B Y L Y D I A C O P E L A N D G W Y N
Stars shine blues and yellows bright as sweat over the mountains. I watch the sky and the tree outlines from my car window. We’re on the gravel road that leads to our house and the song about riding a white pony comes on the radio. In my head I sing along to the chorus which is the same four words over and over, and while I sing I think of a man standing in a dark dance club in a black suit.
My father stops the car for a possum and catches it in the headlights, back arched and tiptoeing. The fuzz of its fur seems powder-white, like it’d be full of dust if you smacked it.
The world is black and white at night in a car’s headlights, but inside the car the green glow of the digital clock lights my mother’s hands which are folded in her lap. The world in here is brown velvet and soft dash board dials. My brother sleeps in his car seat next to me. The flesh-colored patch over his lazy eye peels away like an old gray Band-Aid.
I believe my parents think I’m asleep too. I breathe the way I think people breathe when they sleep. I make a small, slow sound and inhale deep enough to smell my mother’s rose shampoo. I’ve learned the gift of being quiet, of being forgotten in a back seat and falling privy to all kinds of grown-up talk. Truths I never would have known.
The truth is Laurel’s mother shouldn’t be having another baby. She doesn’t take care of the three she has and her sisters are sick of her mooching. The truth is my uncle’s girlfriend is frigid and can’t even use a tampon. But he stays because she’s something he can’t have. The truth about my best friend’s mother is that after ten years she will never finish writing her dissertation.
The truth about my grandmother is that she wants to die. What I thought were migraines that sent her to the hospital are really tantrums and overdoses. All the times I thought she was staying in a hotel on a beach, she was really in a mental institution across town. She has never travelled anywhere glamorous, never flown for free to Vegas to spend vouchers and watch Broadway shows. All those things were really overdoses. Dozens of overdoses.
I think of my grandmother’s hand on my head, pulling me into her waist to keep me near. The smell of her expensive clothes, her Oscar de la Renta, how she cried in the parking lot of the grocery store and said snakes would take her eyes. She said love was a thunderbolt cracking the trees all over town. Cars backed out of parking spaces around her and shoppers wheeled their carts away. The fire department got there first and took her to the store’s break room for a cup of water and some gum.
My head is loose on my neck. My brain is a fog like its own black and white world. I look for the creek out the window—a shiny ribbon curling in the moonlight. My brain thinks of cutting off my fingers with the fabric scissors. The heavy orange-handled ones that mother keeps on top of the refrigerator.
I talk to my brain, and the quiet voice inside me says, Look here, brain. You need think about something else. So I focus on the music, the softness inside a white pony’s ears. The smell of chimneys, the wind on my face. How he’d run with me on his back through the woods.
Lydia Copeland Gwyn’s stories have appeared in Nano Fiction, Elm Leaves Journal, Glimmer Train, the Florida Review and others. Her work has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize, and her chapbook won second place in the Jeanne Leiby Chapbook contest. She lives in East Tennessee with her husband, son, and daughter.
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