Tag Archives: renee

Listening

The first time I saw the ‘65 Mustang, her soft-top was shredded. Her passenger door only opened from the inside. Reservoirs stood empty or were missing. The hoses, the seals, the coating on the wires all showed sun damage. She’d been standing with her hood open for years.

Anyone else might have walked away, but I loved her from the moment I saw her. She was perfect.

And she was a present from Jack, who knows me probably better than anyone. Who I don’t know at all anymore, it seems. They said give him space, so I did. They said give him time, so I did. And all the while I missed him something fierce.

And then:

“The time for being patient has passed,” Angus said yesterday. “I want you to try to talk to him.”

“No pressure,” I’d said. It was only his son we were talking about.

“All the pressure in the world,” he’d replied gravely.

So today, I grasp at the only thing that still connects us.

:got the car running. wanna see?: I text.

:sure, when?:

:heading down now:

My head’s been under the hood a good half hour when I straighten up, rubbing my back, and notice Jack leaning on my tool chest.

“Jesus. How long you been there?” I wipe my sleeve across my forehead.

He shrugs. He looks small. Reduced.

I clench my jaw, relax. “I’m glad you came. She’s still not much to look at, but she’s alive.” I swallow. “Um. Wanna check her out?”

“Sure.” He looks vaguely embarrassed. “You know I just drive. I can’t make ‘em run.”

“Don’t need you to.” I tuck the prop down, lower the hood. “Just listen to her.”

He nods.

I climb in, shove the passenger door open from the inside. Jack catches it, protecting the hinge.

“You usually leave the window down?”

“Haven’t bothered. Nobody’s sat on that side.”

His bird-quick glance at me barely moves his chin.

“Listen,” I say again, and turn the key.

The engine snarls into life. I’ve tinkered with it a bit. I hadn’t meant to, but she kept drawing me back, this car. I give her gas, let the sound bounce off the walls.

Jack’s eyes widen at the first cough and roar, then he settles, his shoulders sinking back, windbreaker sliding against orange-peeled vinyl. He inhales, consuming the sound, the scent of grease, exhaust, ozone. Exhales. Finally he reaches out and rests his fingertips on the dash, eyes scanning an imaginary horizon.

“Gorgeous, yeah?” I watch his face, his fingers on the dashboard. He’s in there, my Jack. The possessive is deliberate; the people I love, I don’t give up.

“Like an angel,” he says reverently. “Like she’s been through hell and kept on, and now she’s bragging.”

“She has, I think. ‘Least she’s got a voice now, someone to listen to her.” I ease up, let her idle. The low thrum-thrum-thrum rhythm settles into my bones, comfortable. “Wanna ‘drive’?”

His eyes soften. “You want somebody to put her through her paces later, I’m there; right now I’d just be making noise.”

“That all I’m doing? Making noise?” I floor the gas. It’s louder than I’d expected in the confined space, large as the garage is. The wheel shakes in my hands; I ease up.

“Feels like if I listen hard enough, I’ll hear what she’s trying to say. I’m not going anywhere, like she isn’t.” I let her idle again.

“Where are you going, Jackie?” I barely breathe it, but I know he can hear.

He’s absolutely still, deep within himself. His hand on the dash is rock-steady. He might as well be a statue, a doll.

“I don’t hear what you hear.” He yanks the door lever and he’s gone into the shadows of the garage, slick and fast like he drives.

I watch him go, watch till he’s out of sight, my back stiff and hands white-knuckled on the wheel. And when I can’t see him anymore I crumple over and I cry, big wracking ugly sobs.

Eventually I just sit, my cheek pressed against the curve of the wheel. I blew it, I think. I fucking blew it. The car’s still rumbling. I turn her off with a jerk of my wrist.

I lean over and pull the passenger door shut. Stare at it. Reach over again and roll the window down, all the way.

As I leave the garage I can see his footprints, small and lonely in the grit.

[Note: this piece was whittled down to its bare essentials from the original long version of this story. Many thanks to Rowan G and her brutal editing skills for helping me cut it from 1600 to 750 words. I’d be curious to know what readers think. Which version is more effective? -ch]

So real

“If it came down to it,” I’d asked Jack once. “If you could only save one of them…”

“One of who?” he wanted to know.

“Kyna or Katie. If you couldn’t get to both of them.”

“Katie,” he said without hesitation and with a conviction I couldn’t mistake.

I nodded. He’d just been confirming something I already knew about him, after all.

“I thought, you know, I’d save Kyna,” he said. “We could always have another baby. But. She’s so tiny. And she’s so, I don’t know. So real.”

“I’d go after Barbi,” I’d said then. “And she’d hate me for it. With every bit of herself, she’d hate me. God. What kind of parent am I gonna be?”

I’m asking myself the same question now.

It had been simple enough to ease the baby out of Barbi’s arms when she dozed off. Simple for me, anyway; it would’ve taken an anti-tank missile for anyone else, I’m pretty sure. Nothing is coming between Barbi and her child. Our child.

I lay her in the bassinet just long enough to adjust the swaddle a little tighter. The fabric is covered in tiny vintage airplanes flying this way and that and I wonder if Jack picked it out before or after he closed himself off from everyone. I tuck the blanket around her with a series of motions half-remembered from when Jo’s little boy was just born. Before Jo moved out, spitting insults like battery acid, and in with her boyfriend’s parents – born-again Christians who were all-too willing to redeem my sister’s soul.

What kind of parent?

“You’re gonna be a fine one,” Jack had answered me. “Once she’s there, and she’s real, and you hold her. You’d do anything. I swear to you, you’re gonna be a good… a good whatever you decide to call yourself.”

Inay, I decided. Like my mother, when we were small, before we learned that people would make fun of you for the stupidest things and we started to call her Mom instead. Inay, because it carries more weight than Mom, and less.

“You’d do anything,” he’d said, and I suppress the urge to kick something, because what the fuck does he know? He walked out on his kids. Yeah, sure, he’s keeping watch. It’s his fucking responsibility. But he walked out just the same, and I swear – I swear – I am not going to do that. Not to my kid, and not to him either.

I pick her up before she can start to fuss – babies know the difference between a cold mattress and a warm chest – and nestle her in the crook of my arm. She turns her tiny face in, nuzzles against my shirt.

“Sorry, kiddo,” I say. “You’re barking up the wrong tree there.”

She startles at the sound of my voice, opens her eyes. They’re a deep blue, like all babies have, and even knowing she’s likely to end up with brown eyes like me I can’t help but notice how much she looks like her mother. She starts to squirm and I hold my breath, bounce her gently until she settles back down.

I thought it would be different once she was born. Would I do anything for her? I don’t know. I don’t know. For Barbi, I would. Barbi is real. Jack is real, the Jack who told me these things, not the Jack who handed me a stack of flannel blankets and walked away. This Jack doesn’t seem real anymore. I would do anything for the Jack whose blood is mixed with mine.

I brush her super-soft blonde hair with one finger. She doesn’t seem real either. And I know if I put a name to her, if I speak it out loud, she will become more real. Become fixed in time and space and in my heart. Each time I speak her name is another barbed hook.

In a way, I’m a lot like Jack. Difference is, I’m gonna set those hooks. Difference is, I’m not giving up.

“It’s okay,” I whisper, settling into the cushioned rocker in the corner and closing my eyes, just for a minute. “We’re gonna be fine, you and me. Stella. We’re gonna figure this out.”


One way out

I fumble for the switch, slap it off. The only light is the flickering of the EXIT sign, staining her pink. I pretend these are your lips, your hands, your teeth digging into my skin. I let her take what is yours.


Trouble

They didn’t know that girls like you are trouble for girls like me. Your perfect nails, your laugh in the dark. They didn’t expect your vulnerability to be the thing to break me. I didn’t expect to be the one to break.


Stripped

I shed these boots with my pretenses. Kick them into the corner behind the bedroom door. Peel back all my layers. I stand here, exposed, laid bare, in my stocking feet and wait for you to say, “I thought you were taller.”