The girl with bobbed black hair watched it buzz feebly under the windshield. She even tried to buzz back at it, communicate with it, speak its language. Buzz… nothing. She could believe it—nothing seemed reasonable. That fly had been buzzing the whole time, hopelessly ramming and re-ramming its tessellated bug eyes into the glass. If only I could let it go, she thought, If only he could get outta here, poor little buddy. I’ll just roll down the window. With the click no electric motors churned. Try again. The car was off.
Stop it. You’re not even supposed to do that.
She would’ve opened the door. For the fly. Or just for some air. Just for some air. Should she do it? But that was strictly against Mother’s rules. Strictly. If only just a crack—no she can’t do that.
She can’t. It’s not allowed.
I’m not allowed to do that. So I should stop thinking about it. How nice it would be.
When she was with Father, she was supposed to abide with even more devotion. That stung a little bit, because she already thought of herself as having the utmost piety. Or something like it. She was good. Abiding by these rules was a must. Why these rules were in place actually did made sense to her. It felt like every day she heard an Amber Alert blaring on the unattended TV downstairs. It was just scary. That’s what those things do, they scare you.
Okay, so ixnay to opening the door. Too risky.
But it’s so—no, off limits.
It’s hot in Georgia in July. So hot. This is crazy hot, she thought. The sweat started forming a thin film on her smooth forearms and had been beading up on her forehead for a while now.
Father is a dinkle, Mother would say. Never agreed with her until now.
He said it would only be a few minutes. A few items. He had said, “Self-checkout is speedy.” She remembered because she liked how he said the word “speedy” instead of “fast” or “quick” or any of the words she would have used. That’s what she adored about father, clever things like that.
This Kroger was funny—the muted blue letters were dimly lit in the fading late afternoon, their slim shadows now seeping longer on the concrete wall, except the ‘K’.
Kroger with the K unlit. What are the chances. This was awkward. That spells Roger. Roger had kissed her. Roger’s story was one of very little substance and a few bursts of action/terror/excitement. She had met him in Kindergarten, and they had been in the same class every year except for last year, when he had Ms. Polo and she didn’t. She vaguely liked him. She wasn’t opposed to the thought of being with him, at least. By now though, when she was with him, she was less than enthused, kind of bored. A few weeks ago he came up to her after school and asked her out to the mall. He was a popular kid, the other boys would follow him off of a cliff, but he was shy. That’s what made her feel so good. He’s crippled by shyness, so he must really like me to muster his courage like that. She’d watched him suspiciously muster in the corner with his best friend, Finn, both pushing each other, laughing, glancing at her. Then he walked over, Roger. She had always had the hots for Finn, though. It was more of a subconscious thing. Stop it, no, Roger. But yes, Finn had good posture, and confidence, and ink black curly hair let long and barbarous by his refusal to cut it. She would settle for Roger though. He was fine. It wasn’t really a date anyways. They went to the mall and walked around. Not being old enough to drive, the trek had to be managed by foot. She felt hot on her face the whole time and he kept trying to hold her hand. She didn’t really like it. They stopped in shops, spent a lot of time in Footlocker. Afterwards was where he had kissed her. They came to the intersection—his house right, hers left—and he just pecked her on the upper lip with no warning and sped right onto Glenbridge. His nose poked her cheek and she felt squeamish. But it made her happy, at least. Just knowing that he was thinking about her so much. Even if it wasn’t exactly what she wanted.
The more she thought about it, the less sure she was about it.
Roger. Huh. She did like him?
She thought about Roger for a while—why she had stopped talking to him, what she really thought about him, etc.
She laid her head on the warm glass window backseat. Dad said she wasn’t old enough to sit front seat yet. That was insulting. He doesn’t know how much I’ve grown, she thought.
Sometimes clumps of time would drip quickly—like when she would look up to her alarm clock when she’s been reading for a while and two hours have mysteriously evaded her record. But right now, time passed slower than it ever had. Every minute was a lap. Every so often, whenever significant time had passed, she checked her watch, raising and rotating her dampened ulna towards her forehead. 4:22. 4:23. 4:23. 4:24. 4:24. Each number was a victory.
There was a man putting groceries in the van across the parking lot isle. Middle-aged, stubble, alone, slight limp, hand-held shopping basket for a less mom-like shopping experience. Drives away very slowly. Like he remembered that he forgot something.
Keep the will, she thought. It’s temporary. Heat is.
A girl holding a red balloon looked behind her and her dad came out of the store’s automatic sliding doors. The girl immediately let slip the red balloon.
Red balloon. What a thing.
She couldn’t tell if it was from following the red balloon into the stratosphere, or from the sheer heat, but her peripheral vision was turning static-y. It looked like AM static sounded.
She thought about how, somewhere, a star was collapsing in on itself, and she was here, with these problems. She learned that in science yesterday.
Dizzy. It’s swirling.
It was unbearable. She now had justified breaking mother’s rule in order to get some much desired, much needed air. But what was giving her reluctance was a memory, nipping at her pant leg: at church, a few years ago. She and her mother had gotten into a dispute earlier that morning, something juvenile, about the dress she had to wear, so she stayed in the car in protest. Her mother went on into the chapel, leaving her in the church parking lot, thinking she would enforce some put-the-foot-down parenting. As kids do, she surrendered, finally decided to get out, go into church, and apologize to mother, the wave of rage having subsided. The car was locked, so when she opened it from the inside, the alarm blared. Mother was furious that day. She was furious. The whole congregation witnessed. That was actually when Mother made the rule, she just remembered.
Now her peripheral sight was being constricted, tapering like the opposite of exiting a tunnel. No—not like entering a tunnel—like the opposite of exiting one. Now it was all black. Relief. As she slid into something that felt like sleep.
Here was a reverie’s landscape, FDR’s geography. Clouds let patches of light onto the fields. She looked over at—Roger? He leaned in and laid his head on her clavicle but just before his soft blonde hair touched her bare shoulder he disintegrated with a computerized glitch.
She felt the ground. It was a trampoline. She laid back and looked up at the sky. The racing clouds were moving so fluidly and so far away. It was getting closer.
To the left of the trampoline was a lake overhung by a sheer and rocky cliff-face, on which three novel houses were perched.
Whoa, it was night now. She actually didn’t notice that.
She liked the smallest of the three homes; don’t know why, but she chose it. Somehow it was assumed that the choice was hers to make. The house had an old, elegant ambiance—ornate and airy with Corinthian moldings on the overlooking porch.
It had been plummeting precipitously.
Swiftly she was there, on the porch, looking around. There were a few paintings on the spaces between the tempera-indigo draperies. The paintings seemed three-dimensional in this dream. One portrait’s nose in particular seemed to jut into her reality.
Wait, what was that? Say again? A dream? Good lord—must it be time to leave?
It must. Looking up, the twilit sky’s azure firmament was still plunging by means of gravity. It was now upon her. She reached up for its underbelly but to no avail.
“—only for a weekend? One freaking weekend?”
“Laura, please, what was I—”
“Oh I can think of plenty of other ways that this should have gone, maybe leave her at home, take her inside with you maybe? It’s a hell of a lot cooler in Kroger than a Georgia parking lot—did you know that? Or did you miss that day at North Metro Tech? The one where you learned that kids don’t belong in 110 degree cars?”
“At least I wasn’t the one who lost her—”
“Please stop shouting you’re going to wake her,” Mother said in a suddenly elegant tone that subtly overpowered the mounting tension.
She was awake now, and had been for a while, but she pretended like she just woke.
Whoa, it was night now. She actually didn’t notice that.
“What— where—,” peaking her head from under the stiff sheets in a shattered voice. She batted her eyelids for dramatic effect. Yes, that ought to do it.
“Sh sh sh, Father took you to St. Josephs, you blacked out in the Kroger parking lot. Do you remember?”
“I think that…”
“Sam, get her some water.”
He stood still.
“For Christ’s sake Sam.”
Mother walked out to get it herself, mumbling.
Father ambled slowly towards the hospital bed, the vague lump under the pallid sheet.
“I know it seems like I’m the bad guy here.”
Just then, Mother jaunted back through the door, mumbling, with a cup of water.
She drank as much as she could but it felt like it stuck to the roof of her stomach.
“I’m going to—”
“Get away from her.”
“Laura you’ve got to be freaking kidding me.”
“Get away from her. Get away from my daughter. Get out of the hospital. Take your goddam Dodge Charger and drive to Missouri or wherever the hell you can exist without destroying another family.”
“You’re going to make me leave her,” he motioned to the lump in the bed, who was trying to pretend like she was asleep again. She knew they knew she was awake. They knew she knew they knew she was awake.
Awful itch on her back. Roll over? Yes. Are they buying it? I don’t know.
“Yes, I sure am.”
She couldn’t let him leave while she was asleep. She rolled over to say something, a goodbye to Father, if it really was happening, but no one was in the room. Their voices nebulously murmured from the hallway now, and she could see two silhouettes in the dimmed fluorescent lights.
This was how life proceeded, watching the two clouds shadowbox. The subsequent handoffs and interim positions carved at her personal identity, the shavings piled up as lifeless baubles. Then, only after some time had passed and tensions only nagged from distances, did such a subtle, seeping tinge saturate her mannerisms and permeate her atmosphere.
James Carson Welch is currently a freshman at Princeton University planning on studying English or Politics. He has written a series of short stories and essays over the past two years and hopes to continue this passion by earning a certificate in Princeton’s Creative Writing Program.