Time to Go
The car was cold. Parked in the middle of the lot surrounded by all the other cars with the only difference- except for colors, makes, and models- was that those cars were empty. The drivers and its passengers were inside K-Mart shopping in the heated store while their cars froze outside. In this old brown Buick whose passenger door no longer opened and whose window was the only method to climb into and out of the car on that side, my little brother and I huddled together– alone. I’ll be right back, was Pop’s way of saying that he wasn’t going to leave the heat on.
No one noticed either as they came back with shopping bags held by gloves, the windows to our car was iced over except for where we scratched our names into the ice. Dog food, I said. Candy, said my brother. At eleven and six years old, my brother Andre and I made a game of what those bags hid inside as we waited for our father in the car. That’s also how I kept Dre from crying. From forgetting that our father was inside the toasty store and we weren’t good enough to go inside with him.
Pop took our stepbrother, the one with the blonde hair and the blue eyes like the Gerber baby on TV. My father was dark like a wet paper bag and his eyes were even darker than that. Daniel looked more like his mother and his father. They were both white.
Dre shivered and I wrapped my arms around him. Pop had a blanket with the Chicago Bears logo over the bucket seat that I don’t think he ever washed. It stunk of smoke, and beer, and that green tree air freshener. I yanked it off and threw it on us. Dre coughed as the fringe hit his lips.
Pop thought I didn’t know. He thought that I had forgotten that he did this the last few times. He left us in the car then came back and saying, I checked. They don’t have clothes your size. Next time, while putting the new tools, or gym shoes, or shaving kit in the backseat next to us and Daniel holding a new pacifier, or bear, or something.
He left us alone the first time right after when mom got sick and went away. My father leaving with the babysitter had made her very sad like needles exploded her insides- that’s how she described it anyway. That was about two months ago, just as winter started. Just as Pop moved in with Louise, just as Daniel turned three months old, just as the divorce was final.
I etched a stick figure of Dre into the window. A thin layer of ice formed on the tip of my nail. Look, it’s you, I said, and all he did was snuggle into me. He had fallen asleep.
I scrawled my mom into the window with her long straight hair she always kept over her right shoulder down to the mole on her cheek. When she called the house, I knew it was her because Louise wouldn’t say anything, handing the phone to my father, or screaming, John like a rooster at daybreak. My father was in no hurry getting up from his recliner that used to sit in our living room not so long ago. His hair sprung from his head like those cheap dolls where I could see each hole in its plastic head that held the artificial strands. Yeah, how are you? No, that wasn’t meant to be a joke, Marilyn.
My mom told us she loved us, but never asked me how it was going, and although I wouldn’t have told her Pop left us in the car alone sometimes, or that Daniel got his own room so big like an island, and that Dre and I stayed on the sofa bed, where the shadows of the branches lurked across the living room and scared us, my father would stand right next to us, so if I wanted to say anything anyway, I couldn’t. Instead all I ever said was, miss you too, love you too, mom.
The last time she called she said, I’m sorry, and I didn’t know if she meant for being sad or leaving us with him or maybe something else.
The car shook as a truck pulled next to us. I wiped the window and saw a lady with a hat that looked like a white cat was plopped on her head. It covered her ears, her breath captured by the day as she said something into a phone.
You’re lucky to stay here, Pop said to me, but played with Daniel. If I send you away, they’ll separate you and Dre.
Don’t tell them that, Louise said and took Daniel from him. Marilyn will get out soon enough and they can go back. Louise never left us in the car and she gave us extra blankets on the sofa bed and told us that the monsters were only shadows. She really wasn’t that bad, but I never said that to my mother.
Pop jerked at the driver’s side door till it screeched open.
I don’t know what’s wrong with this store, he began as he put Daniel in his car seat that was next to him in the front. Daniel was asleep and so warm in his suit covered in elephants that sweat was on his nose.
“Let’s hit the road,” he grunted lighting a cigarette from a new pack, opening the window to let out smoke, the bitter air rushing back to us. Dre drew himself closer to me as the car pulled out of the lot.
“Yeah, let’s hit the road,” I whispered to him as he slept. “It’s time to hit the road, Dre.”