I’m Lauren. I’m eight. Dad says we have to go.
We pack some stuff in the truck. There isn’t room for the dog. Dad busts its head and leaves it down in the basement with Mom.
We’re driving at night. I should be sad, I guess. I start to cry.
“Stop that,” says dad. “You never cared about that bitch one way or the other.”
He gives me a cigarette. “You can hold it, but you can’t smoke it,” he says. I hold it in my lips. It’s like the time a moth got in my mouth while I was asleep. I pretend to puff on it.
I’m trying to remember the dog’s name. Mom called him something. Theo? Leo? Dad would just say, “Who names a goddamn dog, anyway?” Dad hates dogs. They’ve been digging up all the gardens of all the peoples everywhere for all time. Screw them.
This was my third mom, and she didn’t last that long. I didn’t like that place, anyway. I didn’t like the green carpet that grabbed you. Dad says, “You can’t trust a woman, no way, no how. Promise you’ll never become one.”
I promise. Dad starts to sing. He sings “When the Saints Come Marching In.” When he hits “the saints,” he nudges me with his elbow so I know when it’s my turn to go, so he’s like, “Oh, when the SAINTS …” and I go “WHEN THE SAINTS …” and he goes “Oh, when the SAINTS …” and I go “YEAH, WHEN THE SAINTS …” and we go on like that until I miss once and he just stops and lets me finish the song with the window down so we leave the song behind us.
Feels like we drive forever. It gets light, then dark again. Dad stops once for cigarettes, once for gas. I don’t know if I’m asleep. Sometimes I think I’ve always been asleep, but Dad says I’ll wake up one of these days.
We listen to the radio. A Jew is talking about fighting in the desert. Dad listens until he can’t stand it anymore and turns the radio off. “We should never have given women the vote,” he says. “If your kids ever ask you how we ended up with a nigger president, you might tell them that.”
I try to remember the first thing about me. I was standing in the sea, and a big wave washed over me. Dad says that never happened. I remembered him picking me up and carrying me away from the water. Dad says we never lived near the sea.He says I saw that in a movie.
“You’re a storyteller, though,” he says. “You didn’t get that from your mother. You got that from me.”
Sometimes I dream I’m a house with no windows. I’m flooding. I feel the ocean filling me up from the basement. When I turn to tell Dad, the black water comes out of my mouth and starts to fill the truck, but Dad doesn’t notice. I blink and the water’s gone.
Dad starts to sing again. I help him finish the song. I don’t miss this time. He tells me thanks. He says without me, he wouldn’t sing in the car. He says without me, he’d be nowhere.
“Where are we going to live?” I ask him.
“This is where we live,” he says.
©2012 Joshua Rupp
Joshua Rupp lives in Vermont, a place where mammals are not welcome. Those who persist in living there have to rely on inner resources and things that are flammable. Like most people who choose not to leave an area of cold and desolation, he alternates between thinking that all is supremely perfect, and that everything broke at some point and there’s no hope of putting it back together.