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Leave them by the side of the road

I think it was dusk, a piss-and-gray dull light that didn’t cast shadows.

I believe I remember the spot;

the broken pavement leading to the gravel shoulder,

the weeds shorn near the edge, but taller as they approached a straggly copse,

the brown-brick building of an industrial park visible through the nearly leafless trees,

the mile marker far enough away to not see the number,

a dusty smell, exhaust fumes,

the force of the wind as the trucks rushing by on the highway shook the car.

But I could be conflating memories.  This wasn’t the only time.

Mom was driving.  Her anger had been building.  We were too young to predict the force.  Her face contorted, the lower part of her cheeks turned downward, hands clutching the steering wheel so tightly her fingers changed color, a yellowish center with pink edges.  She yanked the car to the shoulder, screaming.

“Get out! Get out of the car!

I can’t stand you anymore!”

My sister—still a small child—tried to bring her body closer into herself, pulling her legs up, arms close to her sides, looking smaller than her already tiny frame.

I worked on keeping my voice calm.

“Mom, we can’t get out of the car here.

This is the side of the highway.”

“Get out!  I said, ‘Get out!’”

I paused, knowing it could escalate if she thought I was arguing, disrespecting her.  I couldn’t think what we’d do if she followed through.

She didn’t yell right away.  I chanced it.

“Mom, it’s cold … and late.  Let’s go home.”

I watched, bracing myself, knowing she couldn’t reach back to hit me very hard.

She tensed again.  Gripped the steering wheel even harder for a moment.  Pulled her mouth tight together, pursed so hard her nostrils pulled up and twitched.  Shoulders rising towards her ears.

I thought I saw tears welling in her eyes, but it could have been the reflection of the dimming sunlight. A slight release in the tension, her shoulders eased, her face less contorted.  She drove off.  We were still in the car.  We didn’t talk.  We tried not to move.

And then we were home, pretending nothing had happened.

Published inPoetry

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