It’s 42 miles till Fayetteville, and there’ll be trees, yes, it’s North Carolina, and sun, yes, but you really have no clue because one of the two no-brainer-given-circumstances-type things you guessed isn’t even true—once you get off that pretty southern highway it’s mostly liquor stores, a prostitute’ll ask you for a light but you gotta keep walking, you gotta soak your pants because of the gasoline you spilled when you were busy thinking about heating a sweet potato in the station microwave, where two men laugh at you anyway and ask why you like dem potaters so much.
Fireflies are little things seen through an eight year old boy’s eyes—fuzzy brown legs passing through dark green, net in hand, sounds of the Chattanooga river, your name being called in the distance. So it’s funny when you’re 23 and a girl and you see ‘em hovering round a bush at a Super 8 in Dalton, you can almost feel this other life. In the morning you float down the river, you rest your head on a raft, you open and close your eyes, green, black, green, black, blue sky, thinking, yes, this is what it would be like.
How would you explain it? Tucking her in at night, checking under the bed for monsters, explaining that lives end, that sometimes the borders we build are breached by things we can’t control. Tell her not to be scared? I said the man they’d found was old, though I didn’t know if he was. I told her that he was homeless, which I also didn’t know. I had to construct some difference, some border between him and us. The truth is too big: some day I will die, and Abbie’s world will expand past whatever limits I protect her with.
It’s a lot like driving through North Dakota at night, the drive is long and you gotta keep going, ‘cause if you run outta gas, you’re dead, you’re at the mercy of whatever decides to pop outta the bushes. So you’re lucky, ‘cause you risked it all, slowed down to pick up a hitchhiker, and she’s been there so long you’ve forgotten all about her otherness, forgotten who’s driving, you’re in this car together, cocooned, like a carrot or onion growing silently in the dirt, surrounded by darkness but gliding together and yeah, that makes it a little less terrifying.
She jumped into the poet’s truck with a soaking wet head. He asked, Don’t you wanna dry your hair before church? Leave the windows down and it’ll dry in time, she said. Sure enough her hundred strands of corn-silk hair danced in the wind tunnel next to the poet’s face the whole way there. You look like a stained glass window, he said and loved her. She slapped him hard when the car was parked and he shattered all over the place like all sorts of geometry. Was that a compliment? The world will never know. But she is beautiful.
But yes sometimes I just sit down and feel completely shitty. Today I feel as tired as I ever have. I want to go to sleep but the thought of ever having to wake up is infuriating. I feel happiest when I’m breathing the same air as someone who loves me for selfish reasons. Or just because I’ve always been around. HA. What it boils down to is that thing James was talking about, at the ferry with the storm coming. Something about counting years as just another way of fucking up. Okay, leave. I have to finish that thingama.
This morning, she didn't notice the car parked cantwise in the drive. She looked up. What is it, her father asked. I thought I heard a plane, she said. She’d known he’d been drinking last night when he picked her up—she could hear it. The trouble parking was only the most explicit sign: backing over the prehistoric ferns, monstrous in the hell of the tails, the Braille of their spores crushed to nothing. Last night, she couldn’t help it, she said, You gonna straighten that up? But this morning she was better. This morning she didn’t even see it.
Most Fridays, I work at the hardware store mixing paint. I grow to be covered in it by the evening's end. Tonight, a father brought his fifteen year old son in to price shelving a few aisles over. I need a person for perspective, he said, taking a photo of the boy in front of the only metal rack. And if it isn't this sturdy when we assemble it? My boss is named Satania. She doesn't have eyebrows, avoids answering everything. I hold a list of the colors I mix each day. For Fridays: winter-mood, bright biscuit, mermaid's belt, anonymous.
There is a special kind of t-shirt worn only by young men that hangs from the body with a laxity befitting their slouched frames. Droopy sleeves, shocks of armpit hair, and hems that curl like mid-scoop ice cream. Sleeves begging to be tugged. With cotton thin enough to imply nudity, as if to say, no shirt required. Where do they find these shirts? It really doesn’t matter: You could stretch one over your body, but it won’t give you their tussled hair, hairless nape, or byzantine belly. Theirs is a special kind of t-shirt and comes only in one size.
I tried to tell my daughter how little she's going to see me. What I told her is that there are a lot of people who are going to do big things to what you are. I told her that hhuh. It's a big world. I didn't have the words for hhuh. Whatever was good in her life would be short. She would wonder why it mattered at all that I spoke to her once and everyone looked for what was different about her to make her deserve it. Hhuh. Hhuh. I didn't tell her I would forget her face.