Mom bought me Wilbur Mohammad’s Geo Metro for eight hundred dollars, an electric blue stick shift, a flea of a car. Wilbur’s down the road from us, and I’d been seeing that car in his front yard my whole life. It’s like her to give me what I can’t say I need.
The backseats are flipped forward and weighted with my duffel bag, two backpacks, stuffed Walmart bags, and a milk crate of my books. I’m about to drive 2,203 miles. It might well be the first time this car rolls over the Duplin County line.
Mom and I are propped against the driver’s side looking at our front porch, the unlatched screen door all the way open and tapping against the house. Beyond the door is the couch where she caught me having sex with my first boyfriend while she was supposed to be at work, recording for the family court. I heard her weeping that night in her bedroom like she was the one who had something to feel sorry for. When I woke the next morning, there was a box of condoms under my pillow.
But no matter where—porch, living room, or kitchen table—when I have said what I need, she hasn’t heard it. I told her I want to breathe air that doesn’t reek of hog bowels. You can’t Glade the whole outdoors. I told her I need to plant beans in soil that isn’t saturated with hog shit after every hurricane when the sewage lagoons at the industrial farms overflow. I begged her to make a new home with me, this woman who hears and refuses to hear, who tells me I’m beautiful when my face is knobby with pimples, who holds my cold feet against her warm stomach in winter. My Uncle David tried talking to her, too, swore he had room enough for the both of us in Tucson.
“You could get sick here,” I say again and grab hold of her hand at my side. Her fingers and mine are the same: long with inelegant knuckles. I tell her just three days ago there was another baby who was born blue.
“You’ve got your A.A. and you’re headed off to start your life, and you want to take me with you?” She shakes her head like she’s seen it all, like nothing makes any sense anymore. Same as when she insists the water is fine. The Earth isn’t getting hotter. The value of the house she bought all by herself hasn’t dropped because of the smell.
On the way to Arizona I sleep in efficiency motels. I ask a man at a diner to buy me a bottle of vodka and I dance for him on the orange bedspread in my room, my body limitless. I stretch on the side of the highway when I need a break, and the semis pull their horns. I watch out the window as fields flip by, the ones growing crops that feed the animals people eat without thinking. I drive with the window down an inch to let in the fresh air, and I listen to the rustle of my earrings, the ones I made from the shards of a conch shell mom dropped on the floor of the thrift store after she’d put it to her ear and heard a howling.
Kara Vernor’s fiction and essays have appeared in Ninth Letter, The Normal School, Gulf Coast, Vol. 1 Brooklyn, and elsewhere. She has received support from the Elizabeth George Foundation and the Mendocino Coast Writers’ Conference, and her writing has been included in The Best Small Fictions and Wigleaf’s Top 50 Very Short Fictions. Her chapbook, Because I Wanted to Write You a Pop Song, is available from Split Lip Press.