Replacement Parts

Marc Dickinson Click to read more...

Marc Dickinson’s fiction has appeared in Cream City Review, North American Review, South Dakota Review, The MacGuffin, Saranac Review, Tusculum Review, as well as other journals. “Replacement Parts” is the title piece from a linked short story manuscript that is currently seeking publication. He lives in Iowa where he is a professor of creative writing at Des Moines Area Community.

Replacement Parts recording

            Drake lived in our shed for a month during the summer. At least that’s what we called it. The shed, our shack, a hut held up by the air itself. Not that it matters much out here, where everything seems made from sun and sand. Colton, Iowa isn’t just where two counties cross paths; it’s also where one drought seems to turn into another, doubling up the heat. An unincorporated community of thirty-nine on the border between the towns of Dexter and Gooding, it was once the solitary way station on a road to nowhere, but since the Interstate arrived it’s now just a place separated by a quiet two-lane highway, a gas station, and a pile of double-wides feeding off lost travelers. In other words, it’s no place for a pretty girl to be raised, which is why for class photos my mother used to dress me so you couldn’t tell me apart from other short-haired schoolboys: overalls covering every inch of skin, long-toed sneakers enveloping my feet like second-hand clown shoes. But this year, as sixteen rolled around, there was no hiding anymore. With the lanky legs and generous chest, I became a reluctant member of the girl race, forever and ever, amen.

            In fact, before she died this summer, I’d catch Mom gazing at me, eyes slit and shaking her head, almost as if blaming my body—healthy and spreading—for the cancer eating her from the inside out. In the past, she wouldn’t want me around much anyway, which felt like a blessing of sorts, especially when she came back from the bar with men searching for a bed. Regardless of the reports every few years about missing girls, women foolishly following strangers into the fields, these men still wound up in our trailer. But when the lumps were detected last year, and the men began to look me up and down instead, Mom would offer the car keys and tell me to drive somewhere else. Still some nights I’d accidentally walk in on them. And despite the first impulse to run, I couldn’t help stare. She was beautiful back then. Thick legs straddling a waist, her hands touching her own curves, eyes shut as if she were alone. I’d silently back out of the room, nobody ever even knowing I was there, and listen to the various boys make their noises down the hall throughout the nights, only to leave the next morning like a quick mist.

I almost miss her in those moments—the way she moved like water while making love—as opposed to the way many will remember her right before she passed. The way her blouses suddenly sat flat against her, the way she rubbed vitamin E into the scars, and the way it didn’t even matter when six months later everything had already settled into her bones. And it’s hard not to blame Colton itself—so far away from any kind of help—for her running out of options and time. But the last few months, when her boyfriends came by she still made me trace her lips in red and slather on the bright-blue eye shadow. I dressed her in the leopard-print blouses, as well as the flame-red pants that once sucked in her skin and now hung loose on her hips. Then she’d send me away again. But it’s when my Dad finally arrived back on the scene that she demanded I stick around, treat him nice, as if we were finally a family once more.

            When Dad pulled up on a cloud of motorcycle fumes, I figured he was just another lover come to pay their respects. But then I saw his freshly shaved face and knew he was different. He looked like a rock star, a cowboy, something from TV. Nothing like other bikers who stopped for gas and beer on their way to the desert. This guy walked at a faster clip. He didn’t smell like 30-weight oil. And he seemed sober when strolling through our gate.

“This Susan’s place?”

I led him inside and pointed to her room. He nodded and said I was just as pretty as ever. Mom slept most of the time, the fatigue often overtaking her so suddenly you could spend moments talking to yourself before realizing her eyes were shut. So it wasn’t long until he was out on the porch again, asking me if I recalled his face.

I shook my head. “She’s only got a few days left. I’d save it for her.”

“Pretty tough, huh?” His shaggy blond hair fluttered like ribbon in the wind.

“Maybe. Maybe not.” I dug at the grit under my toenails. The streetlights were coming on and the neon signs around town slowly came into focus: Beer. Gas. Vacancy.

He sat down next to me, his leathers creaking like a worn-out chair, and put his arm around my shoulders. But his hand didn’t wander like most of the guys who visited. He smelled like sweat and spearmint gum, saying, “Yeah, you look tough enough. Just like your mama.”

            When Drake first came through our trailer court, dreads hanging like a bead curtain down his back and looking lost, I quickly saw a strange echo of myself. A face full of lonesomeness as he lingered up and down the lane, one moment leaning against a light pole then gone entirely. At first he just watched from afar like I was a model demonstrating how it all works. This is how we eat cereal on the porch. This is when you’re supposed to go to bed and how to avoid it. This is how we dress while working at the gas station: Hello, My Name is Hannah.

Then one morning, he at last appeared on our stoop, the sun already electric.

            “What’s your name?” I asked, sneaking up behind as if he were a feral stray.

            He didn’t flinch, didn’t even turn around. “If you want me to leave, ask nice.”

            “Did I say that?”

His black braids were like little anchors holding his head in place. When he stood, I saw a face not much older than mine, eyes like ice chips. He held out a hand. “What’s your name?”

            “I asked first.” I put my hand inside his but didn’t shake. Our clasp hung there between us like a prayer gone unanswered. We were two bronzed statues, my skin naturally tanned from living in this endless oven of a town, but his was different. Almost like chocolate but sunnier than that, as if a light emanated from within his body, turning his dark skin bright.

“I thought only black people had hair like that.”

            His hand never let go of mine. He nodded, staring down at my chest. “You’re beautiful.”

            I squinted back, a common kind of expression around here. “You’re weird.” I pulled back my hand. He didn’t try to hold on. “Don’t you have somewhere else to be?”

            “I don’t know,” he said. “Seems like a good place to be.”

            “You kidding? It’s like 100 degrees out here. And it’s not through yet.”

            His crooked teeth tumbled through the smile. They looked like a bunch of sharp rocks falling in front of one another. “It’s perfect. Don’t you think?”

            I didn’t though. I had absolutely no idea what to think.

            After the funeral, Dad stuck around. My mother’s last request. It wasn’t a scary offer. In fact, it was a comfort of sorts. His face wasn’t hungry. There was no anger in his bones. He even kept his eyes to himself. Actually, he looked so soft and sweet it felt like having a pet.

And as soon as she was buried, Dad said it was time to get rid of the clutter. “Past is nothing but a road block,” he said, throwing Mom’s skirts and stilettos in a garbage bag.

“Maybe I wanted those,” I said, knowing that wasn’t true.

“People offer good money for these things.” I wasn’t sure which people he was referring to, but it was nice to have an adult around for once, taking care any way he saw fit. He put on rubber gloves to touch her sheets, the empty vials of hydrocodone, the half-filled water glasses that could never fully quench her thirst. I told him cancer wasn’t contagious, but he kept right on holding his breath until the trash sack was out of sight on the other side of our fence.

That night he left. I figured he was gone for good—another part-time parent. Then two days later he walked back into the trailer and opened a beer. I didn’t ask where he’d been, knowing silence was the best way to keep talking to one another. But he must have seen the question in my face when he winked at me. “I was trying to find you a new mom.”

I laughed. “They were never in large supply around here.”

Dad touched my hand, offered me his beer. I waved it away and witnessed the lost look on his face. But he just didn’t get it. One mother had been enough. Another just felt like replacement parts.

Since summers were dangerous, Dad traded a couple of things for a plastic pool we sat in most afternoons, spraying ourselves with the withered garden hose when the sweat was too much. I soaked in a bikini while Dad dipped his feet in the water, dozing.

Drake usually watched from across the street until one day we saw him drag a couch down our lane, cutting a small path in the gravel. He couldn’t get the sofa through our gate. We watched him struggle to lift it over the chain-link. When that didn’t work, he left it in the road and took a seat on our porch wearing dirty khakis, his hiking boots all but torn in two.

“Too big,” he said.

Dad sprayed his knees and said, “If you want a day job, stealing isn’t it.”

“I didn’t steal it.” Drake licked his lips and grinned. “It was just laying there.”

Dad nodded. “You definitely have a criminal’s mind.”

The couch had been out for so long nobody would even know it was missing. One thing we weren’t short on was spare furniture acting as lawn ornaments. But nobody paid much mind out here, our town never more than a pit stop, a quick blur from one end to the other. So I helped Drake lift the couch on the porch. None of the springs were broken yet. Perfect for sunset-sitting. That night Drake and I watched the purple overcome the sky when he finally asked about Mom.

“She’s not around anymore.” I crossed my arms under the shelf of my breasts, pushing them together. It was hard to know exactly what to do with them sometimes.

“Mine neither,” he said. “My dad went back below the border. Said he’d bring my uncle and they’d start an auto shop. That was a month ago.”

“About the time my mom took off as well.”

“You’re lucky to still have him around.”

I wasn’t so sure. Dad sealed a leak in our roof, though no rain had fallen for months. He raked our gravel. He even put up a basketball hoop at the dead end of our street for all the trailer kids. It simply stood there, alone and idle like a lightning rod, a spare spine that nobody needed hanging around.

“He’s pretty new to all this,” I said. “We’re more like roommates.”

 “I’d take a roommate.” The tone in his voice was all but begging to stay, even if just for a bit. But I wouldn’t ask that of him. I liked him too much already, and he’d be better off moving to another town where waiting around wasn’t your only option.

Drake didn’t show for a few days and I figured he’d caught my drift. At first it was hard, cutting our ties. For a place where goodbyes were a way of life, I couldn’t shake the sadness—a misbegotten boy, put upon and left behind. But when he reappeared a few days later dragging a large rug down the lane, I knew he wasn’t going anywhere.

 Dad was impressed. “Resourceful little thing, isn’t he?”

I splashed water on my legs that sprouted wiry dark hairs even though I was bleach-blond up top. Dad helped pull the rug over the fence. It smelled bad and looked stained. That’s when he offered Drake the shed. “Not much but a place to keep out of the sun.”

            Drake scratched his elbow, dry and ashy. “My dad will be looking for me.”

            “Sure, sure. Just in the meantime. With a gift like yours, it’s best to stay under cover.”

            Drake said he didn’t pickpocket, didn’t shoplift. He was a good kid, he kept telling us.

             “You are a good kid,” Dad agreed. “With brown skin.”

Drake looked at the couch he’d offered in exchange for some company. And now here he was being handed a new home, even if it was out back in a shack. “What’s the catch?”

            Dad came up behind me and laid his hands on my shoulders. His grip was cold, as if those fingers were made from some strange element, a small frost foreign around these parts.

            “What you think, Hannah? Isn’t it about time you had a brother around here?”

            I didn’t say yes or no. I couldn’t even shrug under his touch. I just stared at Drake, my dark-skinned twin, and knew our little family had just gotten one boy bigger.

***

Mom never said a word about Dad. All my life I heard about how no father gone missing was worth the time it took to speak his name. And his absence was larger than any one body could ever fill. Probably why there were so many men around with their gleaming bikes and rusty beards, guys with watery tattoos smearing their skin, playing tough-guy. At the gas station, I’d see them come and go as if through a turnstile. Each the same as the rest: hard shelled and licking their chops as I moved from one pump to the next. It was also probably why I was still a virgin. Whenever I took a man’s money and his winks, they all had bottomless eyes that could break your heart real easy if you let them.  But my mom, on the other hand, couldn’t stop herself.

For only being forty, my mother appeared twenty years older. I’d seen pictures of her when she was in school, looking more like myself than I’d like to admit. But I still remember in junior high when I felt the first trickle run down my leg. I thought I’d peed my pants until I saw all that red coming out of me. I ran to the nurse, thinking I was dying, until she told me about becoming a woman. That it was a proud moment. That it was part of our burden and blessing. Except when I told my mother, she simply rolled her eyes and sighed and said she didn’t need another woman around stealing her show. She tried to smile, like it was a joke, but a year later when the men began to watch me as I walked out of a room, I knew it wasn’t a funny at all.

But despite the wear and tear, before long Mom would have everyone staring at her simply by smiling. Men paid her tabs in exchange for a little attention. She wasn’t just a mother to me but to every man who set sight on her, took her in their arms. I had all the big brothers I could handle, each one of them gone by the break of sun, heading off into that barren fields where all the rest of the bodies are buried. And though she’s gone I still feel her close by, as if wandering the wilderness, but still it’s hard to remember much. At one point she was full of life and the next she’d simply let the cancer take over like a permanent passerby. Sometimes when I try to think back, it feels as if she’d never really been there. Like some kind of mirage that only hungry, half-dying men could see from afar but up close quickly vanished. At hand she was nowhere to be found but from a distance across the room she looked good enough to drink.

The first day of July, the thermometer ready to pop, another film crew rolled through. They always chose the worst time of year, our town teeming with heat waves and government warnings. At the station, as they filled their tanks, Drake slipped behind the counter with me as if leery of strangers. Most days he’d stay behind with Dad. When I was around, they spent most of their time trading war stories about the road, though none of their tales added up to much or gave any kind of hint about where they’d actually been. By the time I got home, they’d usually gone to bed, probably tired from talking themselves in circles. But today Drake tagged along, looking pale and full of the fidgets. I figured the heat was finally getting to him.

A guy wearing a Hawaiian shirt came in and took out a credit card. I gave it a swipe, and as the machine added up its numbers and sent them up to the satellites I studied the vans outside.

Hollywood wasn’t an uncommon sight. Iowa gave tax relief for them to come and make our state look good, add to tourism. So a few times a year they arrived and left a tip or two before moving on. Sometimes they stayed overnight to get a taste of local flavor, and Roy—who owned the station and bar across the street—tried to play host as best he knew how. But there were never real celebrities, at least none I recognized from the magazine covers spread around the store.

“Anybody famous this time?” I asked.

“It isn’t that kind of movie,” the man said.

Drake sat up slowly. “What kind of movie is it?”

“The no-budget kind.” The grip winked that same old wink. “Something about farmers growing pot, a Mexican cartel, and drug deal gone bad.”

“You guys have some funny ideas about places,” Drake said.

“The script says we’re also supposed to be in Pennsylvania.” Mr. Hollywood shrugged and signed the receipt with a squiggle. “What you going to do?”

I took the carbon copy from his hand. “I like comedies better.”

“Me too,” he said, eyes lingering here then there. “With happy endings.”

I felt my skin heat up. Drake stood with a newfound anger in his face that was hard to not be flattered by. “I think it’s time for you to leave,” he said.

The man offered a little laugh. “All right, kid. All right.”

When he was gone, Drake said, “They don’t know a thing about deals gone bad.”

“Who cares about what they do or don’t know?”

“But what right do they have?” Drake glared at me and I felt ashamed, though of what I wasn’t sure. “Coming here to tell us how we live.”

I laced my fingers in his, a small attempt to calm him but also say thank you. Except at the first touch he quickly took his hand back as if suddenly stung by some unknown source. 

“Do you go to school?” I asked one afternoon, the sky in the distance dark-clouded and full of menace, threatening to pour down a rain that never seemed to come.

            “No. It just a bunch of facts. Nothing a real person needs,” he said, still panting from the game. Drake and Dad spent most mornings playing basketball, a one-on-one matchup that each day began innocently enough but eventually verged upon violence. They never kept score, never called fouls, but the ongoing tournament lasted hours at a time, each guarding the other so close you soon couldn’t tell one sweat-soaked body from the other. Usually Drake was the first to tap out, calling it quits when Dad began to almost wrestle the poor kid to the ground. As we sat together, the boy was still shaking from the game, always unnerved by Dad’s sudden strength.

            “A diploma gets you away quicker. That’s what Mom said.” I recalled the rasp of her voice taken over by cancer and couldn’t help but smile, though it didn’t feel right on my mouth.

“She sounds smart.” Drake sweated under that bulk of hair like he didn’t know any better. The dreads were like a fur pelt that needed a good shave. There’s a reason every living thing out here with hair hides from the sun during the day—in this heat, we’ve all overcome the need to be human. But Drake seemed to lack a certain ability to adapt and it’d get him in trouble someday. And it’s what I liked best about him.

“What was your mom like?” I asked, sitting in our pool and splashing my skin.

Drake simply looked at the horizon as if an answer was out there amongst the sagebrush and soil. He wore one of Dad’s Harley shirts, but his boots still looked liable to crumble, as if asking to be put out of their misery

The breeze whipped dirt around. The sun had baked my skin a deep cherry, cooking me pink all the way through. “We should go in. Wind’s going to be bad tonight.”

He gripped the chair, like a branch set to snap. Like something about to detonate at the sound of a say-so. I wrapped a towel around myself and walked behind him, stroking the strings of his hair. They didn’t seem connected to anything actual, just a bunch of floating cables like snakes in my hand. I wondered how long it’d take for someone like me to make hair like that.

“Ever think about doing something with this?”

He shook his head, the fat ropes of his hair barely slithering.

I pressed myself against the back of his neck. “Wouldn’t a trim feel better?”

“Then nobody would recognize me anymore.”

“I would,” I whispered in his ear. I made my fingers into a pair of scissors, placed a braid between, and feigned a cut until Drake grabbed my wrist and told me to stop.

Who’d have thought he’d felt a thing through that deep network of hairy roots. And I was sorry until he finally let go, leaving a faint bruise on my skin. When he stormed into the house, I wondered who this guy thought he was. Or who I wished him to be. But before I could figure it, the wind rose up and blew over our pool as if I’d been the only thing holding it down all along.

By late July, Drake and Dad slept most of the day. In the evening, after a late shift pumping gas, I’d come home to them on the couch, heads together as if getting ready to sell something to somebody. When I opened the door, they’d break apart and tip their beer cans a bit too casually.

“How was work?” Dad asked, scratching his three-day stubble. He stank like a fish tank.

“Six hours and only two customers.”

“Pathetic,” Dad said. “Not even enough to cover Garret’s electric bill.”

“Enough to pay ours.” I rubbed my feet as if they ached, though the truth was I sat most nights reading material for classes I going to take this fall at the local community college. I wanted to be ready when I graduated from Roosevelt High, a consolidated school one town over. Sometimes I wondered if my body was trying to keep up with my mind, aggressive in every way.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Drake asked.

“It means that if you two spent more time finding work than fucking around, we could afford something nice instead of dragging it down the street.”

They stared at each other as if outed at last. Dad hardly left the house anymore, so Drake and I never had a solitary second together. Both of us quietly kept waiting on our fathers, hoping someday they’d come around and take us away from this beach with no sign of water in sight.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Dad said, a cigarette hanging from his lip. They kept a fresh carton in the freezer. The air was filled with a thin haze.

“I’m sure you don’t,” I said, standing for punctuation before stomping down the hall.

Before sleep, I’d take a cold bath to keep me from running hot. Underwater, my body puckered, I’d picture Drake watching me. Like him witnessing these changes in me would somehow prove their happening, as if maybe his showing up was a way to remind me things moved on. Or maybe stayed the same. Sometimes, when I looked in the mirror, I saw shades of both my parents in me. Their heart-shaped features, the square fit of their shoulders, a thickness about my skin. My reflection a shadowed attempt at imitation, like when combining two pure forms of a chemical and you only end up with a diluted replica of the former—a copy of a photocopy. How they were able to work their looks to get exactly what they wanted seemed beyond me.

But tonight, when I wrapped up in a towel and watched myself in the glass—with that long hair covered up, the figure finally out of the way—my own face actually came into focus for once. I imagined Drake’s sky-eyes on me again and thought about what our first time together would be like. And though ridiculous, part of me hoped when we made love, naked and entwined in his hair, we wouldn’t actually have to touch. There wouldn’t even be kissing. In fact, maybe he wouldn’t get hard like guys at school, the biker boys at the pumps. Twins weren’t like that. Instead, we would be lovers without the longing. Isn’t that what true lovers were really supposed to be, after all: people in need without all that unnecessary neediness?

***

In the summer, sleep is miracle enough with the air smothering you like a quilt. Some nights I’d wake suffocating, a small dream twisted in the back of my mind like twine. I’d listen to Drake out back in the shed, snoring as if under the spell of a gentle drug. Except tonight when I woke, it felt like something had been put back out of place. A lock left unlatched, a candle let to burn. But in the kitchen, the dishes still sat in the sink, empties rested on the table. Outside the sun peeked over the horizon. The world looked dusky and new as I approached the noiseless shed. I wondered if this was it. The moment right before the moment I’d join together with the only boy I’d ever found familiar—a lover without family or memory or any of those other obligations. I pictured Drake on the other side of the wall, drenched in sweat, troubled by the same dreams.

But when I opened the door, his cot was empty. My heart went limp, thinking it’d happened again. What was it with this family where even a replacement part had the urge to leave without a word? No forwarding address. Just another unspoken goodbye.  Back inside, the trailer felt empty except for the dust that got into every crevice. I crossed my arms. Sometimes I couldn’t even feel my own heartbeat through all that extra baggage. Where did it all come from, the sudden stuff growing inside you until it can’t be ignored, or contained, anymore?

Then I heard it. Recently, nights were filled with sad, sparse sounds coming from my father’s room. They weren’t strong cries, but small moans—strange in their slightness. I slowly opened the door to see if he was sniveling in his sleep but, despite the dark, it was easy to tell it wasn’t weeping. These were living noises. Desperation had never had such distinct timbre, a clear-cut quality that could only be created by two things turning into one. I wanted to slam the door but instead stood there, watching those frayed black braids wrestle a man’s desire. It didn’t look beautiful or satisfying. It looked dangerous, almost brutal. Cruel in the way they moved, like a need suddenly turned vicious—a useless craving that no wish could ever fully quench.

I walked outside, the heat on my face feeling good for once, and picked up a basketball. The rubber was worn down, air slightly flat, but otherwise it felt whole in my hand. I bounced it on the dirt and I wondered how long it’d been going on. But there was the way looked at one another. The way they were always smiling. I figured it wasn’t much of a conspiracy. Their discretion so evident it wasn’t even worth the whispering, when the front door opened and a clump of dreads slinked out.

“Want to shoot a few?” I asked.

Drake froze like he couldn’t be seen as long as he didn’t move. “What are you doing up?”

“Too hot to sleep.” I couldn’t help a smirk. “How was your night?”

“Still tired.”

“I bet.” I rolled the ball on my fingertip, but it didn’t last long before toppling.

Drake raised his brow but kept acting like nothing happened, the lie getting buried deeper until it wasn’t there at all. I felt like a child removed from the family secret.

He took the ball from my hands and shot a jumper. It missed by a mile.

“I guess it’s not my game, huh?”

I grabbed the ball, gave it a bounce. “What is your game, exactly?”

“What do you want from me?” Drake crossed his arms. He stood shockingly still, like he’d stopped breathing on purpose just to prove he could. “It’s like you’re waiting for me to do something. But I don’t have anything. You understand? Nothing.”

I drilled another shot, rebounded, and passed him the ball. He didn’t move, letting himself get hit. I picked it up again. “C’mon. Shoot it.”

I threw the ball as hard as I could, the sound like a hammer strike against his skin.

Drake watched the ball roll to a stop. Then, before walking away, he simply shook his head and said, “Why is it people who have something never understand about nothing?”

I sat at the kitchen table wondering if Mom would’ve been on to them from the start. Or maybe she knew all along. Maybe that’s why I’d liked these boys so much, why she wanted to keep Dad around in the first place: for the simple fact that I wouldn’t have to worry about the clutter when it came to most men and their messes. And though she was wrong, when it came to any kind of intimacy—even when recalling my mother’s face as she drifted off with not even a daughter’s love to keep her company—I also knew families could do a lot worse.

            Around noon, Dad walked out of the bedroom without his shirt, his hair spiked, a sleepy grin on his face. “How you doing, honey?”

            “Thinking about Mom.”

            He poured a mug of coffee, nodding as he whistled through his teeth. “Quite a woman, your mom. I’ll never forget when I first met her. Wild as the wind.”

            Though I knew the dangers of bringing up the past, knew the dead ends they shaped, I went ahead and asked it anyway. “Did you know she was having a baby?”

             “We had our time together and that was that.” He nodded again and took a seat at the table. “But yeah, I knew. Not right away, but eventually.”

            I waited for him to finish, to give some kind of excuse, some kind of reason. But instead he just drank his coffee, still nodding his head.

“I wonder what it would’ve been like it we had had our time together?”

Dad stared at his mug, tapping his fingers against its rim. “We’re having it now.”

             “Yeah. But where the hell have you been?”

            He stood, hitched his jeans, and drank his coffee. “What can I tell you? It is what it is.”

            “What kind of answer is that?” I asked, not quite sure what I wanted from him exactly, what answer would have been the right one. There was no way to win with that kind of question. But it felt like he was looking for a way off the hook, one I wanted to keep him on a bit longer. Except my words only made him laugh under his breath and walk back to bed, but not before telling me, once again, how I was just like my mother. 

Drake sat out on the porch all morning, not talking to me. I had to be at work soon, but for now I sat in our pool wearing my bikini, trying to think of the thing that’d make him say something.

“You know he’ll be leaving soon now.”

The boy didn’t respond, as if he knew different, as if waiting for me to leave him alone.

I sprayed my arms, leaned back in the water, and let the sun reflect off my skin. “He had a place to rest his head, but things are getting a little tight. And he’ll make plans. Without us.”

Drake didn’t make a move until I at last reached back and unclasped my top, letting my breasts breath in the air. “But you don’t have to go, you know.”

He sat there, trying not to look. But when I finally captured his gaze, all he did was roll his eyes as if trying not to laugh. “Hannah, we’re trying to make this easy on you.”

And when I looked up and saw my father’s face staring at me from the kitchen window, I knew plans had already been made. And sitting there in a plastic pool, my breasts looked suddenly silly, like a cartoon of a body that didn’t quite fit.

I slowly stood and covered myself with a towel. “You don’t have to do that.”

Drake’s skin was red; his face an angry stone. As I walked inside, I couldn’t help to run my hands through his thick hair once more before quietly telling him it was, at last, time to leave.

Inside, Dad met me at the door, looking younger, something resembling the first time I saw him: clean shaven and soaked in smell-good and holding a saddlebag.

“Where are you going?”

“I have things to take care of.” But when I saw the unsure look about his face, as if he didn’t know where to put his eyes, I knew this wasn’t a trip—it was a get-away.

I pulled the towel tighter around myself. “Can I come with you?”

Dad went to touch my bare shoulder. But his hand hesitated above my skin, wet and tan, fingers hovering there—as if he wasn’t sure to yell at me or hug me, give a lecture or not say a word—until he finally pulled back and shouldered his bag. “You’d be better off without us.”

“Us?” At first the word felt familiar, almost pretty. Like maybe it meant me, maybe mom as well, until I saw that it only included him. And a lost boy with no strings attached.

“You come from strong stock.”

“I didn’t get it from you.” Then I tried to think of what else Mom would do—laugh at him, slap him, curse his name—when I all wanted was to throw my arms around him, bury my face into his leather vest, smell the raw warmth living there. But I didn’t do that either.

“You’ll be fine.”

“Will I?”

Dad stopped at the door, the handle already in his hand. “Then you’ll make do.”

I stood on the porch watching him help Drake onto his bike. Dad gave it a kick, the engine flaring to life, as he said something to the boy holding onto his back. Drake shrugged and smiled and cautiously waved to me, as if uncertain of what the goodbye was all about as they tore down the road, mindlessly spraying gravel left and right, to and fro.

Tonight the bath is cold. The sun and heat won’t rub off. It sits on my skin, radiating from within, a place that can’t be touched with water. Drops drip from the faucet, the porcelain rough with scum. I close my eyes and think about what’s missing. Though everything’s here—the couch, a poor excuse for a rug—the one thing I wasn’t ready for when I walked in after work was this strange silence, as if the very air has been stolen from beneath me.

            I picture two men on the back of a bike, strangers who found a way out and took it for what it was worth, even if it wasn’t much. I try to find comfort there, that maybe I had a hand in making a new something for out of all this nothing. My breasts float like buoys in the water. It’s a sad sight and again I’m curious what Mother would think. How the very thing that kept people in her life had failed her own daughter. Like that first day Dad showed and she almost looked alive again. She didn’t even seem sick, slipping her skeletal body into my old clothes that were too small for me now but fit her like a quick road to recovery. Until one day she pulled me close, took out a tube of lipstick, and said to never let him go, not like she had. But before she had a chance to improve a thing about me, I gave her a cutting glare, told her how desperation wasn’t becoming on her, and walked out the room. And when she passed away that evening, only her old lover by her side, I knew it’d be me who asked him to stay. If simply for a way to say sorry.

But this is better. Put out to pasture—a story we understood all too well. So tonight I’ll lie in my mother’s bed, share the same sleep, sweating out dreams. I try to guess about them, those dreams. How they often seem so real but wrong: a replica of a place where you’re not entirely you but close to it. Like an out of body experience between two worlds, both of which you can see but can’t quite touch. I hope I have that kind of dream again, where waking and sleeping feel like the same pursuit. But before sleep comes the heat. It’s something to depend on around here. The one thing you can rely upon when everything else seems to melt and evaporate.

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