The small girl pedaled her tricycle around the abandoned parking lot, little brown legs spinning, imagining herself on an empty road. Her brow wrinkled in determination as she swerved to avoid one of the potholes that littered her racetrack. Short pigtails flew out behind her, one of them starting to unravel as the thin elastic band that held it snapped and dropped to the ground. Crooked bangs stuck to her sweaty forehead as she looked ahead, focused on not running over the broken glass and fast food bags hidden by the tall weeds. She only had a few minutes to ride, the clock ticking as the tobacco smoldered.
Her mother only possessed so much patience, and that was equal to the time it took her to shake a cigarette loose from the green cellophane package, strike a light from a plastic lighter she carried in her pocket, and inhale the bitter smoke until it burnt down to the spongy filter. She would then drop the butt on the rocky ground, grinding it out with the heel of her flipflop, not looking up as she called out to April that it was time to leave, and they would return home. Sometimes her mom was in a good mood and feeling generous, and on those rare occasions she would stay and smoke another one. But that didn’t happen very often.
April glanced out of the corner of her eye at her mother as she sat on the set of concrete stairs that once led into the burnt out building, looking to see how much of the cigarette was left. She saw that the red stub was nearly to her mother’s yellow fingers. She pushed down on the pedals harder, her favorite red sneakers moving so fast they looked like that flaming tip.
April knew better than to disobey when her mother called to her. She had tried it once – racing away as her mother had called to her, wanting to stay longer. In a few strides her mother had been at her side, yanking her off by one of her spindly arms, the trike speeding off on its own as her head jerked back and her bottom hit the ground. Hard. Her mother had smacked her across the face, and she heard fire alarm bells ringing in her ears as fireworks flashed in bright reds and yellows before her eyes.
“April Marie Cosico.” her mother had hissed, eyes disappearing into squinty black lines, face tomato red except for her lips which were pressed together, paperwhite. “When I call you, you better come. Do you understand me?”
April nodded, still in a daze, too shocked even to cry.
“I can’t hear you.”
“Yes mommy.” she whispered.
“Good. Now go get your trike and let’s go home.” Her mother had turned and marched away, not waiting for April to join her.
April had stumbled across the pitted ground to where her trike had ended its solitary journey, the front wheel stuck in a pothole. She had pulled at the rear footstep until with a jolt it came loose, almost landing her on her bottom again. Tears flowed in silent streams down her face as she stood there frozen, staring at her trike, not sure if she was allowed to ride it or if she should walk it over to her mother. Her arm hurt and she could see bloody scratches where her mother’s nails had slid across her skin before gaining purchase and digging in. Hot pee trickled down her leg as she stood indecisive, unable to move.
“April! Get on that bike and let’s go! Unless you want another smack.” barked her mother. That was enough for April, and she had climbed on, sitting gingerly on her sore bottom, pushing the pedals down first with one heavy foot then the other, over to the opening in the gate where her mother waited.
Now she kept a close eye on her mother, ready to turn and leave as soon as she was called. But that didn’t stop her from dreaming about the day when she’d be free to ride her trike as long and as far as she wanted. She would ride it out of the parking lot and down the street. Far, far away from her mother.
Lisa M. Trahan is currently a MFA student at Antioch University with an interest in crime fiction, soccer, and indie music. She grew up on the East Coast but moved across country to live in Los Angeles, where most of her stories are set.