Four hours on the road, crammed into an old Chevrolet with two antsy boys, a fussy two-year-old girl and one very pregnant cat named Midnight–I could use a break to stretch my legs. We all could. But try telling that to my husband, Ernie, behind the wheel.
“Midnight’s acting funny,” my son, Ken, yawned from the backseat. His brother, Jerry, stroked Midnight’s fur, trying to calm her down.
“She’s probably getting ready to have her kittens,” I said, glancing meaningfully at Ernie.
“No stops,” he said. “We’re almost there.”
Whenever we took to the road, Ernie was a man on a mission. Must’ve been a quirk left over from his army days. He was determined to keep us on schedule; no stops unless it was an absolute emergency. Bathroom and snack breaks didn’t count.
There was only an hour left before we reached my in-laws in Georgia. It felt like we’d been driving forever. The kids began to doze off, and though it was only 9 p.m., I closed my eyes too.
A sudden right turn jolted me awake. Huh? It wasn’t our exit, but we were leaving the highway. Was Ernie really pulling over? What was the emergency?
“I’m hungry,” he said, parking the car in front of a Hardee’s. “Let’s get some burgers.”
“What?” I sputtered. “But you… you never stop!” If he’d said he wanted tap dance lessons I’d have been less surprised.
He unbuckled his seatbelt. “Can’t explain it,” he said. “I got a craving.”
We filed out of the car, a little dazed. The boys ran to the bathroom, while the rest of us approached the counter. I was placing our order when I heard the squeak-squeak of Ken’s sneakers against the restaurant’s linoleum floor. He stumbled towards us… and collapsed in Ernie’s arms.
“Ken? Ken?” He didn’t respond. “Call 911!” I screamed.
“There’s another one here, against the wall!” a man shouted. Jerry had passed out too!
An ambulance arrived and rushed us to the hospital. The doctor started all three kids on oxygen. “Carbon monoxide poisoning,” he explained. “Your exhaust must have backed up. If you hadn’t stopped, you wouldn’t have made it another hour.”
Ernie never ate that burger, but his sudden craving was gone. We drove to my in-laws the next morning with our windows rolled down, thankful to be alive.
Oh, and Midnight? Three days later she gave birth to five healthy kittens.