Jenny chucked her statistics textbook into her backpack and thought about the end of the world. She slugged her things behind her then followed the crowd out of Lecture Hall 102. Her boots went from hitting the tattered brown linoleum to clicking against the concrete until she made it to her car just past admissions. Jenny dropped her backpack into the backseat, set herself into the driver’s seat of the old family Buick, propped her hands on the white-hot steering wheel, and glared at the buildings ahead of her.

            She hated wintertime in Florida—it meant eighty-degree weather and dead grass and finals. Her first semester full time at Palm State Community College meant less to look forward to. Jenny took gen-eds for the most part, statistics being the exception. She wasn’t sure if she even wanted to be a math major. She thought about her dad and her ninth-grade Algebra teacher, Mrs. Zalinski. “You have the brain for cracking things,” Jenny heard her say, “Use it to your advantage.”

            The steering wheel under the sunshine seared her hands. Jenny gazed out at the symmetrical yet mismatched bundle of buildings. Sabal palm trees between the oaks on the walkways. Half the buildings still caught in the seventies. All the same gray bricks. Jenny imagined it all burning.

            Jenny meant to take the main road back to Church Street to get onto seventeen. But she stopped at an intersection and looked down Third Avenue. It was a more rundown neighborhood, mostly small, Spanish houses with overgrown oaks. Jenny heard a rumbling of a coming car behind her. Out of impulse, she steered in that direction.

            The houses tucked themselves away from the world. Behind the silvery wind chimes and plastic flamingos, behind the Mexican fans and pygmy gates. Jenny drove ahead, lost in thought, her arms part of the Buick.

            She reached another intersection, beside Thomas Lake playground. Jenny kept at the corner and felt the heat on her hands. The playground matched the streets, with the miniature baseball field covered over with weeds, the dilapidated rest area, the unemptied metal trash bins. Jenny drove ahead, just passing it before taking a right by the Methodist church on the corner of Wilson and O Avenue. She turned the Buick into the gravel lot and shut off the engine, where it rattled then puttered out.

            Jenny stumbled over the wooden borders, onto the thinning grass. She walked to the other side of the playground, toward the swing set. The play set was surrounded by plastic boarders, with foam replacing the grass. Beside the swing set, a yellow slide curved away, covered in shoes marks. Red monkey bars led to the bright blue railings that ranged from ladder rungs to fireman poles. A rock wall led to a smaller green slide for the younger children. Jenny grasped the rusting chains of one of the swings and stuffed herself inside.

            Thunder rumbled overhead. Ibis flew out of the lake behind her and into the cloudy gray sky. Jenny looked up in time to see a boy, baseball cap on, meander after his father, who had already exited the chain link fence to get to the car. Jenny dropped her eyes and examined the foamy purple ground underneath her feet.

            Jenny thought about the last time she had talked to her dad. Even after he left, he let her keep the Buick. “The day he left, he said it was his gift to you,” Mom had said. She smirked afterward, “Some gift.” They had had that car since Jenny had been in grammar school; she could still smell the orange crayon she had left in the backseat cupholder and found melted in a puddle the next day. Dad forgave her for that. He forgave her for too many things. Like the time she drew on her bedroom wall when she was five. The time she punched Susie Carlson on the school playground for stealing her favorite horse figurine, Peaches. The time she rear-ended her mom’s car her first time behind the wheel.

            She imagined the world burning but leaving the playground behind. She wanted her dad to park in the gravel then saunter through the chain link fence, Detroit Tigers baseball cap on, hands in his pockets, toothpick in his mouth. She wanted him to come back and ask one last time, “Hey about it, Jen, one last trip to the park before Daddy goes?”


 Emma Foster


Emma Foster is a senior English major at Cedarville University. She has been published in The Cedarville Review, and she had the honor of being editor-in-chief for the literary journal for the Spring 2020 issue. She has also been published in Voices of the Valley literary journal. 


  1. loved this short fiction it's more than the title suggests.

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