Saturday, June 9, 2012
A butterfly smacks against the windshield of Granda’s speeding Lincoln Towncar, leaving a smudge of guts across the already bug covered glass. The butterfly’s wing dust glitters in the sun like tiny crystals, leaving taunting remnants of the creature that had just been alive. I shudder— I hate when that happens. It always makes me feel like I’ve just witnessed the murder of Tinkerbell.
I wipe the beads of sweat from my face for umpteenth time since arriving in this armpit of a state and frown as I see the smudge of black eyeliner across the back of my hand. Great. Now not only am I burning alive in the ninety-four degree heat— despite the fact that it’s September— I’m going to look like a raccoon by the time we finally get to Granda’s house. As I dig in the console for a tissue to wipe the eyeliner off, I spot a bright pink, plastic cigarette lighter in the cup holder. When I’m sure Granda isn’t looking, I slip it into my pocket.
I cross my arms over my chest and lean my head against the edge of my open window, watching the endless oaks and pines fly past. The bouquet of flowers in my lap feels heavy, despite the fact that they’re only wilted wildflowers that my mom pulled from our yard. I wanted to throw them away at the airport, but when I’d dangled them over the trashcan, I couldn’t make my fingers let go.
Last week, my so-called mother had told me that she was sending me to live with Granda. In Alabama. Alabama. Ala-fracking-bama. Where you have to drink your oxygen instead of inhale it.
Krista— I stopped calling her Mom the day she decided to stop being a parent in favor of alcohol— had told me that my life would be better here, but from what I've seen so far, it can't be that much better. Granda has barely even spoken to me since she picked me up from the airport.
Granda lives over an hour from the closest city in a town that has only one gas station. A deep longing for home aches through my chest, but I know I can’t go back there anytime soon. Just before I boarded the airplane to Mobile, Krista told me that she’d come and visit soon, but I wondered how “soon” it would be. She said that she wanted to get better, she’d promised it, in fact. But I saw the fire dancing behind her sea green eyes, and that meant that she was lying.
I stare at myself in the dirty side mirror, studying my face. My eyes match my mother’s—green as jade gemstones against the contrast of the tan skin I inherited from my father. A different ache pulses through my heart at the memory of him. I haven't yet perfected the art of thinking of that man without remembering what he used to do to us. A hot tear runs down my face, but I wipe it away before Granda notices.
Granda's car slowly turns onto a small road lined with magnolia trees. The long, menacing branches stretch towards me as if they’re pointing their fingers and laughing about what a joke my life has been so far. Granda shuts off the car and climbs out without so much as a blink in my direction. I grab my duffle bag and the pitiful bouquet of flowers, and follow Granda into the shabby house. Everything is covered with a thick layer of dust, and the tattered, sun-faded curtains reek slightly of mildew from where the rain has leaked through the open windows.
"So, where is my room?" I ask, shifting my duffle bag on my shoulders. I've only visited here once, and I was five at the time. I don't really remember where anything is.
Granda opens her mouth to speak, but changes her mind and snaps it shut.
"My room?" I ask again, annoyed that she's clearly ignoring my question.
I see the hug coming before it actually happens, but my hands are too full to stop it. Granda throws her wrinkled arms around my shoulders and pulls me in close. I stiffen and try to pull away from her, but she doesn't release me.
After a few moments, I let my body relax a little. Her hair, which is pulled tightly into a bun at the nape of her neck, smells of lavender and peppermint. Much better than the stale vomit and bourbon smell of my mom’s.
"Um, Granda?" I mutter. Hugs aren’t my thing.
“I’m so sorry about what’s happened to you, darlin’” she says, her mouth pressed into my shoulder.
I just nod. How do I respond to that?
Granda releases me and nods towards the door on my left. “That’s your room. I’ll let you get settled.”
I drag my bag into my new bedroom and collapse onto the twin sized bed with the flowers in my hand. I dig the pink lighter out of my pocket and flick the lever until a small flame jumps out of the little hole.
It only takes a nanosecond for the entire bouquet to become a flaming ball of fire. For a fleeting second, I consider dropping it onto the bed and letting the whole house burn.
“I’m making us some lunch, baby!” Granda calls from the kitchen. “Do you like fried squash?”
I shake the thought from my head. I can’t do that to my grandmother. She’s never done anything bad to me.
“Sure, whatever!” I yell back, running towards the bathroom with the flower torch. I throw it into the bathtub, just as the flames start to lick at my fingertips.
I turn the water on and watch the ashes splatter across the white ceramic surface. Maybe it won’t be so bad here. Maybe I can reignite the flame in my heart that was put out so long ago that I don’t even remember what it feels like to feel. Maybe a small, sweltering town is just what I need to start over, as Granda helps to wash the ashes from my soul down the drain.
Photo by: Amy Haslehurst http://brokensundowns.carbonmade.com