"Riding with Wesley" by Sharon Jan

I am taking a ride in the night rain with Wesley. He is driving. The drops splatter against the windshield and catch the light of the street lamps. I tell Wesley that I want a glass car: it would be the closest I could get to the world as a greenhouse flower. I would look down and see the dusty asphalt blur between smudged shoe prints and my foot at the pedal.

Wesley does not say anything. He keeps his eyes on the road--not just at the moment, but as a state of being. I am always seeing his eyes stretch flat-bellied across paths until they reach the horizon.

Wesley is my new brother. He became this when my mother left me to him. My mother, Naomi, was sitting with me in the tattered booth of a diner. She laughed and wrote on a napkin and was still shuddering as she drank her coffee. It smelled like mustard or some other implacable spice. My mother finished scrawling and capped her skinny ball point, wiping her lipstick on the napkin. She handed it to me, still laughing as she walked out. The bell on the door clinked as I read the address of my new brother. The last thing Naomi Ray left me was a bill for eight dollars and thirty-two cents.

I have been living with Wesley for three months since he found me on his welcome mat, the one with green violets curled at its edges. I’ve learned that Wesley programs computers and is missing half of his left eyebrow from an attempt to make a fire. I sleep in the living room beside the graveyard of unfinished diaries lining his bookshelves. They are about women in crinkled sundresses and the prisms caught in gas puddles.

Wesley does not tell me if he knew my mother. When I showed him the crumpled napkin with the shadowy imprint of my mother’s smeared lipstick past his address, he only stepped aside to let me in and closed the door. We did not speak until the morning after I told him I was not going to school anymore, and he gave me his old laptop and a week later an account for a teacher from Wisconsin called Ms. Owen. In this way I learned about proofs and that Romantics were not only the kind that kissed in the night.

I have not heard from my mother since the day at the diner. Last night, Wesley made me buy a nice dress and since then we have been riding in the rain all day and now night. The rain is so defeated and persistent at the same time. My mother could not stand this incompleteness and would stop on a road to weep in the frustration. For weeks at a time, Naomi, my mother could not remember who she was. She would write on yellow Post-it notes with fountain pens and eye liner pencils and stick them on the walls of her room, confining herself in a canary bright skin of words that fluttered with each breath. She wrote on herself as well. The ink trailed down her legs and wouldn’t rub off.

The car is swinging into the parking lot of a dim motel. I sit with my legs crossed on the seat and wait for Wesley to return with the keys to a room. When he does I place one foot, then the other out of the car door. We walk up the flight of stairs to room 207, listening to the slick slide of tires down the street. Wesley unlocks the door. After dragging our luggage through the doorway, brushing our teeth and changing, we curl under the sheets of the double bed. I am asleep immediately but feel Wesley sliding out of bed. Moments later, smoke seeps into my nostrils through the open door to the balcony, waking me.

When I get up in the morning there is a muffin on the bedstand. I eat it without leaving the bed. I stay there listening to the shower as it stops. Wesley leaves the bathroom in a belch of steam. I am supposed to get ready and look nice in my pretty dress now that he is out. When I do, he squeezes my shoulders and I notice his thumb on my back. We get in the car again and I see that the rain has dried and left traces on the windows. We drive and then we are at a small church and all the cars and people are wearing black and walking through slow honey. Inside there are flowers and a pastor and a large wooden box in front of his pulpit. I want to ask Wesley what is happening but I think I remember he told me and anyway my tongue seems to have curled up on itself. The pastor preaches and mourns and I can’t help but think it is so boring and that I want to look in the wooden box and see for sure. In the pews are some near-strangers and some people that I know. There is my aunt and grandmother and there is the social worker who rang our doorbell once a month. In the second row is a woman with a green brooch and make-up that has already begun to smear. I did not know my mother knew so many people--we had spent our last years together alone. Then I remember that when I was young, my mother was always laughing with other people in our apartment. At these times every other place was cavernously silent, and the walls expanded above me.

Finally, I am allowed to walk down the hall and it is my mother in the wooden coffin. Her eyes are too large for her eyelids and are half-open in the way they were when she slept. She’s posed like Snow White, with rouge on her cheeks to make her look warm and breathing.

I’m not sure what I’m supposed to do, but I wonder what it would be like to crawl into the coffin. My mother, Naomi Ray, is such a vacuum in death that I am sure I could lose two years just by touching her nose. People in line behind me shift impatiently as if this were a line at a fast food joint and I think that I will be one of those people who can’t decide between Meal 1 or 7 and would I like fries or a drink with that, well maybe.

Somebody comes up behind me and I turn around to see that it is Wesley. I tell him that I would like very much for it to rain, but outside there are quiet clouds and the sky is bathed in a glorious after-shower glow. I am waiting very hard for my heart to start heaving, but after walking outside of the little church I realize that it is one of those things that you don’t realize has happened until after it’s gone, a cavity passing inside your chest.

#shortstories #family

 

 

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