Since before we moved houses, that old Polaroid has been sitting there, beside my mother’s bed, for as long as I can remember. I try not to look at it when I walk into her room, the walls yellow with cigarette smoke. And even after she has shown it to me, I can never seem to remember his face.
It’s blurred out, my father’s face, censored as if he had never signed the consent to release form. A waiver, which we have to assume, was completely ignored, as my father wanted to keep his identity a mystery. This mystery, one that I was completely disinterested in ever attempting to solve, was one whose answers were not arrived at through the juvenile games of “Guess Who” that were played at the tables of the bargain-basement daycare with the mean kids that played street hockey.
But I know it is not my memory that’s failed me. Because I remember in vivid remark that day, the last time that I saw my father, in the barbershop parking lot. I recall with grave distinction the look on his face before he dragged my mother out of the car by her hair, pounding her jaw against the hood of the white Ford Explorer. I remember when the ambulance came, and the beautiful EMT worker told me that my mother just had “a little booboo, like that one,” as she pointed to a mark on my arm that was, distinctly, not a booboo. I’ve been told that I couldn’t look at my mother for months, scarred, stitched, and flattened into an oblong disfigurement. My heart, like her jaw, was completely broken. And I could never look at my father again.
So, I censor it in my mind, like the breasts of a woman on a made-for-television movie, because it does not belong there. And after fifteen years, when my mother asks me where that old Polaroid that’s been sitting beside her bed since before we moved houses has gone, I tell her that I do not know.
Cameron Green is currently pursuing his M.A. in English at East Carolina University. He has work forthcoming in WILDNESS Journal, The B'K Magazine, and Badlands Literary Journal. Recently, he received the 2016 Bill Hallberg award in Creative Writing.
Your feet start to hurt just before the dinner rush; only a few tourists complaining of sand, how it gets under their skin and irritates. Smiling with each order, your fingers can barely keep up. Some of the men glance at your exposed legs, despite their wives and girlfriends. “Whatever gets ya the best tip,” Nellie says as you pin and spin orders. She trained you two months ago, every piece of advice replaced with an endless clutter of expectations. You only hope you won’t still be working here in ten years, flirting to pay the rent.
His elbow hurts my ribs and something clashes against my forehead. The scarf gets knocked off me and I squint into the sunlight of a Dromore market day.
There’s a trace of what must be blood on my gloves but not enough to scare me. I hear the passing guffaws at our tumble. He stinks of whiskey and I can’t bare to look at him.
The girl is waiting on the median for the light to change and the traffic to come to a halt. When it does, she steps down onto the street and walks in between the stopped cars, slowly passing each one, a cardboard sign held chest-high. Her eyeglasses reflect the harsh glare of the headlights and look like two white squares sitting on her face. She is probably fifteen or sixteen. Her hair is clean, pulled back neatly in a ponytail; her backpack is new, as are her boots—hardly a scuff or a stain. My emotions are mixed. I feel sorry for her, life out here is hard beyond belief, but I’m also relieved, in a “big sigh” sort of way. No doubt, like the rest of us, she has some sad stories to tell. No, not sad. Fucking heartbreaking.
The pounding in Amana’s temples won’t let up, and it’s beginning to scare her. She has had headaches before, but this is something different—it feels like some kind of creature has invaded her body and is occupying every square inch of it, from the tips of her fingers, which won’t stop tingling, to the pit of her stomach, which feels like it is being stretched and twisted and kneaded like bread dough.
About a week after it all happened, a friend of mine texted me. He said he needed to talk.
I’d known Chris since the late 90s, when I lived in Salt Lake City Utah. Chris now lives in Nevada, in Las Vegas with his boyfriend. It’s not really relevant but they broke up in January sometime over increasing tension in their household. Chris’ boyfriend hadn’t voted in the election. It wasn’t something Chris could let go.
Here’s what the random word generator gave me: “copper, explain, ill-fated, truck, neat, unite, branch, educated, tenuous, hum, decisive, notice.” I was a detective working clues.
The children appear from the edges. Their faces set. Their bodies are covered in iridescent powders that shimmer in hues that could only be seen in dreams. We have been gathered in the square to wait. Our kin have been gathered to watch. The children walk around us in a pack, sniffing, running towards us and back again to their circle. Worn, brown leather pouches hang around their necks, swaying with their movement.
No one wanted to hang out with Janie anymore and I thought that was unfair. It could have been any number of things that turned the group off to her but in my book she was better than alright. Maybe I was being sentimental but Janie was one of ours and I wasn't ready to let her go.
"On with the American machine, down with grass and trees!" Dad said. I laughed, because, for fuck's sake, why was it time to turn the vacant lot next door into a new parking lot? The town was nothing BUT parking lots. We had just found out about the city’s decision, which gave me a helpless feeling.
It was inside the desk where she hid all of her secrets. On the surface were the objects that immediately spoke of the history she didn’t want to hide. The mahogany pencil boxed, handmade and carved with intricate leaves and vines, given to her by her grandmother on the day of her high school graduation; the framed photo of her grandmother, who did not live to see her college graduation; and her favorite coffee mug, the one she says she can’t work without.