by Whitney Judd
“Lenore, Sing! Hang your head out the window! Sing! Look, here we are!”
“We’re not there yet, Momma.” The girl, still thick and slow with sleep, hung her hand out the window into the chill morning air, uncurled and looked up. In the meadows, green and bright in the morning sun and which grew into the black edges of the two lane road, were blossoms of white flowers. And as her slowed the car to a follow a curve in the road, nearly stopping, she saw one, tall and close to the road. The bright crystaled lace of it glowed and formed rings radiant in the air, layer by layer, larger than it seemed it could be.
“Gees,” she gasped, turning her head to watch as they passed.
“Well, all right, Little Miss Cynic. At least we’re out in the country, we’re away from . . . from all . . . we’re away . . .” Her mother’s voice edged forward and struggled to word or finish a sentence. Her mother sat up away from the back of the car seat. Lenore saw the white flecked hands as they gripped the steering wheel and her mother’s trembling eyes.
The car picked up speed.
“I’m sorry, dear. It’s pretty here, thought, isn’t it?”
“It is beautiful, Momma.”
Lenore’s hand was growing cold in the wind. She left it there. The sun through the windshield made her want to sing just a little.
“I love it here, Momma.” So softly whispered her mother would never hear. “How far did Mr. Ryan say it was?”
“He said, well, there is a little town at the edge of a woods. It’s old and people are leaving. There are a lot of empty houses. But it has a white-washed church with a tall steeple. We go through the town. It’s on the rise of the hill. I don’t know how far, but he said we’d find it, said there is an old man who looks after the place.”
“How did you meet Mr. Ryan, Mom?”
“Oh, I just met him somewhere.”
“Somewhere, Lenore, somewhere, Ok! What’s with you?” Her voice was sharp and quick.
“Momma! It’s not me. It’s you. You’ve been crazy!”
Her mother’s hands turned white and shook. Her eyes were and glistened in the sunlight.
“Momma, it’s not what I meant. I like it here. Momma, I’m glad we’ve come. I just wanted to talk. We haven’t talked. I wanted to. What’s wrong?”
The girl hesitated, “I just wanted to know more. He seems nice, Momma, to let us come here, kinda like what a grandpa would do.”
Her words had tumbled out trying to soothe her mother. She looked, and her mother’s eyes soften and began blinking rapidly.
The girl paused for a moment. “Momma is it ok? Does he look like a grandpa?”
“Yea, he does.” Her mother smiled and sat back a little more against the seat. “I’m sorry dear,” she whispered.
Lenore mumble into the sunlight. “I don’t want you to be sorry.”
Down through the layers first of still then swirling air, it seemed the world on this day would spread out in sunlight and long encompassing meadows of heavy green and stands of white flowers. It was a day intricate and deep and darker and blue above them.
A single flower torn from its stock blew in the wind. Their car moved unsteadily along the glistening black road. It was a decaying thread, a wound the turned through the meadows and lead toward a small town nestled in sparse wood. In the edges of those woods where the meadows fade and next to the trunks of trees occasional flowers bloomed scarlet, waving in the breeze and dust, resonant in the darker aspects of light. The sun rose higher as they drove on.
Lenore watched the flowers pass by her window, counting them against her private silence in the car and the slight twistings in her stomach there for weeks and part of everything.
“Millions.” The white sheets of flowers beside the car broke apart in the thick green out in the meadows. She could feel her mother’s fingers thumping against the seat and felt the twists she had weeks before in that night of all the noise. That next day she had watched her mother making lunch in the sunlit kitchen of their apartment and they were worse. She had looked away from the television at the sound of a crash and saw her mother frantically pushing the broken jar into a pile on the floor with her hands, then cover her face and lean against the cupboards. There were bright tears in her eyes and her shadow on the floor that grew deeper as Lenore watched. After that she made sure she was always in the kitchen with her mother. After that, at evening she would watch her go back and forth often to the front door checking the locks and wiggling the handle, rubbing her hand over new paint on the door sill.
At night Lenore had listened to her mother’s crying behind the walls and closed doors. At first, she had waken and went in, sat beside her and held her hand. “What’s wrong Momma? It’s ok.” Her mother would cringe in pain and cry a little more if she tried to touch her face or lean against her body. Lately, Lenore would just lie in bed and cry a little, wishing her mother would say what was wrong or just stop, wishing the knots and pain in her would end, or wishing her mother would go away.
Thumping stopped. And these flowers, strange and bright, this chill in the air and the sunlight, even the rhythms of the car, all so clear, were so different. The sweet smell of the meadows made her mouth water. From her stomach she could feel a tingling that made her shiver.
“Momma, look,” her whisper lost in the air swirling about the car.
Lenore turned around. “Momma?”
He mother was leaning forward almost on the steering wheel, far from the car seat. Her make-up was smeared, her eyes red. Her clenched the wheel. They were white. She stared. The lines in her face were deepened in the sun. Lenore was quiet and looked out the window, dreaming in the white flowers.
“Oh NO! Lenore the road ends! Where are we? This is the right road, Ryan said! Damn! Lenore!”
“What, Momma?” The girl stopped looking at the meadow and stopped a quiet song she was singing.
“No, mom. The pavement ends. The road goes on. It’s a dirt road, Momma. It’s ok. We’re almost in the trees. We’re ok.” The girl sat up, staring forward, her hands in fists waiting for her anger to upside. She looked at her mother. He face was flushed and her eyes were moist. She was trembling, too, breathing rapidly and the car slowed almost to a stop.
“Momma, you’re all right. We don’t have to go back. It’s like a pot-hole back home; only it’s real big.” Lenore reached over and touched her arm. Her mother closed her eyes for a moment and breathed deeply. Tears dripped down her face. She turned and smiled at her daughter and put her hand over Lenore’s. For a long moment they sat there together. The car kept inching forward, then lurched into the dirt. Her mother grabbed the steering wheel, had it twist form her hand as the car accelerated into the meadow. The girl watched panic grow in her mother. She jerked the wheel back toward the road and stepped violently on the brake. She saw her face redden again and her hands turn white.
“Momma, don’t,” she whispered.
Her mother pulled hard on the wheel. The car plowed into the meadow, jerked and died.
“Oh, God.” Her mother kept tugging on the wheel and jammed her foot on the gas pedal. “Go, Go! Please. Start. Damn It!” She turned the key hard. The smell of gas began filling the car.
“Please, God, please.” She began beating on the steering wheel with her fists and yelling. “God damn it! Ryan, you said. You said!”
“Momma, don’t.” The girl eyes reddened and her face twisted up.
Her mother had sagged. Her head fallen against the wheel still pounding at its rim weakly and weeping. “No, no, no, no,” long and plaintive and undulating. Tears fell, shining briefly in the sun light and then lost in darkness of the foot well.
“Momma, don’t. Momma.” The girl cried too, and this a moan more than any words. Those enemies in her, fear, abandonment filled her up.
“Momma, please, Momma, don’t.” Pleading and it ached in her voice, clung to the eyes and wet checks so pale now.
In the silence amid the jumbled chaos and the odors of the meadow, their bodies and the smell of gas, the girl watched her mother, broken and shrunken, exhausted, defeated by the things and people that were vague and frightful. Her mother lay weakly now against the steering wheel and her arms hung through it. She was so bright in the sunlight. Both wept.
“Momma, it’s all right. Please Momma. I can help, I have, I can. Please, Momma.”
Her words were weak and fell beneath this overwhelming thing.
“No, you can’t. You can’t.” From the silence into which those words fell, this last wailing of her mother and the breaking up on so much sunlight from the door shoved open, struck and stunned Lenore, forced her back and pierced through her. She watched her mother struggling through the thick green and the tall bright flowers, her arms pushing and pulling through the air. Her mother moving farther away.
“Momma, please don’t leave me! Momma!” Tears and echoes, the bright light and her mother growing smaller blinded Lenore and took away all but the glare from the green.
“Momma . . .” a wild and savage pain.
“Momma,” she whimpered and began to struggle forward. Her feet sinking from under her and those things she grabbed at fading. In those inches between her and where her mother had been, the banging against the wheel, the falling through it. Lenore failed and fought against the narrowing space of the car. That almost scream of the body pushed her and she fell into the meadow; her face into the dirt. There was no untangling from what held her. She raised head enough to see.
Far away she saw her mother stumble and fall. All that was left were broken flowers and a trampled path. There was overwhelming green.
She opened her mouth and choked. Her cry died in the fear swelling up in her. Silence. The recent memories of bodiless cries from behind closed doors. A voiceless terror. The little need and strength left in her failed again in the tangle of her feet and against the vast mound of green. In the sparkling blindness of tears, in the confusion from the assaults of the present she crawled away from the car, staggered and got up. The defeat of hopelessness, the settling shrill of abandonment oozed in and soaked deep, and she was tottering as the last moments of sunset before dark, with each step the falling of a tree. She was forced from the edges of the meadow away from her mother to the trunks of the trees and then fell. Tears ran into the dust and blood dripped into her eyes. Silence once more and she couldn’t hear for her own gasping.
“No, please God, no more. I can’t do this.” Pleadings were muffled by the grass. Exhaustion seemed to open weeks old wounds and ripen the bruises. Tears and the last dew on grass washed away the make-up that covered the yellowing bruising of her face. The threat she struggled against, fighting still to protect her daughter, the terror of its failing, the ground clinging to her and she was unable to move. Every blow, every strike that would kill her, kill her first and then her daughter beat on her again.
“Ohhh, God,” she moaned. Fear squeezed through her last breath, through the numbness of her body.
It was not the smoke of the city, nor the scent of blood or the clean air of the meadow or the scent of black earth, it was the gasping, in the silence, of her daughter that began to kill so much, and she got up. The chill of grass, the early morning woven in, touched her skin, made her shiver and soothed her. Only sunlight fell down upon her. That expected face, the madness of the beautiful stranger she had picked up and brought home, the dim violence that he brought of his skin against hers, “You first, your daughter;” these men of darkness, that crushing in her chest, all she hid from, all she failed against, when she rose began to slip away. And her daughter there, then, and now here.
What she rose up into was not the altered joy of the police breaking through the door, not the relief of opening the bedroom door and seeing her daughter there, not the overwhelming emotion of her daughter holding her hand and whispering “I’ll protect you, Momma;” it was not the growing impossibility of pretending, the struggle against something she could not understand, tears that fell, it was the clean air she stood up in, her standing up again, finally; light and blue skies and deep green, lightness.
There was a quiet buzzing in the air, the sound of wings from somewhere. There was the smell and sound of the slight fall of water, and everything was bright.
Her daughter was at the foot of a tree among flowers as red as the blood that dripped.
“Lenore.” She knelt beside her daughter, lifted her into her arms and wiped the blood from her face.
“It’s okay, dear, we’re safe.”
A few moments beneath the branches and both cried.
“Did you know?”
“Yes, Momma, but I didn’t want you to know I did.”
“I though you slept.”
A hushed space, “I never sleep when you’re gone. Will he come back?”
“No, they can’t find us. Isn’t beautiful here, beloved?”
She lay her daughter in the car and drove slowly down the dirt road. The scent of dust mixed with the sweet air of the meadow and the wooden musk of trees and blended in the warmth of the sunshine and the long absent comfort from their touch. The rocking moments of the car spread over this mother and child. Whirls of dust rose up behind them, gold in the sunlight.
About the Author:
Whitney Judd an MFA student transferring from a low residency program to a full-term program. She lives in Tucson, Arizona.