My mother’s wedding ring taps the steering wheel in time to the dull melodic strains filtering through the speakers. One tap, two tap, three taps and I want to throw myself from the window.
“I always loved this song. It’s so… springy.”
Springy. I ignore her and focus my attention on the sidewalk flying by outside. Girls with pink book bags and light-up sneakers walk in pairs, skipping over cracks and laughing so loudly I can hear the noise over my mother’s incessant tapping. One stands aside from the rest, a science book pressed against her developing chest. It flattens the barely visible lumps I know are behind it and my heart strains. She is me, a younger me, and I want to scoop her up and tell her everything will be all right. I’m one of them, or I was, once. I don’t know anymore. Maybe I’m just a shell of what they are and what I used to be.
Tap, tap, tap.
My mother, she sings. God help me. As if the tapping weren’t enough to bear. In time to the music her foot presses the accelerator and the bags and blinking shoes turn into a melded blur of white and pink and light. My stomach turns and I have to look away.
“You’re carsick. I told you to stop looking out that window.”
She knows. A creep of panic flutters through my stomach. No, she can’t know. She repeats the same statement every time we get into the car. I cover my legs with my coat and pull down the visor mirror to check out my reflection. No sign of green or water retention. We’re safe.
She’s watching me and it feels like she’s been doing it since the day I was born. The checklist is being covered in her mind, I know, as her eyes dart from one inch of my body to the next.
Shirt— no profanity or visible cleavage.
Skirt— knee length and of a reasonable tightness.
Teeth and hair— brushed and combed.
If she could lift up my skirt and measure my underwear for full coverage, she would. She is the imperial involved mother. No foul language or g-strings shall pass by the maternal walking radar in Bill Blass flats. Her ultimate pride comes in knowing every aspect of her children’s lives and balking at the lack of parental skills in the mothers around her. At least once per newscast, she will raise her voice loudly and proclaim if the carjackers and drug dealers had been under her raising they would have been at home in bed instead of warming a jail cell on block C.
Tap, tap, tap. It’s a case of tragic irony, I guess.
I feel suddenly naked beneath her stare and pull my coat a little higher. Coats shield everything. They hide what needs hiding and cover up those little stains that can ruin a day. Today, it will cover my stain, and maybe tomorrow too. After that, words will have to be said that I don’t want to say and she doesn’t want to hear. But, until then, I will live in my silence and she in her happy bliss and together we’ll both be content for at least a day or two.
She sings again. Her voice fills the SUV like water and I close my eyes for a moment to listen. She sounds like fuzzy wool sweaters and denim straight leg jeans. I tug my coat a little higher.
I’m the good girl, or the bad girl, or maybe a little somewhere in between. I have good intentions that sometimes don’t pan out and good morals that ultimately get compromised here and there. It doesn’t make me a bad person, but that doesn’t stop the guilt from seeping in. My resistance is just a little too thin, or lax, maybe. She would call it a case of “severely impaired judgment,” but it doesn’t sound right to me. Judgment had nothing to do with it, though it will now. It just won’t be my judgment she’ll have to worry about.
The song changes and the rhythm of the wedding bands slow down a beat or two. I resist the urge to turn my head to the passenger window and stare out the front one instead. White paint lines rush toward us then shoot beneath our feet and disappear in the rearview. We rush ahead and she’s pressing the accelerator a little harder. Life comes too fast, too soon, and with too much reality and I just can’t handle it. Again, my stomach turns and I close my eyes and rest my head against the seat.
“Life goes on…” My mother chirps like a bird.
I can’t breathe. The seatbelt is tight against my chest and it’s leaving a red imprint in my skin. It’s binding, cutting off my air. I pull it away and breathe deeply in, out. That’s better. Beside me, a car passes by with a child’s face pressed into disfigurement against the backseat window. He sticks his tongue against it, making moist swirls and ripples on the glass. Such innocence. There could be any number of deadly germs breeding on that window and there’s no telling how many fingers have touched it, but he doesn’t care. He is a man living in the moment and after his tongue leaves the glass it will probably find some dirty fingers to wrap itself around. It’s all in a days work for him, and I feel a surge of envy twist my insides. I want that kind of innocence. I want it back. It left so quickly, and I never even noticed it gone. No one told me it happened like that, without any sign or warning.
It was supposed to be the epitomizing moment of my life, my awakening, like some sort of Jackie Collins-narrated sexual enlightenment. I would journey from childhood to high heels and big breasts in one defining moment and my whole world would be changed for the better.
What a disappointment.
Things have changed, but not for the better, and I certainly don’t feel any different. Except, perhaps, a little more regretful than I was last week. I’m not a woman, and if I am I don’t know it. Maybe I’m a woman in a child’s body or the other way around. I don’t know anything anymore.
“Sing with me, Stephanie. You have such a beautiful voice.”
I ignore her. The light ahead changes from green to red with no in-between and my mother slams on the brakes with every ounce of force in her lead foot. My stomach turns again and this time there’s no stopping the party. In a flurry of fingers my seatbelt is flying against the door, which I fling open wide. Next breath I’m leaning over the wet pavement spilling a Cheerio and English muffin cocktail into a drain gutter. The sight makes my stomach turn again and I have to close my eyes. I spit twice, cough, and crawl back into the SUV before the light turns green. I don’t want to open my eyes because I know what I’ll see. But I do, anyway, and I was right. My mother stares at me with shocked curiosity and blinks three times slow.
“Are you feeling all right?”
I wipe my mouth with the sleeve of my jacket. “I’m fine. Much better now.”
She stares a moment longer. “All right.”
There will be more questions later, and probably a doctor’s appointment. God, help me.
The light turns green and we’re on our way again. I glance at her and pull the coat over my torso again. She’ll know soon enough. For now, there’s a parent teacher meeting and I failed my last history exam. She puts on the turn signal and turns carefully into the school parking lot. I sigh. Here we are. Two little mothers.
She’ll know soon enough.
“I am twenty one and currently unpublished, though I am actively seeking outlets to change that. I live in Nashville, TN and I’m an executive assistant by day, though eventually I would love to write full time.” E-mail: lilmsambernic[at]yahoo.com