Rest stop, pop-tart sky

Jim Esch
3 min readDec 22, 2021

A winter solstice flash fiction. Are the stars infinite? Are we?

We’ve stopped off highway 70 somewhere west of Topeka in the middle of a cloudless winter solstice night.

Photo by Folco Masi on Unsplash

My neck is stiff from the cramped back seat of the Honda. After this break, it will be my turn to drive, so I’ve grabbed some caffeine and carbs for the haul. Mara and Jacob have gone to the rest rooms. I have the Pop-Tarts to myself. I open the box and rip open the foil wrapper.

I count the number of dots on the pastry’s surface. 36. Why did I need to know that? Why do I keep counting down miles to the state line?

I lie back on the warm hood of the car and look up. All the years I’ve traveled, if I could tally them, would be a wisp of cloud against this spangled, spiraling tapestry of jewels.

Jacob comes over and asks what I’m doing with the Pop-Tart in my hand facing up, eyes fixed on stars. I try to explain how finite I’m feeling.

He looks where I’m looking and points, says nothing’s eternal, not even that. He insists on it. It’s all change, like the Kansas song we’ve been singing before we stopped here — nothing lasts forever but the earth and sky. Even they will go away, he says. Like us. We gotta go. Many hours to go. Boulder’s flatirons and a college friend await our arrival.

Yes, I think, it does slip away, just like the song. But it’s all relative. In relation to me and Mara and Jacob and the car and the Pop-Tart holes, the vault of darkness and light points is as eternal as I can comprehend.

I blink. The stars behind these specks may no longer exist, their light having traveled so far, so long. I pick one out, close my eyelids. Open. We’re still here. I imagine a silver spider thread spinning from my throbbing heart to the star I’ve picked out, spanning space and time. How small I feel. How big.

I don’t notice Mara until she reaches for the Pop-Tarts and snatches the can of Pepsi from me. The wind picks up and bites across the prairie. Aside from the passive fluorescent rest stop glow, it’s black sea around us. We’ll be diving into it soon.

She gives the can back. It dents in my grasp. I start counting soda bubbles on my tongue.

Thanks for reading. Want to see more creative content like this? Check out more of my other poems and fiction and creative nonfiction.

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