Saturday, 6 June 2020

'Where We End Up' by Jo Varnish

The last thing she puts in the car is her Singer sewing machine, housed in its tan leatherette cover.  She wedges it behind the passenger seat, in my footwell.  My legs are tucked underneath me, flip flops on.

“I’ll get back to making things, maybe make Susie a dress,” Mama says, and tucks my hair behind my ear.

“How long is the drive?” I ask.

She leans across me, picks up Susie’s pink rabbit and tucks it in Susie’s car seat next to her chubby leg for when she wakes.

“Depends where we end up.”  She shuts the door.

Mama drives to the highway, and puts the radio on low.  I don’t know the song, but it’s gentle.

“You have to remember that sunrise,” she says to me and I feel important.  “This is a day of change, and that beautiful sky is the beginning of it.”

I lean to look through the windscreen; I want to see it just as Mama does.  The white of the sun burns a low hole in the oranges and yellows, above a distant wall of mountains.  On the passenger seat: a cardboard box that says Heinz on the outside stuffed with jeans and a cushion and papers, her blue paisley quilted bag, bulging and zip straining, a floral hat box that I know is full of mascara wands, perfume and powders. 

“Shouldn’t we know where we’re going to end up, Mama?”

She keeps her eyes on the road ahead, and reaches into her pocket for her cigarettes.  She opens the pack, looks inside then puts it in the cup holder.

“Eat your sandwich, you missed dinner last night.”

I rest my head back on the rolled up sleeping bag poking through from the way back. The truth is there was no dinner to miss last night.  I stayed in the room I shared with Susie, and pretended I didn’t hear them. Next to me, in the middle seat, on top of my backpack, sits a foil wrapped jelly sandwich.  Uncurling one edge, I see that the bread is squashed, and has soaked up the purple jelly.  I am not disappointed; I am accustomed to hunger’s quiet call. Susie shifts in her car seat, her hair slick to her forehead with sleepy sweat. A frown flicks across her face before sleep smooths it once more.  Through my window I see the diners and the big budget stores making way for open land, sparse grass in the dawn’s muted tones.

I hear Mama singing softly to one of her favorites, Fire and Rain, and I’m just the right temperature.  I want to stay on this road forever, wrapped in Mama’s song and the sunrise, the sewing machine’s promise and my sister’s slumber.

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