Popsicles spiked with vodka don't work. We found that out the hard way, the messy way, the hands-dripping-with-vodka way. We used my dad-money for a handle at the liquor store down the street, where the man behind the counter flips through old National Geographic magazines. Today's was from twenty years ago. I tell Chris how the man's gaze lifted from the worn pages to my legs, pretending to dawdle over the change. How he handed the bills back one at a time and I swear, slid his fingers on my hand with purpose and intent. I describe the weight of his gaze, from feet to knee to the bit of thigh poking out my cut-offs until—
Chris says, "I'm sure you're right, Haley." Mild as morning.
In the kitchen, we pour streams of vodka into tupperware receptacles and jam popsicles in after them. We put them in the freezer but nothing budges, the only thing that happens is vodka splashing when we take the tupperware in and out. We take a few shots each but lose momentum and enthusiasm. We scrub up to our forearms but are trapped in a cloud of liquor. The scent lingers on the walk to Burger King, as if we've cannon-balled into a vat of the stuff. We go through the drive-through on foot, which startles the sleepy-faced woman at the window. We're not heavy enough to set off the sensors, the woman says. She didn't have any idea we were there until we shouted requests for shakes and fries.
Back on the living room floor, we un-crumple our paper bags. I dip fries into my shake, lick off half the white coating, then chomp the rest. Chris glares, pretend-disgusted. He says: "Really, Haley?"
We finish and lie back, hands calming our bellies. We wile away the afternoon making dust angels on the carpet and re-angling the fans. When he thinks of peanut butter popsicles, Chris addresses the ceiling.
"If only," he says.
Then Jackie comes home. She walks from the bus station, where the bus takes her across the bridge each day into Seattle. The evening after-work stroll, she likes, dallying through the paved cemetery paths. Half of Chris's childhood took place in a cemetery: how to ride a bike, how to roller blade, how to play baseball among an acre of bodies beneath the ground. What, he said when I asked. It's a big place with grass and smooth surfaces, like anywhere else. Chris is my best friend, and this is just one great thing about him.
Jackie's tiny dog, the fifth investment after four maligned husbands, clatters over the kitchen, careening into the living room. Straight for Chris and me. Her tiny feet stab our thickened stomachs and we exhale, doubling over, whines rising like heat.
"You two have had a productive afternoon." Jackie presides over the living room, hands in fists at her round hips.
"Next question," I say, re-crossing my legs at the ankle.
Chris lifts his head, a curl shielding one eye. "We made popsicles."
"Oh?" Jackie lifts a fuzzy green purse from her shoulder and lays it on the coffee table. "What kind?"
"Vodka." I sit up now, tucking my legs beneath me. Daisy leaps into my lap. "And regular."
"We jammed halves of regular popsicles into those tupperware-thingies, then filled them with vodka," Chris explains.
"You know," Jackie says. "Vodka doesn't freeze."
"We know," we say. "Now."
The picture of Jackie on the mantle was taken over twenty years ago, just after she got kicked out of church for showing the other parishioners too much thigh. She's leaning over a railing, one leg bent at the knee, and a wicked look on her back-turned face, daring the camera to glance up her skirt. Jackie had long, wavy hair then, zigging and zagging down her back. Now she is rounder with short hair, defiant purple-red tufts atop the same wicked face. Jackie is Chris's mother, and my landlady-in-waiting, this summer crammed between high school, this summer I spend sleeping in Jackie's motor home, this summer I avoid my mother's calls from Denver and my father's lakeside condo. What I would like is to stay here forever, where no one is my actual parent, Chris is always at my side, and nothing bad ever happens.
"There," Chris says, stepping back from the awning. "That should work."
A lantern he's just installed dangles from one edge of the motor home's awning. My oval-shaped scabs from slipping down the steps have begun to crust. I must pick them in my sleep, because I woke up this morning with crescents of brown and red and peach jammed beneath my fingernails.
"Next question!" I say. I lift onto my toes, my tank top rising with the stretch of my arms. "I can't reach it."
Chris presses something small and plastic in my hand. "Remote," he says.
I practice clicking it off. In the wide summer dark, I smile at the wan yellow kitchen light, the television's steady burble, the jangle of Daisy's collar as she trots somewhere inside the house, the just-visible path between the house and the motor home, its grass beaten down from Chris and I crossing it so many times. The cemetery's head stones linger calmly on the other side of the yard.
I click the lantern back on just as Chris slaps at a mosquito on his arm. The light catches brief anger sweating off his face. He says shouldn't we go inside? He says, the dog's barking and no one's doing anything about it.
On the couch, Jackie dozes with a lit cigarette dangling off one hand. It plunges into the belly of one of her pillows, which has split a delicate, singed hole beneath the tiny flame. Daisy barks at the rising smoke. Chris snatches the pillow and stomps it out, his great black shoe snuffing the little fire. Jackie's knitting is balled at one corner of the couch, a third complete. One of her frilly scarves. This one is black with bursts of liquid green.
"Jesus, Mom," Chris says, kicking the pillow again.
Jackie mumbles to herself and presses the heels of her hands to her eye sockets. "What's that smell?"
"You fell asleep smoking, again." Chris holds up the pillow. Stuffing sags from the hole like blood. "Couldn't you hear the dog bark?"
Jackie flexes her fingers. She rolls her neck slowly. "That's why I need you kids around." She smiles at me, face bright and fixed. "Be my eyes and my ears?"
"Where's the smoke detector?" Chris says, then drops the pillow.
It tumbles down near my feet. I step away from it. Daisy barks softly, then leaps onto Chris's favorite chair and curls into a brown ball. She barks and scuttles to the ground when Chris yanks the cushion out from under her, dusts the hair off, and settles it into place. Jackie mumbles something about the evening's excitement, then swirls her straw in her drink, languidly clinking the ice cubes against one another. She takes a long draw off it, slurping the last bits clinging to the bottom.
I trail Daisy to the kitchen, where I pluck three swollen bits of kibble from her water bowl and refill it. Then I make three ice cream sundaes with freezer-burnt vanilla. I crown them with blackberry jam and red hots. I add a dollop of peanut butter to the center of each, then a dusting of powdered sugar. The sundaes look scarily like fall—the color of leaves, the deadening compromise of something becoming something else. Jackie is delighted to see them. Chris grunts a thank you. We fall silent under the clunk of spoons.
Hours chug by in the living room. Jackie knits, Chris chews his lip, Daisy snores, and I fold my legs on the couch this way, that way. The singed pillow lies where it fell: a little to the left of the couch, burn-side down. Jackie leaves the room, then comes back, stands shaking her head until we ask her what? And she explains we look like an old married couple, occupying the same space without speaking. Chris stretches, announces he's off to bed, and I agree, then make my way out to the motor home. The next morning, Chris said he watched from his window, how I clicked the light on and off a few times before climbing up the steps and closing the door behind me. On the bunk over the motor home's steering wheel, I jam my hands beneath my pillow for safekeeping. But my knees, when I wake, are resolute, raked into red streaks.
We light our first cigarettes after dropping Jackie at the bus station. If we wake early enough, Jackie's little egg-shaped car is ours for the day. We have to baby it with gas and be careful not to maroon it in mud the way we did so much last spring, but every little care is worth it. Jackie reminds us of this when we drop her and Daisy off, shoulder bag swinging its goodbye. Chris drives the Geo onto the grass, mere feet from the pretend fire-pit between the house and the motor home.
The mesh chairs are still damp with night when we sink into them. The edges and joints of all the chairs brown with rain water and rust. We prop our feet on the bricks, the circle that would ensnare a fire if we could build one without worrying over the grass catching. The summer is mere nudges from scorched, for Washington. In a cruel trick of the seasons, we are beginning to forget what rain looks like. We smoke and when Chris speaks, it is from the corner of his mouth.
"What should we do?"
"We could use some dad-money and buy a picnic and sit in the cemetery. Or we could get some weed and make our own pizzas, like they did on TV last night."
"We could." Chris drags on his cigarette. "Or, we could go swimming."
"Next question," I say, closing my eyes.
"Seriously," Chris says. "There won't be anyone there."
I nod. "There's never anyone there."
Neither of us is sure whether we mean my father's condo, or my father's condo's swimming pool. We flick our cigarettes over the fence and into the cemetery, where the only people who would care, Chris always reminds me, are dead. Besides, there are no headstones this close to his house—just stray grass and pinecones, perhaps an intentional buffer laid between the cemetery designers and Jackie's yard.
When my father gave me the money, I thought: Hey. What is this, but an invitation to discover what a bad person I am?
Then my mother careened off to Denver. Probably because she knew or thought she knew. When I asked my father where she was, he said: at a friend's. She called me later, from the airport on the other end—to say goodbye. How can a person who's already left say goodbye? I asked her why she left, to tell me when she was coming back. She said she wasn't coming back until my father started coming up with answers, because she had questions and his answers were flimsier than paper. She didn't ask me for answers, probably because I had so many questions of my own.
After my mother left, the condo started to do a strange shape thing. I saw rectangles everywhere. The floor was a rectangle shrouded in trim, crisp cream carpet. The couch had rough, beige rectangle edges. The mirror in the entryway was a dangerous rectangle, one that threatened to waver and leap off the wall. My mother didn't take anything when she left, but it was like her presence had shadowed something that had always been there. When she left I saw all sorts of things she must have softened. My father became a sharp pair of shoulders in the foreground, the flat screen TV the main show, the reason anyone would enter the room. He watched whatever was on. The money kept showing up in blank envelopes. I slept in the motor home a few nights, then never stopped.
I still have a key to the gate outside the condos. We drive down the long hill dipping into downtown, the tiny strip bordering the lake, with towels over our suits. We park in my father's spot in the garage: 26B. The code for the door to the condo's pool is *2000.
"What a stupid code," Chris says, punching it in and making sure no one else is in the pool.
The walls and the stucco inside the pool are white, but everything inside the room glows green. It echoes when we discover we have it to ourselves, our voices even, coming out a joyful and lush emerald. A glass wall slices the pool in half. With an energetic duck, you can slip beneath it and emerge outside: in the smaller section of the pool, the part outside, on this hill overlooking the lake. You can pretend, out there, that the pool and the lake have merged into one and you're leaving the safety indoor chlorination for an actual body of water, one with mystery plants and tiny fish. But really you're in nearly the same place as before.
I shuck my t-shirt and cut-offs behind me, then leap into the pool feet first. It's warm, the only shock coming from being wet all at once. The scabs on my knees sting, and I imagine the water tearing little tendrils of flesh from my skin. Chris lingers on the side. He'll wait until I'm swimming a bit, then fold his t-shirt very neatly on the edge, and ease himself into the pool. Once he feels hidden from the neck down, the crisp worry on his face will waver.
Part of me thinks the stretch marks clamoring up his sides are beautiful. Jagged slashes ruby-red, darkening to deeper purple, just the shade I would buy a shirt or a ruffled skirt for. But the burn scars on his back are something else. His back looks like a tray of lasagna, like one someone's dog knocks off the kitchen table and it falls to the ground, a messy red-brown, all its insides on the outside.
"One time," Chris says once we are treading water beneath a sky fat with clouds, "I was sitting on a dock with my feet hanging off the edge. And my mom came up and told me to be careful."
"Of falling into the water?"
"No." Chris sprays water when he shakes his head. "She told me to look at my toes, because I have her family's toes. Long and skinny. She said they looked like worms and to be careful, because fish might leap up and try and eat them."
The water striking Chris's burn scars makes them looked warped, like maybe they're just tattoos after all. "I've hated lakes ever since."
"I love lakes. They feel cleaner than." I gesture at white pool, "all this. More pure."
We swim back and forth. Overhead, the sky purses into a dull grey. The grey gathers at the center, darkening until the clouds exhale and we're getting rained on, tough little drops beating down into the big lazy pool. We shriek and dart back and forth, until Chris plunges beneath the glass wall and calls for me to follow, it's just about time for lunch.
Inside, Chris's t-shirt bobs a damning white almost near the center of the pool. It must've fallen in while we swam.
"It's okay," I say. "We'll go to my dad's, dry off, and take showers. You can get a t-shirt from him or something."
Chris swims from the center of the pool to its edge with the white t-shirt trailing him, as if retrieving something already drowned. He drapes it over his broad shoulders, but the t-shirt is so wet, his burn scars so vivid, it is as if his back is encased in a foggy glass.
When he was five, Chris and Jackie went camping with a big group of people. Jackie spilled her drink on him and Chris felt sticky, so he stood with his back near the bonfire. He wanted to dry off. One thing or another happened, a man pushed past him, a girl nearly stabbed him with the stick she was going to roast a marshmallow on, and Chris pitched into the fire. Oh, it was difficult to draw him out, and many men scorched their hands doing so. In the meantime, Chris's back melted into the fire.
"Whoa," Chris says in the entryway. He's never been here before.
My father's condo is very white, very modern and sharp. My mother gave it soul, I've come to believe. She'd leave a dishtowel crumpled on the counter or a puddle of clothes near the doorway, when she'd decide, midday, to go swimming after all.
The office is to the left of the entryway. The office houses my father's computer and perhaps, my father's soul. Perhaps his soul chooses to lock itself there, confined to the arc his desk chair makes, from slim left to narrow right. Either way, my father's home office houses my father's computer. Which housed part of a paper I wrote about Queen Elizabeth. I stopped writing the paper after I found the messages from women who, like my father, were cruising for love on the super-information highway. Instead of a grade for Queen Elizabeth, I got a zero, the look of a dead man when my father caught me catching him, and a hundred bucks, cash, slipped in an envelope under my door.
What an undignified way to go about having an affair. Chris and I do not go into the office but into the kitchen, where he perches on a stool and I rummage through the cupboards. My father's got silly cereal adorned with all sorts of vitamins and crunchy stuff. He's got granola bars that look like condensed dust and probably taste like it too. He's got tub of vitamin powder and boxes of organic macaroni. He's got powder that supposed to morph into hummus and a dried fruit in a million plastic baggies with their ends stapled together. What kind of a man, I think, keeps a stapler in the kitchen.
He also has triangles of foil, hiding left-over pizza within.
We lean back on the stiff sofas, eating every slice down to the crust and not caring about the water blooming in rear-end shapes where we sit. I plunge my feet into the carpet. Crumbs flutter out my mouth and over the surfaces, and I hope it bothers him, when he comes home and feels a leftover presence, a hanging on.
I tell Chris I'll take the first shower. Without looking away from the windows stretching nearly floor to ceiling, the view of the lake battered with rain, Chris says that's fine. I leave him huddled beneath his towel, tucked over him like a blanket missing half its self.
My bedroom door is open hardly at all when I walk by. I don't even look inside. I have my clothes, any little trinket I need, at Chris's. I am not sure about the girl who taped pictures on the wall. I am not sure about the music box with its clasp shut tight. I am not sure about the four pillows lying proud at one end of the bed. I am not sure about the shade of curtains, about the fall of their ruffles across the windows.
Just when I've adjusted the temperature, darted my hand in and out the shower's tough-beating stream, the moment after I've breathed in enough steam to ease a summer's worth of cigarettes from my throat, Chris pushes the door open.
I whirl to face him and catch his gaze, frozen, just before he disappears.
"The phone rang!" he yells, though just feet away. "I freaked out! I didn't know what to do!"
I cross my arms over my chest and hunch, as if Chris could still see how naked I am. "Did you answer it?"
"No." Chris's shadow falls across the cracked-open doorway. "I thought there was another door, then the shower!"
"Okay, then. Is there a message?"
"Yeah, but just a couple seconds of someone breathing. Then nothing."
When I check the caller-id, it is my aunt's number. My mother's sister, who lives in Denver, who insists on saying hello to me every time my mother calls me over at Jackie's, who asks me do I need her to send me vitamins? Am I swallowing vitamins? A young lady's hair should be lush and full, she says, as though she's seen mine lately and it is anything but. They have vitamins here in Washington I tell her. Denver is not the only place with vitamins. And could I please speak to my mother? Is she there, please? The first beats of conversation are pure relief, thanks to my aunt, but then we dissolve into the weather, the painful backlog of questions looming louder than we could ever be.
The moment my mother called my father's apartment, when I happened to be inside it, is the closest we've been to all being together since summer started and our family ended. It's been two months since she got on the plane to Denver, fueled by suspicion. I don't know if she realizes where I'm sleeping. Or where I'm not sleeping.
I say this out loud, then sit next to Chris on the couch. He draws his legs up onto the slick leather and one of them brushes mine. I do not move. I keep my leg there. Chris says nothing but I hear his breath, deep and sure. My leg is still, flesh with Chris's, when the phone rings.
This time my mother leaves a message.
"I have a plane ticket," she says. "I have a plane ticket and the fee isn't much to change it. I bought a plane ticket. That's all I'm saying. Say hello to Haley for me."
"Next question," I say quietly.
"Oh, Haley." Jackie's hands dive beneath her chin and clasp together. "This is truly a wonderful thing."
Laughing, I yank the hood of my raincoat further down my forehead. The day 's rain drug into evening, and I find Jackie in the crowd outside the bus, everyone but her with an angry hood yanked over their summer haircuts. I'm wearing a raincoat and Jackie, balancing Daisy in the crux of one elbow, is thrilled.
"Twirl again!" Jackie pulls the coat's rim outward, rubbing her fingers over the lining. She follows the turn, like I am some kind of bride, twisting.
In the car, we think of dinner, stop off at the grocery store, and Jackie, Chris, and I jet inside. We peer into the clouded deli-glass, weighing in on the quality of potato salad or the jo-jos. Everything's a little crustier and worn-looking than we'd like.
"I assure you," a voice says, "everything you see before you is of the highest quality. You'll be satisfied with anything." It is the butcher, pausing by the counter in his red-spattered apron. His face is ruddy and his eyes, bright.
"Anything?" Jackie says slowly, standing up vertebrae by vertebrae. "Are you sure of that?"
"Let's get the jo-jos," Chris says. "And chicken wings. Let's go."
"Why don't," Jackie speaks without lifting her gaze from the butcher man. "Why don't you and Haley find us some dessert? We could use something sweet, all three of us, I suppose."
"Jesus, Mom," Chris says as we walk to the cookie aisle. There, I try to lift him with questions of chocolate or shortbread. When we can't decide, we choose both.
We are home bearing steaming boxes of jo-jos, potato salad, the cookies, and a jug of rose wine. The picnic spreads itself over the coffee table and this night, we do not even bother with the TV. We do not bother with throwing out the food waste. Chris simply closes the empty containers, as if someone will open them some other time and find them filled with some other thing. We leave a few slim inches of rose wine sloshing in the jug. Our eyes flutter shut like tired moths or birds who, no matter how hard they try, can fly no more.
Even Daisy snores in tiny spurts when I wake up. Chris's snores drag shallow, then deep, while Jackie's are steady, soft catches of breath. I stretch and rub my forehead, which makes it hurt more or less—I can't tell. I gather the food cartons and the ice cream isn't as light as the others, because some remains in the bottom, jagged leftovers. I want them so badly.
Chris says whip cream tastes like fluff in your mouth. He says it is a worthless thing. Jackie says it's nothing to get excited over. There's never any in this house. But Jackie takes heavy cream in her coffee and even pours a little puddle on a lid for Daisy sometimes, who licks it with the ferocity of a cat. My mother used to make her own whip cream, it looked easy, her brown forearms flexing over a stainless steel bowl, the whisk giving to her strength and the cream foaming as if from nothing.
I squirt vanilla over the cream a few times, right down the center, a line of steady brown buttons. Then I attack with the whisk, beating and beating and beating. Nothing happens. I churn more, angling the bowl to my body, really leaning over and digging it. This time, I drag a spoon over the top layer and there is some substance that perhaps, just barely, is whip cream. I clang whisk to bowl once more.
"Dear. Haley." Jackie stands in the doorway, hair tufted all over her head and lips pressed hard into a smile. "What are you doing?"
I look up. "Making whip cream."
Jackie's hands rest on my shoulders and her gaze dips into the bowl. She squeezes, then murmurs, "Maybe tomorrow, okay?" She starts up the stairs, with Daisy trotting behind her. "That's a bit loud for tonight."
I have a big bowl of cream with a thin layer of whip on top and not one idea what to do with it. When Chris comes into the kitchen, I am staring inside it as if something will stare back. He wrinkles his nose and asks what's that? And I tell him I have no idea.
The remote to the motor home is not in my pocket. Instead, I lean over and feel my way up and inside. I scale the cushions leading to the bed and lay atop the covers, forgetting to listen for anything until I wake up the next morning, sun shining so hard it's like there was never any rain at all and Chris rapping at the door.
My father found a bathing suit hung over the shower nozzle. I imagine the strings dangling white and bold, damning and dripping. On the phone, he asks if he can drop it off to me. Do I have time. Is this a good time. It will only be a minute.
I tell him alright, later this evening. And he can meet Chris and Jackie.
If that's okay, he says. Only if they have the time.
In the skinny hours between my father's phone call and his visit, I use the dad-money to buy Chris and Jackie presents. From the market off the lake, I buy Jackie a jar of jam, a skirt of red checks peeking out the lid. I buy Chris cookies dripping with chocolate chips and a black t-shirt with white streaks. The t-shirt was made by a man crouched over a bunch more t-shirts in his stall, dreadlocks slung over his shoulders in a wide, white rubber band. The man says right on. The man says whatever guy I'm buying this big t-shirt for is a lucky one, has landed smack in the middle of a pocket of luck. Unless of course the t-shirt is for me and it's just that I'm into extra-large fashions. My throat doesn't work so I smile and hand him money from one of the envelopes, like the dollar bills are an answer in and of themselves.
He brings my bathing suit in a zip lock bag. It looks dry now, a lighter color behind the calm plastic. He hands it to me first thing, standing outside on the front porch, the one we never use. I don't think I've ever opened what is technically the front door to Jackie's house. We just bang in and out of the screen door all day. The handle feels foreign in my hand, like something that won't twist right no matter how hard I use the movements I know.
Behind us, Jackie clicks off the TV.
"Hello." She stretches out a plump, pale hand. "I'm Jacqueline. Jackie."
My father takes it, ducks his head, and smiles through his name.
"Can I get you something to drink?" Jackie says.
And here, everything starts. If it bothers my father that I am drinking, that it seems pure custom at this point, that this Jackie woman hands a cup of rose wine off to his teenaged daughter, he does not show it. He takes a glass himself.
When Chris comes down, he nods a hello, how are you to my father. Like he is an ordinary person to appear in the living room. The four of us drink, noses coyly bent over the rims of our cups. We speak of anything but our recent selves.
"I climbed Mount Rainier once, in the seventies." My father says suddenly.
Jackie nods, as if this is something very expected but noble. "And?"
"And." My father squints over the rim of his glass. "And it hurt like hell!"
Chris laughs. I smile even a little, then dive back into the wine.
My father grins. "I didn't train and Christ, my legs! I couldn't walk for weeks. It was as if they'd been burned."
I look to Chris but there is nothing on his face. I guess burn is a common enough word that you get used to hearing it without flinching, if you are someone whose back is battered with the things.
"The seventies were my wilder days," Jackie says.
Chris motions for Daisy. She takes a running start, then leaps into his lap, squabbling at his shorts and she turns and turns, settling on her side.
"We were so poor, I took home whatever toilet paper was left over from the bank I worked at." Jackie shrugs. "It was my job to clean the bathrooms and I figured: why not? I had to put out fresh rolls anyway."
"Do you hate me?" my father says, when we've stepped outside to the porch. "You can tell me if you do."
"That's where I sleep," I say, pointing toward the lantern. "It's very comfortable."
"I drove your mother away." My father looks in the direction of the motor home's steady white light. "This is the worst mistake of my life."
"Sleeping in the motor home makes me feel like I'm always on vacation."
"We should have taken more vacations. Maybe then—none of this would have happened."
"We went camping earlier this summer. Jackie drove the motor home to Smoky Point and made breakfast each morning. Chris and I swam in the Columbia River and it was so cold, we were screaming. I mean it was really cold." We also saw a cloud shaped like a penis and shouted a lot. We drank champagne from the bottle with Jackie that night until she went to sleep, then finished off two more. In the morning I woke afraid to move, terrified any jostle or jolt would make the vomit rise in my throat.
"Is he your boyfriend?"
I squint at my father. He gulps at his glass, but I think he gets only air. He says, "Chris, I mean."
I shake my head.
"I didn't think so," my father says to his glass. "Big guy, that Chris. Good guy."
"It's something better," I tell him.
"You'd tell me if you needed more money?" he asks. "You would do that for me, wouldn't you, Haley?"
"Chris knows me better than anyone," I say.
"This is a letter from your mother," my father hands me an envelope with the seal broken. "Isn't that old-fashioned of her?"
Haley, the letter says, I think I'll be coming home soon. Someday, you'll understand how complex relationships can be. Especially when a man is involved. I'm still unsure of your father, in some respects, but I think we both have the desire to make it work. Anyway. Next question! I hope you are well and enjoying the summer. I'll see you before school starts, I'm sure. Love, Mom.
I am examining the envelopes confident address, to me at my father's lakeside condo, when Jackie and Daisy clatter the screen door open. Through peals of creaks and slaps, Jackie tells us to hurry up, get on in there, don't forget to bring our glasses inside, we look like two people in need of refills. Daisy barks, as if she couldn't agree more.
Chris and I smoke our cigarettes in the cemetery. We walk the path, roaming off its edge in ways we never would if it were daytime. The kitchen light is on, spilling onto the back porch because the screen door is open, when we arrive at section of chain-link fence nearest the house. Our sandals crunch the edge of pinecones and something softer, probably cigarettes that we ourselves have flicked up and over this very fence. Our parents are intertwined, Jackie's arm snaking around my father's neck.
We can't see her, but it sounds as though Daisy runs circles around the two, her claws clacking loud and sure on the deck. As if she either heartily approves or disapproves of their current actions.
I touch Chris's shoulder and he doesn't flinch, the way he did when I touched his shoulder another time, some night buzzing with rose wine or Jackie's mudslides or maybe it was bottles of champagne. I can't remember. I try not to think about it, ever. He said then he didn't want to take advantage, but now, he says nothing. I squeeze his shoulder, then knead it softly. He does not move away. He exhales a whoosh of air, then something that sounds like Jesus or just more air. We walk out through the cemetery's gate, past silent headstones and sagging flowers, and put our cigarettes out on Jackie's lawn. I click the light on outside the motor home, and gesture toward the door, bathed now in a yellow bowl of lantern light.
Chris nods, as though I've asked a question. He says, "I don't want to see my mom right now."
I raise the remote again. I say, "This light is great. This light has saved my life."
Chris does not say anything, but follows me into bed, climbing up the backs of chairs and settling in on the thin mattress lofted over the steering wheel. We hear all sorts of noises signaling our parents separating calmly, like adults. My father's car starts very reasonably, then pulls smoothly into the street and softly purrs away. Jackie turns off all the house's lights, except the one in Chris's room. When I touch Chris's burns for the first time, I am surprised at how soft the texture is. They feel harmless and limp as worms, completely without heat or danger.
In the motor home we will begin to think lots of things, and one will be that we are in love. We will be wrong about this and right about some of the others so that in the end, it all just about evens out.
About the author:
Jen Gann's fiction and poetry has previously appeared in StringTown Magazine. Currently, she lives in Montana.
© 2011 Word Riot