Shoulder


I land on my feet; it's what I do.  I convince my daughter Evie to drive North with me, through Georgia to South Carolina.  We drive through Barnwell, through Bamberg County.  We travel back roads only because that's all there is.  In small towns we count stop signs, count roads, intersections, look for the post office to tell us the name.  It's always on the way, on the same road we're on, the main road through town. 

Tufts of cotton tremble by the roadside.  Truck-sized bales cast shadows across the fields.  Dust blows like snow and I dream of winter.  Dust blows and I dream of tornados topping the car and lifting off.  We stop at diners and lardy kitchen stops where they serve meat and three, every side dish leaves pools of grease on chipped plates.  Evie dabs at her string beans with paper napkins folded and picks out bits of pork.

"I don't know what we're doing here," she says.  "I don't know why I came."

"To spend time with your mother."

Neither one of us mentions her compensation, that I'm paying her to be here, to ride shotgun on this road trip through the dirt backside of the south, this place where we came from. 

"You know you have relatives here, Eve?"

"Nobody I know."

"Fact is probably all these people are related to us."

"Are you going to start talking about how we're all God's children?"

I laugh as we drive past another field of something turning green to brown in the late summer heat.  Four dark men stand at a piece of rusted machinery, smoking cigarettes and digging into the engine with their hands.  Two children ride by on a bicycle, the bigger boy lifts out of the seat, pumping hard.  His shirt flies out behind him, cape-like in the wind.

"What about them?" Evie says.

"Who?"

"Any of them."

"Probably."

"What do you know about any of this?"

We get to the next town and the next town.  Wisteria covers everything, vines like cancer over everything, houses, trees, fences, climbing up clotheslines, telephone poles.  Three parked cars in three yards in a row even had vines growing over. 

"Why do they do that here?" Evie asks.

"What?"

"Leave cars on the lawn."

"They do that everywhere."

"Not in Jacksonville."

"Everywhere.  People use them for parts, they work on their own cars.  People have trouble letting things go."

"Whatever."

"Kids play in them."

"I've never played in a car parked on somebody's lawn."

"You've never done a lot of things."

"Oh, I've done a lot of things.  Probably more than you know."

"So have I," I say to her.

"What have you done?"

"Mostly everything."

"That's a lie," Evie says, laughing.

I don't know what to say.  I want to push her out of the car.  I imagine her on the roadside.  I imagine her thumbing a ride, peering into cars, waiting for the right one, the white one.  I imagine her scared like she's never been scared before.

"Surprise me," she says.

"I had an abortion."

She says nothing.  She stares out the window.  I look at her, she's shrugging her shoulders slightly.  Maybe crying, maybe not. 

"Evie?"

"Fuck you."

"What?"

"Fuck you," she says.  "Fuck you, I want to go home."

"Fuck you, too," I say.

"I don't have to tell you everything."

"What are you talking about?"

"Is that what this is about?"

"Evie, what are you talking about?"

"I don't have to tell you everything," she says.  "You should really get your own friends."

Wisteria blooming with visible tumors, white and purple, everywhere.  Everywhere.  The signs are painted perfectly by the side of the road.  The houses are painted perfectly.  Impeccable signs by the side of the road.  Signs for everything.  Specials painted into the windows.  Specials on meat, on carrots, on greens, green beans, paper towels.  The next window, the next window, specials on baby clothes, evening clothes, pianos, rabbits.  You can get everything everywhere in America.  You can find it all here.  The lines on the road line up perfectly, perpendicular to the car.  Welcome to America.  The white and the yellow, pushing in. 

A woman on the sidewalk walks behind a stroller, two children face front, staring through the heat, red from the weather.  The woman's hair is in curls, as we slow for the stop sign I hear the ticking of her sandals on the pavement.  Evie has cracked her window.

"God, I'm dying in here."

So am I, I want to tell her.  So am I. 

The woman turns to cross.  I start to let the foot off the brake.  Then I don't.  I let her go. 

"What an ugly shirt," I say as she crosses.  "What was she thinking to go out of the house dressed like that?"

"She looks like a disaster."  Evie rolls up the window, she smiles, jacks up the a/c. 

I say nothing and roll through the next three stops.  The heat sleeps, shimmer on the pavement, shimmer on the hood of the car.  

Copyright © 1999-2017 Juked