. “I need cigarette.”
“Arlene you sound like a TB patient from an old movie. How could you want a cigarette?”
Aunt Arlene had her purse on her lap, rummaging hard enough to make a rattling noise of the contents. Tried to suppress her coughing with a fist to her lips, “Just get off the road, Ellen, or I’m going to lit up in the car.”
“Oh no you don’t.”
My aunt managed a thin smile when she looked up from her purse, she made eye contact with my mother. Aunt Arlene’s eye make-up was so badly smeared she looked like a sixties starlet without the false eyelashes. She cleared her throat several times. “Come on El, we’ve got to get off the freeway anyway.”
“I think it’s a highway.”
My aunt’s attention was back in her purse. “What?”
“This is a highway.”
“Ellen this is an interstate, and therefore a freeway.”
Mom made a considering noise in the back of her throat, gearing up for a denial, my aunt knew the signs. “I don’t think…”
“Who cares El? Just find somewhere to pull over.”
“There is no need to yell.” Mom spoke slowly, with authority that made her sister hiss through her teeth and begin coughing again. “It was you who was so hell bent to get here and now you want to waste time when we’re so close.”
Arlene’s only answer was a waving hand, a wrist flick meant either to dismiss my mother or to egg her on. Mom saw the motion flutter in the rear view mirror and gritted her teeth. She turned the radio back up.