tubb Flickr CC
On the morning of my grandmother Delle’s funeral, the vestibule of Grace Episcopal reeked of overbaked lilies-of-the-valley and the onion-tinged funk of armpits. A few times I choked back the rise of bile in my throat at the assault of smells. The air conditioning was on the fritz again. The minister, his face pink and tight like a balloon, apologized to Aunt Kat over and over again. “Sorry for your loss” battled “Sorry for the broken air conditioner” for the most useless apology of the day. Aunt Kat, her hair pulled back in a bulletproof salt-and-pepper bun, breezed by him, nodding in response, but not stopping. Never stopping. She had been in perpetual motion since she, with her family in tow, stepped through our door the day after Daddy found Delle.
After the services and the minister’s syrupy tribute to Delle, surely made briefer by the fat beads of sweat rolling down the sides of his face, Aunt Kat arranged us in a line by the door.
“This is just for kin,” she said, shooting a look at Daddy.
She stuck me next to Daddy at the end of the receiving line, like a trashcan to collect all the scraps the mourners, the prune-faced polyester color guard in black, tossed our way.
Delle was such a stalwart of the community, a woman of her principles. Translation – Delle owned a few acres of land in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. When the men in suits came sniffing around her door, talking mineral rights and drilling, she didn’t even open the screen door. Doors had been opening up and down RR 20. Parcels of the Blue Ridge Mountain foothills promised like pre-teen daughters to cult leaders, only with more paperwork. But not Delle. Never Delle.
Delle was always there to lend a helping hand. In the form of an armada of grocery bags filled with her homemade canned corn, green beans, and tomatoes that she made me drag from the pantry at Christmas to donate to the Cane’s Mill food bank. When she got too out of breath to walk to the pantry, much less boil jars for canning, she tucked a hundred-dollar bill in an envelope and sent me on a hike to the church basement, the home of the food bank. The lady who opened the envelope smirked. “Give Delle my love. We’re gonna miss her beans this year.”
She was a real fine lady. I pictured Delle spread out in her chair in our living room, the light from the TV illuminating the blue-gray wreath of smoke around her impassive pink face. The spray of tight curls framing her face made the square cut of her jaw more severe, like a cactus in a rose garden. Her chair, with the wooden arms rubbed blonde from her leathery elbows and the faded Carolina blue cushions sagging beneath the puddle of her hips, was her true home within the home, where she spent the hours of her day until she limped down the hallway to bed at midnight as the TV image sucked into a dot in the middle of the screen. Her lips were a slash of bright red, her one concession to beauty. I guess that was enough to be classified as a lady in our nothing town.
The rest of their words were all more garbage to be thrown on me, burying me until I smothered under the weight. Or combusted.
In the receiving line, my family gobbled them up with two-handed grasps of papery old lady hands.
“Thank you, thank you, that’s very kind,” Aunt Kat smiled, slipping into our accent like it was a robe that she donned whenever she visited Cane’s Mill. After she left for college she never came back, except for three visits a year. Her daughter, my cousin Heather, hovered at her hip breaking into a fresh round of sobs at every new visitor. Aunt Kat clamped an arm around Heather while my uncle held her other hand. In the stifling stillness of the church, a chill circled my shoulders, a phantom of what I didn’t have. Had never had.
Since Kat and her family arrived Wednesday they’d taken over everything, the funeral, the coffin, the post-funeral luncheon which required some advanced accent work from Aunt Kat. She slipped “reckon” into the conversation at least five times. Kat cleaned our house, Delle’s house where Daddy and I had moved when I was nine. She tossed out all of the ashtrays, pulled down the yellowing curtains, and opened the windows as if she was trying to blow all traces of Delle out of the house before she could be buried in Grace Memorial Gardens. I guess someone had to take charge. Daddy proved to be useless enough.
He stood next to me, tottering nervously from foot to foot. His paw of a hand smoothed the thin fingers of hair carefully arranged over the expanse of his pink bald spot like a threadbare blanket on a shabby couch. His suit, purchased on Aunt Kat’s orders from the J.C. Penney in Hartville, was both too large and too small. The pants gapped at the waist and were held up with a belt like a rubber band around a bottle in a paper bag. The jacket drew taut around his shoulders. He wrapped every person who came into his orbit in a bear hug that threatened to rip the jacket before the words could leave their mouths.
She was a real fine woman.
She was so truly herself.
Behind Daddy, his girlfriend Gretchen hovered like a gnat. She had already tried to slip into the role of concerned wannabe step-parent with me. Before the mourning assembly line stuttered into action, she slipped her arm around my shoulder almost drowning me with the sharp smell of her perfume.
“How you holding up, sweetie?” She cooed.
I lowered my shoulder and edged closer to Daddy, squeezing her behind us. She had no place in this line. Aunt Kat’s “Just kin” was for Gretchen’s benefit. Gretchen could barely contain her glee at Delle’s death. She wrapped it in tearful brown eyes and pursed frowns, but I knew she’d been secretly celebrating since the words left Daddy’s lips. Delle passed last night. In her sleep. At least that’s a blessing.
No more competition for Daddy’s heart, for his time, for his loyalty. Since Daddy met Gretchen, there hadn’t been much competition. Six months ago, he took our old hound dog, Missy to the vet where Gretchen worked as the receptionist to see if Missy had enough life left in her to save or if Daddy should take her to the spot in the woods behind our house. Since that day, Daddy had barely been home enough to let his boots dry. Gretchen with her tight spiraled perm and swinging hips had become his home. At least she had convinced Daddy to let the vet put Missy down. I always hated hearing the echo of the gunshot in the woods behind our house, hated worse when I came upon the rock riddled with divots where he took our dogs or any creature that needed to be put out of its misery.
Today Gretchen wasn’t sucking up all the attention. She was Daddy’s Brave Little Soldier, bringing him Dixie cups of water and handkerchiefs to wipe away the sweat dripping from his forehead. She was his support. I was, as always, his afterthought.
There was a break in the line. Daddy cupped my elbow in his rough palm. “You and Heather want to drive to Hartville later? Catch a movie and get away from this mess?” I ignored him.
I stole a glance of Heather. She was a faucet of tears spilling onto the old ladies who offered her tissues from the hiding places in their sleeves while Aunt Kat rubbed circles on her back. Cousin Heather, who barely tolerated visits to our house, was acting like she lost her best friend. The only time her blubbering halted was when our neighbors, Camille and Curtis stepped into line, trudging behind their mom who had surely forced them to come. Heather ducked over to me.
“Does Curtis have a girlfriend?” she whispered.
“Why? You want to go on a date?” I asked loud enough for Aunt Kat to throw a look our way.
Heather rolled her eyes at me. “I don’t know. Just hang out or something. Not like there’s anything to do.”
When adults were around, Heather was a brooding granddaughter bereft at the loss of her beloved grandma, but I saw through her. Since she was a bratty ten-year-old peppering me with stupid questions about Delle--Is she your mom? Who is your mom? Do you even have a mom?—I saw through her charade. The first thing she asked when she rolled into town for Delle’s funeral was if Delle had a liquor stash that she could raid.
“Peach Schnapps would be delightful,” Heather had said.
“Delle don’t drink,” I answered.
“Sure. Okay,” she said.
Delle had, in fact, drank. In stolen nips during trips to the bathroom. Daddy and I pretended not to see. She wasn’t supposed to. Her prescription bottles warned against alcohol. While Daddy made calls to spread the word about Delle, I relocated her bottles of gin and schnapps to the pantry where they were only in danger of being found by the mice that made a home in the tunnels behind the walls.
In the vestibule, the line of mourners kicked back into action as the stragglers, the ones with walkers and limps, spilled from the rectory. Aunt Kat motioned to Heather to return to her side. Heather stared at Curtis like he was a bottle of schnapps. I avoided his eye like it was an infection. Camille started to make her way down the line. I dug my fingernails into my palm.
She loved her family so much, especially her grandchildren.
She was a treasure.
I bet you girls are missing your grandma something fierce.
I never called Delle “grandma,” not even when I was a half-pint banging around her living room and knocking over vases of the dahlias and roses Grandpa Willy used to raise. He died when I was still too young to form any memories of him beyond a bald man in a scratchy sweater who smelled of fertilizer and dirt. When Daddy and I moved in with Delle after my mother went away, I didn’t let myself curl into Delle’s shoulder and murmur “grandma.” She wasn’t that kind of grandma. She was Delle. Always Delle. And she never told me to call her anything else.
Your grandmother was so lovely, so gentle. I don’t know what Cane’s Mill will be without Nordelle Rockford.
My stomach lurched. Since Delle died last weekend, a constant nausea had settled in my stomach. It had a form, a particular scratch in my throat, almost a crunch lodged behind my teeth. I was constantly swallowing it back, trying to stuff it down with crackers and toast, but it kept rising up, souring inside of me. The choking smell of the flowers, the people, the tang of wet wood and all the words swimming around me threatened to drag me to the carpet. And Camille. She was almost close enough to smell. To reach with an extended arm. Aunt Kat’s scrambled eggs were close to finding their way out of me.
Are you okay, sweetheart?
Camille, the only person I’d known as long as Daddy and Delle, the only person who knew me, stood a few yards away in the shadow of her mom. Camille’s eyes darted to me then she quickly looked away. She wore one of her mother’s navy-blue shifts. Her arms looked like twigs poking from cavernous armholes, her body an absence in the billowing dress. My mouth grew sour. Camille hadn’t even cared enough to buy a dress for Delle’s funeral. That was how much of a nothing I was to her now. Before she and her family could snake their way to us, I ducked out of line, almost running over Gretchen.
Daddy called, “Libby, girl. You okay?”
“Let her go,” Gretchen said.
I pushed through the heavy wooden door. I let myself be absorbed into the thick heat of the May afternoon, let the chirr of crickets drown out the murmurs from the departing mourners as they slogged around the back of the church to the cemetery. Hearing Camille utter some false sympathy under the stern gaze of her mom would be the spark that lit me into a bonfire. Or at least made me puke all over the lily bouquets.
Delle didn’t ever say it, but I knew she was glad I lived with her. Since she lost her license two years ago, she didn’t leave the house much. When Daddy wasn’t at whatever construction site coated his overalls in dust, he was tracking his mess into Gretchen’s plastic covered living room, not ours. Delle lost her license after a wrong turn sent her careening into the pigpen on our neighbor’s property. If it hadn’t been for the pen, she would’ve plunged into the pond. The neighbor heard the crash and came running.
“Fit as a fiddle,” he said when Daddy and I arrived to pick her up and take her to the hospital.
“She’s made of tougher stuff than that dirty old pen.” Daddy had said.
Her scrapes healed, but her license was taken away pending further testing. Delle waved away the possibility of more driving tests. “I don’t need them to tell me I can drive.”
Delle had loved driving almost as much as Daddy and Aunt Kat hated when she grabbed the keys from the top drawer of the rickety wooden table by her chair in the living room.
“I dread that creak,” I overheard Aunt Kat telling Daddy. “She’s a lead foot. If she doesn’t watch out—.”
I didn’t know what a lead foot was, but I knew the tickle in my stomach when Delle hit the open road beyond the turnoff to Camille’s house at the end of the gravel driveway. The orchards and fences, cows and horses blurred outside the windows of Delle’s gray Caprice Classic. The wind roared through the slit in the back window that wouldn’t close all the way. The trunk door shuddered. When she went over the small hills by the edge of Camille’s family’s property, I could swear the tires left the pavement like the General Lee. In the car, Delle became a different woman. Although her eyes pinpricked in concentration, never leaving the bends and valleys of the road, the rest of her relaxed. Her face settled into something I would call pretty. Handsome was what Daddy said when he showed me pictures of her younger self, stern and unsmiling from astride a horse or next to Grandpa Willy on their wedding day. The edges of her smoothed on the road, blurred in the whizzing freedom that held us in its thrall as we drove.
“Delle, you should’ve been a racecar driver,” I said.
“Now why would I want to do that?”
Twice a month, Delle had driven me to visit my mother at the hospital two counties over. Two hours round-trip over winding country roads, through a two-mile long thicket of forest that separated what they used to call the Blue Ridge Sanatorium from the road. Daddy said he would come the next time and the next but when Delle’s keys jingled, he was always too busy. He divorced my mother a year after she left, more accurately a year after he committed her, when it became clear to everyone but me that she wasn’t coming home again.
The first visits to see my mother after the divorce had ended in screaming, my mother hurling accusations at Delle. “You always hated me. You always wanted to get rid of me. You did this! You poisoned the well! You stole my life.”
Delle and the staff shuttled me out while my mom collapsed in a heap in the corner of the visiting room, a cold bare room with a table and purple plastic chairs and a small pile of Highlights magazines that grew more spare and ratty with each visit. But after another few months, a year, we fell into a rhythm. My mother would show me the pictures she drew for me over the course of the month, her eyes searching my face, practically pleading with me to say they were good. So I did. She had been an artist, adept at sketching little cartoon dogs and cats that made me giggle when I was little.
“I like this one. It’s pretty.”
I told her about school while staring at the dents and scratches in the table, feeling the eyes of the staff on my back. Sometimes she asked to brush my hair, told me to bring a brush, but I never did. I was afraid that the shield keeping me from collapsing into her would chip away at the prickly tug of bristles through my tangle of hair.
The day after my thirteenth birthday, Delle waited in the car after signing me in at the front desk. I was old enough to go alone now.
“Your mama wants to see you, Libby girl. I’m afraid, I’m just a bad memory,” she said.
As the staff led me down the hall, I stole a look over my shoulder. Delle shuffled back to her car.
On this day, my mother’s hair was cut short in a pageboy. The tight braid that she’d worn since I could remember was gone. I had an urge to run my fingers under the bobbed ends. They curled under like they were trying to tuck back into her. Her eyes were red. Most of our visits were stuttering and awkward. She asked me questions, “How’s school? How’s Camille? How’s the house? How are the pigs?” until she ran out. I didn’t ask her anything, afraid of what would spill from her chapped lips, which looked hemmed in by her puffy cheeks. I tried to remember the moments from before she left, the times we danced around the kitchen with tambourines, when she threw me onto the bed then tickled me until I cried, when we covered the kitchen table at our old house with drawings of the sun. But the day when she held my new bike over her head and launched it down the side of the hill at Delle’s house popped up, like a response. The feeling of her ropy arms cradling nine-year-old me like I was a baby again while hysterical sobs racked her body and shook mine. The drop onto the bed of crunchy leaves when Daddy barked at her in a voice I’d never heard before. The knife she held to her throat. Daddy howling her name into the night as she tumbled after the bike, a miracle that the knife hadn’t punctured more than her leg. What was. What is. Crossing back over an impossibility.
In the visiting room, my mother’s voice was low. “What are you doing for your birthday?”
“I don’t know. Camille’s coming over. Daddy rented a movie. No big whoop.”
She smiled. “Happy birthday to you, happy birthday to you.”
“Thanks.” I said. “It’s no big deal.”
Her eyes flashed. Sudden life behind the dull film put in place by her medication. “Oh sugar, it’s such a big deal, it’s the biggest deal. My baby girl is becoming a woman.” She reached and pinched a small hank of frizzy hair that curled onto my cheekbone between her fingers. “A woman and a woman and what a woman she will be.”
Her eyes skittered over my shoulder. The staff was watching. Always watching. Just in case. My mother withdrew her hand. It dropped to her lap, suddenly dead weight at the end of her arm.
I didn’t want to be a woman. Being a woman had never done anyone any good from what I could tell. A rhythm of monthly pain and underpants carnage that handcuffed you until you were hobbling around with dead eyes, sucking on cigarettes to dull the disappointment that your life had become. Growing body parts that made bullseyes of all the pieces you wanted to hide. My friend Camille and I joked that we would find a way to stop time the moment either of us got our period and find a way to live in the frozen world. That’s what most of my life felt like anyway, a wasteland that only came to life when Camille and I were locked in her room spinning stories of all the lives we would live once we left Cane’s Mill behind. The closer the inevitability of womanhood came, the more we pretended it never would. We locked ourselves away from all the junior high school gossip that seemed to enmesh the rest of the girls in our grade. And then there was my mom. My mom had been perfectly normal until I came along. Giving birth to me had driven her crazy.
In the room with my mom, the air turned tingly. She kept looking up at me then looking back at her lap. “I wanted to get you something but I didn’t know what. I don’t know what you like. I don’t know—”
Hair raised on the back of my neck. Her body contained a stillness that seemed more like a cage while her eyes darted around like they were trying to escape the prison of her body, which had bloated to almost double her size during her four years in the hospital from the medication and starchy food.
“It’s okay. I don’t need anything,” I said. I remembered the art projects she had given me two years ago, the sad drawings of the two of us holding hands that I had tucked away in my closet as soon as I got home.
I heard the clatter of the chair on the ground before I felt her fingers digging into my shoulders. “I don’t know what you like! I don’t know what you like!” Her eyes were frantic, like a piece of the mother from that day at Delle’s house had somehow broken through the fog of who she had become in the hospital. My heart took alight in my chest. Blood thrummed through me but my body went limp at her touch, at the dig of her fingers into the bulb of my shoulder. Words caught in my throat. A word. The word I hadn’t said since she left. “Mama.”
Delle didn’t make me go to visit her anymore. Around the time I turned sixteen, my mother was released from the hospital and went to live with her sister in North Carolina. “Stabilized,” Delle said. But not cured.
Still, Delle grabbed her keys the same time every weekend. And we drove.
Across Delle’s living room, across the murmur of the post-funeral luncheon, across the table of grease-spotted tubs of cold fried chicken from the Golden Skillet, Jell-o molds speckled with pineapple, mayonnaise slick salads, and casseroles that smelled of creamed mushroom soup and dill, Camille hovered by the window as if trying to escape through a crack in the blinds. Since the day at school when our friendship started to disassemble before my eyes, I hadn’t looked at her so closely. At her new careful haircut, her glossed pink lips, the black lined eyes, a little fuzzy from not having the years of expertise that her new friends, the Barbie Army had tried—and failed—to impart to Camille. Since the start of our freshman year, four years ago, they had been trying to claim Camille as one of their own because of who her parents were, because of their money. Delle didn’t have enough money to spark their interest in me or I had too much baggage. Too much dust from Daddy’s construction business. Cane County High was split into two groups, the farm kids and the small circle of kids whose families had deep roots in the county, who owned the orchards and rolling hills and stables that made the area a getaway for people who couldn’t afford Charlottesville. Not rich-rich, but country rich.
The unraveling of Camille and me began at school the first week of April during our senior year. One of the leaders of the Barbie Army, Meghan talked loudly in the front hallway near the school entrance. Meghan, who Camille said “acted country club instead of country.”
“I got in, ohmigod, can you believe it?” Meghan’s voice cut through the thrum of before school conversation, the sleepy-eyed trudge to classes.
Her eyes lingered on mine. “Today is going to be so fun, Miss Libby. Full of surprises.”
Already I’d had one surprise—Camille didn’t need to catch a ride with me. I showed up at her door. Her mom, still in her silky flowered robe, answered. “Oh darling, she didn’t call? Her daddy got her a little surprise when she got the news. Isn’t it wonderful. She was so excited she didn’t even make Curtis walk.” She smiled. Camille was forever trying to shake her little brother, Curtis. But he was too thick-headed to take the hint.
I drove to school alone, her mom’s words clunking around my brain. A little surprise. A little surprise.
When I heard Meghan’s pronouncement in the hallway, my stomach lurched. I felt like I was in a photo that had been set on fire, the edges curling in on itself slowly while everything warped and crackled.
Camille wasn’t in the same homeroom as me. I sat alone in the corner. Before the bell, the tiny swarm of rich kids buzzed on the opposite side of the classroom.
“Did you get in? Oh shit. That’s my safety school. You going? I ain’t going. My mom’s pissed. Daddy’s going to make some calls. Did you hear about Camille? No shit.”
My ears perked up at her name. I looked over to the corner. Meghan’s mouth spread in a slow smile. Loudly, she said, “Yeah, we’re totally going to be roomies. It’s going to rule.”
I caught up with Camille in third period history. She didn’t look up when I slid into the desk next to her. I slammed my books on the desk. “You decide to hitch this morning?” I asked.
She shrugged. “My dad got me a car. Sorry I didn’t call. I got up late. Curtis was being a dick about it.”
“Your dad got you a car? What did you—”
Meghan swooped between us. “Hey, girl. We on for lunch?” The pink stitches of her Jordache-clad bottom almost grazed my face.
Camille said, “Yeah, whatever. Sure.”
“What do you think about magenta? I know it’s a bit much for a dorm, but we want to really make an impression.” Meghan said.
“I don’t think they let you paint the walls.” Camille said.
Meghan waved her off. “Screw that. We’ll just do it and pay for damages later. My daddy always says ‘Don’t ask for permission, ask for forgiveness.’”
“Sweet motto. I’m sure you’ll go far,” I said, swallowing back the dread that was rising. The story that was being built from Meghan’s squeaky voice, her knowing looks stacked like a wall between Camille and me.
“Going farther than you,” Meghan said over her shoulder, then to Camille, “You tell her the good news?”
“You found Jesus and you’re going to be raptured at lunch? That is good news,” I said.
Meghan swiveled around to face me. Her face was a mask of Cosmopolitan makeup tips fighting for dominance. Her lips were caked in bright pink, her lashes thick like claws. She straddled the perilous border between southern woman and RuPaul.
“So, where’d you get in?” Meghan asked me. “Harvard? Yale? Bumfuck Community College?”
I held her stare, not daring to blink.
At the start of senior year, I’d gathered a few pamphlets at Delle’s insistence, but they quickly mixed with the junk mail and Sears catalogs on the table by the front door until I slid them into the wastebasket. Aunt Kat sent me more brochures.
“Do you see anything you like? If you do, we’ll make it happen,” Daddy said, sounding unsure.
“I’m still thinking about it,” I said when they asked. It was all a game, a play. I couldn’t get into a college with my grades. I couldn’t believe Camille could either. I wasn’t anybody’s idea of a good student. My English teacher gave it a shot at the start of the year, calling me into a conference and telling me that she could tell I was smart, that I just needed to show everyone else I was smart enough to get into a college. I blew her off. Like I blew off the guidance counselor in junior high. Like I blew off the few adults that saw something in me that wasn’t content to coast through the required years of school. What did it matter anyway? It would all break apart at some point when whatever talons had ripped my mom from us came to claim me. Hereditary, I had read in the papers Daddy had printed off about what my mom had. Genetic. Typically manifests in the early twenties. And another word, postpartum, that cemented my role in my mother’s slip into madness. Camille had said it was all bullshit. “They don’t know shit. Brown eyes are hereditary and mine are blue. Life’s a real fucking mystery.” And she had passed me a joint. But maybe Camille had been watching me, biding time, waiting for me to show signs of the inevitable breakdown. She had started to tuck me away while she secretly prepared for this new life of Meghan and college.
Since Delle’s health had started to decline, I assumed that I would be staying home with her after I graduated high school, running her errands, buying her cartons of Virginia Slims and chasing off all the men in suits who appeared at her door every few months with promises of money and security if we’d only let them drill on our land. “A legacy, ma’am to leave to your future generations.”
I’d overheard Daddy talking to Delle. “Maybe we should hear them out. We could use a little more coming in.”
“Stop talking that nonsense,” she had said.
As her coughs grew raspier, her breath more labored, I wondered when the men would start asking for Daddy instead. Not that he was home much since Gretchen had sunk her claws into him. Sometimes I wondered if Gretchen was the reason he wanted to open the door to the men in suits.
I hadn’t considered that Camille had carted those college brochures to her house, had bothered to send away for the applications advertised under pictures of smiling faces superimposed over clock towers and limestone buildings. She had made fun of the brochures, coloring in the teeth of one of the smiling blonde girls and laughing, “Maybe Curtis can find a girlfriend after all.” I especially hadn’t considered that Camille was somehow pulling in grades good enough to make those buildings her future.
In the classroom, Meghan smirked. She turned back to Camille. “I got some paint samples. You wouldn’t believe how many shades of magenta there are.”
She sauntered back to her desk.
I stared at the pressboard top of my desk, the jagged “Judas Priest” carved into the edge. My mouth was dry, too dry to form words.
“I got into Ferrum,” Camille said. “It’s the only place I got in, but I got in and my dad’s going ape shit crazy about it.”
“Congraduations,” I mumbled.
Her eyes flashed. “You don’t have to be a bitch about it.”
“I mean, what did you think I was going to do?”
“Not go off and be roomies with the Commander of the Barbie Army.”
The teacher cleared her throat. I looked up. Even the teacher looked traitorous now. Had she written Camille a letter of recommendation? Had everyone known that Camille was getting out but me?
At first, I was the one to ignore Camille. That day after school. The next morning. All her tries to reset back to who we were before the thick envelopes arrived in everyone’s mailboxes on RR 20, were met with the smart-ass retorts I previously had reserved for everyone who wasn’t Camille.
“You want to check out my new wheels? A Peanut Buster Parfait calls my name,” she said as she plunked down her tray on my table at lunch.
“I’m sure Meghan has the need for speed.”
Or in English when she smirked at the teacher’s repetition of Moby Dick. “Somebody’s thirsting for some Moby,” she whispered, and I looked away.
After a week of fielding my cold shoulder, she gave up. She retreated to Meghan and conversations about magenta walls and their new exciting lives at Ferrum College, which, as I discovered, had the easiest admission requirements in the state. If you had a pulse and thousands of dollars to throw around, you were welcomed with open arms.
I didn’t have a Meghan at the ready. Nobody there to slide into the spot left vacant by Camille. The days that I didn’t skip, I edged through the school halls, counting the hours until I could slam the doors shut for good. But I didn’t sleep through class. I didn’t sneak out to smoke after lunch. In the classes where I wasn’t hopelessly behind, I did the reading. I handed in homework. I wrote a paper on symbolism that made my English teacher ask me to stay after class.
“Where was this Libby the last eight months?” she asked. “This is nice work.”
She thrust the paper into my hands. Red pen slashed through punctuation and spelling mistakes, but beside the slashes were cursive comments: “Good idea” and “I never thought about it this way.” I slunk away, biting back a smile until I remembered. My paper didn’t matter. None of it did. I would barely graduate and after I did, all I had to look forward to were episodes of Hee Hawin Delle’s smoke-clogged living room with not even the promise of time with Camille to get me through the days.
Camille didn’t invite me to her party. Nobody did. News of the bash passed through the halls like a cloud, sprinkling invitations to everyone, even the farm kids who were usually excluded from the rich-kid parties. Now that graduation was a month and a half on the horizon, the borders loosened. Past rivalries were turning hazy as the end of our forced confinement snapped into focus.
The night of the party I snuck a bottle of Daddy’s Wild Turkey from the pantry and threw back as many gulps as it took to loosen my shoulders, turn my tongue thick and foreign in my mouth. Camille’s parents were out of town for the weekend. They had asked Daddy and Delle to “keep an eye on things,” but Daddy was at Gretchen’s and by eight o’clock, Delle was snoozing in front of the TV. I tiptoed out the back door, tucking the bottle inside my zipped sweatshirt and clamping it under my arm. The late April night still had the chill of winter clinging to it. I navigated the dark gravel road with a flashlight in one hand, my other jammed in my pocket for warmth as the liquor sloshed in the bottle with each step. Around me branches crackled in the woods, tree trunks sighed with the gathering wind. An earlier rainstorm had left everything smelling like wet wood and grass. A fire burned in the distance, probably at the farm that sat between Delle’s property and Camille’s. They were always smoking something in the shack behind their house. Some piece of pork or cow.
By the time I stumbled up the long driveway to Camille’s house, there was already a spray of puke clinging to her mom’shydrangeasby the front porch. Inside, lights were on in every room. Music thumped. I stepped through the front door to a sea of faces, the entire high school jammed into Camille’s living room. When had Camille decided that everyone wasn’t a loser? I felt like I’d gotten up to use the bathroom at a movie then returned to find an entirely different film on the screen.
Camille’s brother Curtis bumped into me.
“Watch it, dumbass,” I said.
Curtis clamped a hand on my shoulder. His overgrown mullet clung in sweaty clumps to his forehead. A caterpillar mustache had sprung from the top of his lip. “You’re lookin’ mighty fine for a stone-cold bitch.” His lips snaked into a lazy smile.
I felt like if I leaned away he would slide into a heap on the beer-puddled hardwood floor.
“Slow down, partner,” I said, pulling back each finger from my shoulder, bending them back far enough that he rubbed his knuckles.
He threw me a goofy smile then lurched back into the throngs of tanned arms and acid-washed jeans. The faces around me were the loosened, drunk-distorted versions of the kids in the high school hallways. We all knew each other, but Camille and I had walled ourselves off from them. We had our own world of her bedroom, the woods behind my house, the rocks by the stream where we stripped to our underwear in the summer and splashed ourselves with cold mountain water, the tangle of branches where one day we pretended to make out, our lips meeting firm until they melted into something sweet and soft. Camille had laughed and pushed me away. “Now that’s a lot of fuss about nothing.” But it was different when it was a boy, she said. I thought my heart was going to explode.
Now the walls were erected between Camille and me. I had been cast out. Camille had joined the rest of them, invited them into her house. She let them drape their bodies over her mother’s doily-fied version of Southern Hospitalityspreads, smoke cigarettes in the daffodil-colored kitchen, raid the liquor cabinet, and descend like flies on a carcass, feeding off every bag of chips, every beer, every half-eaten block of cheese they could find.
“Camille must be freaking,” I muttered under my breath.
Camille liked trouble, but she usually stayed out of it where her parents could see.
Meghan yelled in my ear. “Camille don’t give a rat’s ass.” Her eyes floated in their sockets. Mascara smudged at the corner of her cheek. She was a smear of a person.
Camille appeared beside me. Meghan raised her hand, “High-five roomie!”
Camille ignored Meghan’s raised hand and drank deep from whatever caramel-colored liquid pooled in her mother’s daisy printed glasses.
“Roomies! Woo!” I screamed. “That sounds amazing! You’ll be best friends forever and pledge Kappa Alpha Fuckoff together and go to all the mixers and take all the same classes. Amazing!”
“You don’t have to be here if you don’t want to be.” Camille said.
“Do you want me to stay? Or do you want to ditch me for good and get it over with?”
“Ditch you? Jesus, Lib. I’m not your fucking boyfriend.”
Meghan cooed. “Oh, but Libby is your boyfriend, girl. She’s your little puppy dog. Whatever will she do without you?”
“Shut up, Meghan. Go blow your boyfriend.” Camille said.
Meghan laughed, dropped her plastic cup onto the rug and then wove through the throngs towards the kitchen. I hated the heat of the eyes on Camille and me, the sudden stage that we had stepped onto. I almost felt blinded by a spotlight. They were waiting for me to explode, to morph into the disaster they had heard about. A knife to my throat, a lit cigarette burning my wrist. My manifest destiny to finally manifest in a public spectacle that would bring a jolt of excitement to our dirt brown lives.
I fixed my wobbly gaze on Camille. “You don’t want to make your roomie mad.”
She turned and pushed her way through the crowds to the kitchen. I cupped the carved bulb at the bottom of the banister and pulled myself up the stairs to Camille’s room, a room I knew as well as my own. I turned out the lights and locked the door. The lump of the liquor bottle slid onto the floor at my feet. I dropped beside it and unscrewed the top, unsure if the sigh I heard came from the bottle or from my throat. I took great gulps until I sputtered the burning liquid all over my sweatshirt and cut-off shorts. Time started to bend and warp. Had I been there all night or a few minutes? From the dim light of Camille’s nightstand lamp, I catalogued the pictures jammed in the corner of the mirror that lined her dresser, the perfumes she had collected but never worn, the reproductions of paintings that her mom chose for maximum tastefulness even though Camille hated them and wanted to replace them with posters of AC/DC, Poison, and Cinderella.
A thump against the door almost made me lose my grip on the bottle.
“Who’s in there?” the voice slurred.
I crawled over the rough carpet and unlocked the door, twisting the knob so Curtis could stumble into the dark room, staying on his feet long enough to land onto Camille’s bed, his arms spread wide like the people craving refreshment in iced tea commercials. His head bounced against the mattress.
“Curtis, you dumbass. What’re you doing?”
He mumbled unintelligible blobs of sound into the weave of Camille’s quilt.
“Get up. Camille will whip your ass if you puke.” I pulled myself up from the floor and eased onto the edge of the bed next to his hand.
He lifted his head and looked blind into the dark. “Who’s there?” The words blended together into one. We were both past the stage of words having borders, beginnings and endings.
“You know who it is.” I slapped my palm on his.
He rolled over and pulled his hand to his chest, like an injured cat. His head lolled to the side, his eyes flickering open and closed. Something took root in my body, my limbs moving on their own, an idea that started somewhere in the pit of my stomach and spread. I crawled over to Curtis and climbed on top of him. I wove the fingers of one hand into his outstretched palm.
“You a virgin?” I asked.
He roused from his stupor, his eyes focusing on mine. “No, no man. I ain’t a virgin.”
“Who did you screw then?” I asked, lowering myself onto his hips. They were surprisingly plush for a boy, the bones were lost treasures in the cushion of his pelvis.
“You don’t know her,” Curtis said.
Curtis was only a freshman, three years younger than Camille and me, but there was a whole world of backseat blowjobs and stolen sex that percolated around us. Maybe he had stuck his dick into one of the girls who lingered by his locker.
I leaned close to him, planting my lips over his and pushing my tongue through the slack gateway of his mouth. He tasted sour like he had probably been the one to puke in his mom’s hydrangeas. I felt myself start to retch, but I continued, moving my tongue over his teeth until he started to wake up, his lips softening beneath the press of mine as the surprise of me filtered into his reality, our reality.
I’d never done it, never gone all the way. Everyone thought I had.
My freshman year a boy from my science class pulled me under the bleachers with promises of pot. After he took a hit off the joint, he leaned towards me. He said that we could share the smoke and get higher off of each other’s exhales. Our mouths locked together. Our tongues mingled while the smoke swirled in our mouths. Above us feet clomped along the bleachers. The squeal of laughter, the drone of the cheerleaders broken by claps. I let him feel my chest, let his hands round the curve of my butt. I was part paralyzed, part curious. It didn’t feel like anything. Just body parts touching body parts, no rush or joy. No transformation. Not like at the creek with Camille. I pushed him away. Afterwards, he told his pack of losers that I put out for pot. The news spread around our small high school like dandelion spores. Camille said I shouldn’t care.
“Like we’d mess with any of those scumbags anyway,” she said.
I let their eyes linger on my chest, covered myself in flannel shirts and saggy Levi’s. I had Camille. She knew the truth. We didn’t need them.
Kissing Curt was like kissing a slab of beef hanging from a meat hook, wet and flaccid but still skin. As my hands started to range over his body, he pulled me to him. My arms buckled and I tumbled to the side. He rolled on top of me and started to find the parts that the boy touched under the bleachers. Like that day, I felt like a doll being posed into positions that had nothing to do with me. The only thought that sparked any feeling, a tiny explosion in my chest was imagining Camille walking in on us, finding me under her brother. I rose above my body and watched myself roll down my jeans, unpeel the underwear that was stuck to me with sweat. I watched Curtis’ hips move over mine, felt the poke of him as he searched for an opening, my opening. I watched my face recoil as the sensation of tearing, ripping in half cascaded from my center down my legs. He humped me like the pigs in the pens at our neighbor’s farm, grunting and determined. I didn’t want it to happen and I didn’t want it to not happen. I wanted it to have happened and be over, to see Camille’s face when Curtis blurted, “I fucked Libby.” To watch her eyes if she opened the door and found us.
He finished in a spasm and a whimper. He rolled off of me, murmuring a dreamy “Thanks, ma,” before falling into a snore. I ran my hand between my legs and came up with bloody fingers. I was surprised there wasn’t more. I wiped the blood onto Camille’s quilt, leaving a rust smear, before I rolled my pants back over my hips.
I sobered up enough to navigate the fallen lamps and clumps of bodies splayed around the hallway and living room. Camille was in the kitchen, still awake and smoking one of her dad’s cigars while her roommate-to-be cackled too loudly at her jokes. I slipped out the front door, leaving it open a crack so the music still pumping from the stereo filtered into the silence of the dark night. I weaved my way home, tripping over sticks and almost falling over the side of the hill where Delle’s house sat in a bald patch carved out of the forest. My legs carried me past the front door, around to the side yard, and into the woods. I crackled through branches and brush. I had dropped my flashlight somewhere along the way. A sliver of moon provided enough light so I didn’t break my nose stumbling into an oak tree. My hands stretched in front of me, and I felt my way to the spot, the place where Daddy took our dogs when they got too sick or too old. When their legs started to falter, their eyes clouded over, their whimpers grew weak. I found the rock where he set them and curled into it like it was a pillow, like it was the belly of the dogs I had loved, and I slept.
Aunt Kat stood at the head of the table. She surveyed the buffet and waved me over, probably to rotate out one of the decimated casseroles for another bubbling dish of macaroni and cheese. Camille hovered by the door, her eyes on her mom’s back, practically begging to go, to leave this final luncheon in honor of Delle. Graduation was next week. Was this my last chance to ever speak to her again before she was swallowed into the world of sororities and English classes and Meghan’s paint samples?
The smells of the casseroles, the cold fried chicken, the lingering sweetness of the pecan pie hit me in a wave. The churning in my stomach, a feeling of hollowness tinged with nausea propelled me away from the table. Aunt Kat, whose expression had surely fallen to a resigned disappointment, watched me stumble away. Everything I did proved to her that I was exactly what she thought I was even though she pretended I could be more. I had overheard her and Daddy talking in the hall the night after she got into town.
“What about Libby?” Aunt Kat had whispered.
“What about her?”
“What’s next for her? Did she even apply--?”
“She didn’t want to mess with any of that stuff,” Daddy said. “She’s got her people here. We’ll take care of her.”
“Maybe she wants to take care of herself.”
Daddy breathed loud through his nose, always the first sign that he was trying to contain the wave of anger that rippled through him.
“She’s not yours to bother with, Katherine. I’m her daddy.”
“I’m just saying she could give it a try. The school is five minutes away. We have a spare bedroom. We don’t have to talk about this now.”
“Then why are you?” he asked and stalked back to his room.
I wasn’t sure if I was mad at Aunt Kat for thinking we couldn’t take care of ourselves or grateful that she found a part of me that had something I couldn’t see. What all the teachers had been saying since Camille and I stopped talking and I started doing my work. Potential.
At Delle’s luncheon, I rounded the corner from the dining room and caught my breath. Since the morning we found her, I had a lump in my throat I couldn’t swallow, a throw-up that never made its way out. This morning when I woke up, a retch escaped my throat so loudly that Heather flew upright from the bed beside me. She lay back down.
“Are you bulimic or something? I wish I was bulimic,” she muttered, half-awake.
I wasn’t bulimic. And I wasn’t sure why this feeling of nausea clung to me.
I rushed to the bathroom at the back of the house. I slammed the door behind me and spat a glob of bile-flavored saliva into the toilet bowl. I dropped to my knees and watched it float in a circle in the rust-stained bowl. The scent of the flower air freshener Aunt Kat had installed in the bathroom overwhelmed the smell of food that floated into every corner of the house and for a moment, I felt the knot inside of me unravel.
There was a knock on the door then Camille’s voice, “You okay, Lib?”
I unfolded myself from my hunch over the toilet. My breath caught. Until my name came alive in her mouth, I hadn’t realized how much I missed hearing it. The armor of the past two months of ignoring her in the hallways, eating my lunch alone at the corner table, of pretending she didn’t exist, we didn’t exist, started to crack. Just one word. Three letters. Lib. I caught myself, tried to sew the breastplate back together. How could I be so weak? To succumb so easily? This wasn’t the girl Delle raised me to be.
“I’m fine. You can take your little act back to an audience who gives a shit,” I said, wiping my hand over my mouth.
“Whatever, Lib. I’m just trying to help.”
I flushed the toilet and splashed water on my face. In the mirror, the eyes that blinked back at me were puffy even though I hadn’t shed a tear all day. My cheeks were mottled with pink blotches. Delle’s lipstick had sunk into the cracks of my lips, leaving only chips of her signature red. I wiped the rest of the red off with a scratchy square of toilet paper. Outside the bathroom door, the floorboards groaned. Camille was still there.
I opened the door. Camille lifted her nose and sniffed. “Were you like taking a dump or something?”
“Yeah, mourning gives me the shits,” I said.
This time I was dissolving the armor. I craved something easy, someone who knew me, who knew what Delle was to me beyond the platitudes about a grandma’s love. Even though the anger was a deep, essential current that ran through me, I needed to build a dam, if only for the day. Just for today.
Camille raised an eyebrow. “You didn’t eat any of Miss Roach’s Jell-o Surprise, did you? That will give you the shits that stink to high heaven, mourning or not.”
“She means well,” I said, imitating Delle. She means wellwas only second to Bless her heartin Delle’s vernacular when she spoke of the women she couldn’t stand.
“What’s the deal with hotshot bun lady? She got all pissy when you left. ‘I guess I gotta do everything myself,’” Camille said in a perfect imitation of Aunt Kat.
“Aunt Kat, bless her heart.” I said.
Camille snorted. “A lot of blessed hearts packed in Delle’s house today.”
I led Camille down the hall. We snuck through the guest room where Aunt Kat’s suitcase lay open-mouthed in the corner and through the back door to the kitchen. I felt like we were kids again, sneaking through Delle’s house while Daddy tried to find us in a game of hide-and-seek. We were never allowed to go into the pantry that sprung off the kitchen by ourselves, but today we tiptoed over the yellow linoleum and passed through the door to the pantry. Unlike the rest of the house, the pantry wasn’t air conditioned. I opened the door and wave of heat and odor hit is in the face. The smells leftover from Delle’s past canning efforts mixed with the mold that had crept into the cupboards since she stopped washing them down with bleach. The churn in my stomach rekindled.
“What died in here?” Camille asked.
“You don’t want to know,” I said.
Her eyes widened.
“Like a million mice,” I said.
“Oh good, I was hoping you hadn’t turned psycho in the last couple of months.”
Camille had been keeping track too, logging the days of ignoring me in the hall and huddling with her group of college-bound girls. They barely went to class anymore. Their futures were sealed, gilded. Even though my teachers tried to hide their amazement at my recent burst of scholastic competence, of grades that weren’t on the wrong side of the curve, they let it slip. I guess you had a lot more going than I thought. Where were these grades six months ago? I wish you hadn’t kept your light under a curtain. You could have gone to Ferrum at least.
Camille sailed along, unaware of my one-woman renaissance, on the current of her college acceptance and still seemingly unaware of what happened between Curtis and me on her bed. He didn’t act any differently towards me, didn’t come sniffing around me like the guys did when that boy told everyone I blew him under the bleachers. I wondered if Curtis didn’t remember, if he thought the apparition of me crawling on top of him was a dream. He was the kind of guy who meandered through a padded maze, unconcerned with reaching the end because he was constantly stumbling across pieces of cheese. I doubt he’d get as lucky as Camille did when it was time to apply for college, but his parents owned orchards, land. Curtis didn’t need to worry about escaping the maze. The maze was good to him.
I found the bottle of gin I had squirreled away after Delle died and pulled it from the cupboard. It was warm, but not undrinkable. I took a swig and handed it to Camille. Hearing that she had noticed the months that passed filled me with a jolt of warmth separate from the slow spread of the gin in my stomach. Maybe she had missed me too.
“I didn’t say I wasn’t a psycho killer,” I said. “What kind of psycho chops up their prey in their granny’s pantry?”
Gin sprayed from Camille’s nose. “Granny’s panty?”
“Pantry!” I said.
She gasped between gulps of air and swipes at her running nose. “Granny’s panty.”
I grabbed the bottle from her hands and took another swig. I was doing what the others were—relegating Delle to a category. A label. A funny name. Granny was inadequate to encompass her. She was a presence. A monument almost. Always there, smoking her cigarettes, snorting approval at the stupid Hee Hawjokes, and letting me cry when I needed to cry those months after my mother left. Delle didn’t say a word or make me talk about my feelings like the counselor at school had insisted I do when she learned about “this big change in your situation.” Delle had told the counselor to back off when Daddy couldn’t find the strength to stand up for me. And Delle had driven me on those visits to my mother. But when people said, “You’re like a mother to that child,” she was always quick to correct them.
“Libby has a mother and I’m not it,” she had said more than once.
I always felt a stab at those words, unsure if she was trying to be honest or didn’t want to claim me as her own.
But calling her “granny” was disrespectful. I wanted to make Camille laugh and I had, but now that warmth gave way to an emptiness. The nausea returned, as tangible as a cracker I could bite.
Camille caught her breath. The sleek commas of her eyebrows knit together. “You don’t look so good.”
“Do I ever?” I snapped. I took another steadying drink from the bottle and slid onto the floor. My black jumper pooled around me, like I was the most pathetic of princesses. I bent my knees and curled into myself. I looked up at Camille. “Why did you even mess with me if you just wanted to be with them?”
Camille put a hand on her hip. “God, you’re being such a drama queen. What are you even saying? Are you drunk? We’ve known those girls all our life.”
“Yeah and we said they were stupid Barbie bitches.”
“You can’t just write off everyone for the rest of your life because they like pink lip gloss.”
I swallowed hard, tried to dull the edges of the scratch in my throat.
“You’re my girl, Lib, but it’s not like this is forever.” Camille’s eyes scanned the pantry. I saw the room through her eyes, the peeling cabinets, the rust-ringed sink caked with dust and dotted with mouse turds. How could I have thought this would be a future? My future.
The door swung open. Aunt Kat was a shadow silhouetted against the yellow light of the kitchen.
“Really girls? Is this the time or the place?”
Camille rolled her eyes and shifted her weight to the other hip. “Party’s over,” she mumbled.
“Is that what this is to you? What would your grandmother think about you sneaking booze at her funeral?” Aunt Kat’s voice fought to stay quiet, but people were amassing behind her, taking in the spectacle at a safe distance.
“She loved you like a daughter. You were—” her voice wavered. She stopped and clamped her fingers at her temple like a sudden headache had gripped her head. “Never mind.”
I couldn’t swallow it any longer. It all came up at once, the pine burn of the gin, the bites of chicken skin I’d nibbled at Daddy’s insistence, the grapes I’d plucked from the fruit salad tray. The mix of it spilled from my mouth in a violent spasm. My head throbbed. Camille put a hand on my back, but it quickly fluttered away. She reared back in disgust as the smell spread to fill the room.
I saw Camille’s lips move but the sound was absorbed into a throb, a pulse that flooded my ears. By the time I looked up again, Aunt Kat had already left and returned with a mitt of paper towels. My cousin Heather hung back behind her, burying her face in clueless Curtis’ shoulder like he was the knight saving her from the evil marauder, the dark cloud that was me. I rolled onto all fours and pushed myself to standing slowly. The throb commandeered my entire body. I stepped forward and slipped when my heel caught the edge of my pooling barf. The puddle was small, inconsequential for how it felt rippling up through my body. Everybody stopped, quieted like they were frozen in an episode of the Twilight Zone, but their eyes followed me as I stumbled through the kitchen, past the dining room table, around the corner and into the living room where Delle’s chair sat empty yet still arrayed with the accouterments of her life: remote control, silver lighter engraved with her initials, even a half-empty pack of cigarettes that had somehow evaded Aunt Kat’s sweep. Or maybe she couldn’t bear to put them away. I jerked open the drawer in the table next to Delle’s chair. Her keys were still on the silver keychain I gave her when I was ten.
A hand closed on my wrist. “Sweetie, I don’t think you’re in any condition—”
With my other arm, I shoved Gretchen aside, knocking her into the arm of Delle’s chair. She gasped. My legs moved quickly beneath me as I wove through the mourners, daring any of them to stop me. Daddy stood at the corner of the screen-enclosed porch, sneaking a cigarette. He only got half my name out by the time I’d burst through the screen door and started to run across the lawn, the blades of grass slashing at my ankles.
Delle’s car was under the pine tree at the corner of the lawn. The gray Caprice Classic was sprinkled with orange pine needles. I jammed the key in the lock and slid into the seat, Delle’s seat. It smelled like her, of schnapps and cigarette smoke and the rose water she dabbed behind her ears and on the wrists of her cardigans. Her driving glasses straddled the middle of the bench seat. I pulled them onto my lap and cradled them there. The key turned easily in the ignition. The car shuddered awake. Delle hadn’t been able to drive since she drove the car into the neighbor’s pigpen a few years ago. Daddy was supposed to take it out on the road once a month, to keep the engine in shape, but he had lapsed in his duties. In the rearview mirror I saw Daddy charging down the center of the lawn, his face full and red in the glare of the afternoon sun. The rest of the crowd hung back, clustered on the porch. What’s Delle’s fuck-up granddaughter doing now? Who does she think she is?
Another wave of nausea roiled my guts. I caught it this time before it could escape and destroy the delicate ecosystem of Delle’s car.
Now in the rearview mirror, Camille appeared a few paces behind Daddy. I imagined her breaking into a run and passing him. She would swing open the door, roll down the window then clap her hand over mine.
“Where to?” I would ask.
“Everywhere,” she would say, her voice husky and full of destiny, as I jammed the accelerator to the floor and squealed out of the car’s resting place, kicking up a cloud of gravel dust in our wake.
Like Delle and me before, Camille and I would drive and drive, windows down, worlds rushing past us in streaks of greens and browns, orchards and horses and the decrepit barns crumbling back to the earth. Engulfed in the hum of the engine, the click of the tire that never got fixed correctly so it tapped out a song of our escape. We would hit the valley beyond the mountain where Delle’s car radio finally got reception and it would crackle to life. Camille’s favorite band would scream through the speakers: You shook me all night long. No words would pass between us, nothing to ruin our harmony, our motion, our lives unfolding mile by mile.
In the rearview mirror, the reality. Daddy held a hand up and halted Camille. She tugged off her high heel shoe and shook a rock onto the ground before jamming her foot back inside and turning back to the house. I wasn’t worth the stone in her shoe. After everything she was one of them. Daddy was still coming, a tank, shoulders stiff and face red. My foot pushed the petal to the floor. The wheels spun out before finding traction as the car lurched forward, narrowly missing a collision with the tree that Camille and I had climbed when we were kids, making a fort in the branches. The gas tank was almost empty. I couldn’t go far. But I could go far enough to relieve myself of this tangled reality, if only for a moment of the beautiful blur.
Katherine Sinback’s work has appeared in The Rumpus, daCunha, Gravel, Foliate Oak, Clackamas Literary Review, The Hunger Journal, Cabildo Quarterly Online, and Oyster River Pages. She publishes her zine Crudbucket and writes two blogs: the online companion to Crudbucket, and Peabody Project Chronicles 2: Adventures in Pregnancy After Miscarriage. Crudbucket was featured in the 2007 Multnomah County Library “Zinesters Talking” series and was included in the 2016 Alien She exhibit at the Pacific Northwest College of Art. Born and raised in Virginia, Katherine lives in Portland, Oregon with her family. She can be found on Twitter @kt_sinback.
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.