Posted May 18, 2012
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Sharon’s mother had seen Lee Harvey Oswald again. He floated in her garden tub, belly-up and naked, with only a white T-shirt on. At least that’s what she told Sharon, and Sharon decided to go and get her.
The scorching Alabama sun glowed in a fiery ringlet as Sharon eased the Pontiac onto I-85 out of Opelika. Her mother sat in the passenger seat, applying lipstick in the visor mirror.
“Where we going?” her mother asked.
“I’m taking you to Montgomery, Momma.”
“Why in the Lord God’s name are we going to Montgomery?” She turned in the direction of a Texaco fading at the end of an off ramp. “I thought we was going to Atlanta? It’s a perfect day for Atlanta, you know.”
“I know,” Sharon said. “It’s time for you to vacation at the Twelve Oaks instead.”
“Who and a Baptist’s right leg would want to go there? We have to go to Atlanta.”
“Momma, would you quit going on about Atlanta. That’s over with now.”
Her mother’s blue eyes mirrored a dull hue from the sun’s glow. A clump of green interstate signs flickered past as trucks and cars and 18-wheelers jockeyed for positions up ahead.
Sharon’s bloodless white fingers clamped the wheel. “Momma,” she said, “I can’t keep worrying about you alone no more. I can’t. You keep seeing Lee Harvey or Margaret Mitchell or Daddy. You have to stay some place safe. I’m doing this for you, Momma.”
“Doing this for you, Momma, I’m doing this for you,” her mother said before picking at a purple azalea on her dress.
An 18-wheeler rumbled past and pushed them closer to the orange construction barrels.
Her mother gave little notice to Sharon or her driving. Her own murky world seemed to focus around the flower designs on her dress. Sharon rolled through a rough stretch of tar and chip before coming onto a smooth patch of black. A silhouette of her mother’s reflection projected off the window glass.
“I remember when me and your daddy used to go up to Atlanta. We sure had some fun, me and your daddy.”
Sharon wiped perspiration from her forehead, thought about her mother’s thirst for men, both before and after her father’s death, all the coming and going that stopped the soil from settling. With each mile marker, she struggled to snap the plastic around the weak album called childhood. Now, her mind just skipped over the positive packed away somewhere, and she could only mine the bad.
“Oh no!” her mother said.
Sharon gripped the wheel and surveyed the roadway. Then her mother thrust both hands onto the dash.
“How am I supposed to stay at Margaret’s when I haven’t packed? Let’s go back. I need my things. I can’t arrive for a cocktail looking like this, now can I?”
“Montgomery, Momma, and there’s your suitcase,” she said, motioning with a free hand in the direction behind her.
Her mother peered into the back seat. The suitcase rested on its side. Scrapes and scars ran like a road map across its aging body. She didn’t say a word, only slumped a little further and faced the interstate again. “Margaret,” she said finally, “when we get to Atlanta, do you think we can find a place to eat? I would sure love some buttermilk fried chicken.”
“Jesus H. Christ, Momma, I’m not Margaret. Gosh…sit up, please.”
Her mother again went to poking at the faded azaleas on her dress. A group of cars and big trucks swerved hard and fast in front of them. Sharon straightened herself. More vehicles swerved. Boards and tools and McDonald’s bags covered the highway. She jerked the wheel left, then right, but still hit a crescent wrench and a ball-peen hammer, some chunks of pinewood that did a thump thump and shot out the back.
“It will be nice seeing your daddy,” her mother said.
Sharon kept her eyes on the rearview, gave out a long, deep sigh, as cars and trucks still swerved behind them. The front of the car hopped and pulled and hopped before she skidded to a halt along the shoulder. A red dust cloud engulfed the Pontiac and faded into the nearby field as the cars and trucks and semis continued to thunder past.
“So glad we finally made it, Margaret,” her mother said, and got out of the sagging car, slammed the door.
“Momma, wait!” Vehicles swung close to the driver’s side door, forcing her to crawl out the passenger side. Her mother had already meandered twenty yards down the highway.
Sharon tried getting her mother’s attention, shouting to no avail. A car laid on its horn, and a man with a ball cap turned backward threw up his hands. She reached her mother and turned her, her hand gripping her mother’s arm.
“Momma, what in the hell are you doing?”
Another parade of rattling engines clamored by in the burning heat, blanketing them with a burnt, carbonated breeze. Her mother plopped down on her knees a few feet from the white line. The hollow hums from passing tires made it difficult to hear. Sharon slipped her arms under her mother, tried to lift her, but her mother wouldn’t budge. The azaleas on her mother’s dress fluttered in the wind like a sheet clinging to a clothes line, one hard gust away from breaking free.
“I would like to go home now, Sharon.”
“We’ll get there eventually, Momma. You just need to hang on.”
Sharon tried to lift her again, and again she wouldn’t budge. Off on the horizon a police cruiser approached and seemed to be slowing. The officer leaned over for a better view of Sharon pulling her mother into the ditch grass, her mother’s pale legs dragging lines in the sand, but the officer only flicked a cigarette butt through a gap in the window and kept going.
* * *
Keith Rebec resides in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. He’s a graduate student, working on a M.A. in Writing, at Northern Michigan University. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Molotov Cocktail and The Rusty Nail.
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