Tollbooth – Kelsey Maki

The first time she drove through she stared at me straight on, eyes hard and clear, hazel with flashes of honey. Her eyes slung me back to my youth, to warm afternoons spent skipping school, my bait box under a tree. So long I spent gazing into that river, a fishing pole at my feet, taken with the pattern: clear water sliding over sand and silt and what looked like gold at first glance.

            The change dings the side of booth five. Someone honks. Someone else honks. Two booths down, a driver peels through. I catch a glimpse. His car is shiny and huge with spinning silver hubcaps. Gas-guzzling fool. But I have to stop with that. The name calling. Sixty-seven years and still I have to keep relearning: Don’t judge.

            The second time she said I was poised, ready. You always have the right change. Mind reader. Are you? The bobblehead dolls on her dashboard were rocking. A romper-room riot it looked like—all of them huddled together. I wished I were down there, part of that fixed community; always moving, never changing. I wanted to tell her that she reminded me of my wife, but before I could say a word, she was gone.

            It didn’t used to be like this. Me: collecting soon-to-be-obsolete-tokens on the Garden State Parkway. But I’m not gonna talk about it. Not gonna bore you with that brand of bullshit. Who among us hasn’t been forced to adapt? The world keeps spinning—1000 miles an hour at its equator, or so they say.

            The third time I noticed the flowers, tiny fake flowers glued along the edge of her dashboard. The bobbleheads nodded as I took her bill. There was something vital and compelling about her face, the broken blood vessels beside her eyes, the way her hair—dusted white at the temples—fell from her bun. I told her to have a nice day and she smiled. Her teeth were crooked, but clean.

            It’s true: Time goes fast. Too fast. I swear the seasons splash together in a continuous line of color which is strange since lately it always seems like night. The darkness is startling. Like stepping out of a theater to find the sky changed, like waking up to find your wife gone. In my mind, I’m still holding out my hand, still waiting for the chance to let my change funnel into her palm, wishing it would float a moment before dropping, wishing it would defy gravity and time, not ready to see the sunlight bounce off her back window as she speeds away.

Kelsey MakiKelsey Maki is an assistant professor of English at Brookdale Community College. Her first love is literary fiction, but she also writes travel articles, dabbles in speculative fiction, and pens an occasional poem. Her writing has been published in the print anthology Mosaics: A Collection of Independent Women—Volume I and online at and