by Roger Gathman.

Now Dad says Mom could get lost in a paper bag.

She is going to her Daughters of the Proud Battalions meeting, and you are
coming with her, because you are home, sick, from school. A certain dizziness
and anxious feeling hit you while you were sitting in Miss Farenheitís class,
it was as if a big black hole opened up under your desk, and in that hole,
under the surface where you couldnít really see them, there were creatures
with mouths set for you which their mouths were a further black in that
blackness which you could only hear the loud sweep of them through it. Later
you couldnít figure out if you just made this up, but it seems like you
literally felt like you were falling. Thatís too wierd, but that is why you
shrieked. The school nurse kept you in her office until Mom picked you up,
and then you were taken to the doctor who couldnít understand why you were
trembling and twitching. You couldnít explain it, either. The doctor told Mom
it was a panic attack, he asked you if youíd seen any scary movies lately,
and stuff like that. He and Mom conferred, and then you got some pills to
make you go to sleep at Lordís Pharmacy. The upshot is, here you are, with
Mom, on a weekday, when normally youíd be in English at this time. You are
doing much better, and probably next week youíll go back to school.

You have begun your book, sitting there buckled in on the passenger side:
Buck did not read the newspapers, or he would have known that trouble was
brewing, not alone for himself, but for every tidewater dogÖ Mom has dressed
herself in a manner unusual for this time of the day, but that you recognize
from having seen her coming home, still floating on the slightly alcoholic
cloud of out with the girls cause she says out with the girls like Dad says
out with the boys and with Dad the cloud is darker and with Mom it is like
sea spray, these meetings of her club, her car parked at a safe distance from
going in the garage door. Safety first, she once coming back didnít plan it
good and there was an awful scraping sound and that was a two hundred dollar
repair. Her hair is permed. Her makeup is applied. Her dress is that velvety
black one, which you have always liked to touch. There is a string of pearls
around her neck. These deck the halls touches are offset, however, by a
certain something in her bearing, a worry directed both at you, because of
your fit, for which nobody can find seem to find an explanation, and the ride
ahead of her into Buckhead. You put down the book for a moment (And this was
the manner of dog Buck was in the fall of 1897, when the Klondike strike
dragged men from all the world into the frozen North) and looked up at her,
clutching the wheel of the car with one hand, putting the key in with the
other. Weíre off, she smiled, looking back at you. It was her social smile.
She used it when she said hello to people in church. When she used it on you
it meant that she was thinking about something else. Sure Mom, you go.

You know that this morning she has to be a profile in courage, a task in
which youíve been helping her, as though, instead of the old LTD, she was
flying a spy plane high over Russia, which this is about how she hates doing
these trips, at least going there, because to get to the house she has
directions to she will have to go on the ramp and get on the highway, Highway
285, which she super dreads, she says. Even when we are out and Dad is
driving, when we first get on the highway Mom convulsively pedals with her
shoe on her side and Dad always goes Len, I have it all under control. Momís
idea of car safety is pressing the brake, which is what she thinks it is
there for, driving Dad nuts. Heíll say, stop braking! Your idea of 285,
filtered through Mom, is that it is a wild thing, like the Amazon River, best
left to those who, like Dad, are prepared to explore its mystery. It isnít
that Mom lacks the pioneering spirit, since you have been with her on the
highway before, but each time she has plenty of darn close calls, I am a
nervous wreck she says, I definitely need something to buffer my poor nerves,
honey. And I bet you do too, she says. As you approach the exit, going down
relatively unrough Ponce de Leon, you notice her shifting in her seat, the
velvety dress getting a little wrinkled. Then it is time to take the plunge,
and off you go onto the ramp. This is exciting enough that you set aside your
book again.

Mom is looking out her side window sort of wildly for oncoming traffic. You
volunteer to scout on your side, although on your side there is only a
skirt of asphalt, a ditch, a fence, and a grassy bank that mounts up above
you. When you are with Dad, you fantasize about stopping and trying to climb
whatever banks of land the road passes through, but with Mom you know that
you are needed, so you keep your mind scoutlike on business. You are off!
and now you are carried down the highway at a terrific speed. With Dad, you
like to watch the speedometer go up and up, privately you set have a sort of
record in your head of the fastest times, but it isnít like you are worried.

You are always interested in records, thatís all, from baseball playersí
batting averages to the Guinness Book of Records. But with Mom the
speedometer is like a living thing, an animal prowling around like a wolf,
waiting to leap on us and eat us. Speed is physically carrying us all away at
a pace that is half against Momís will. She can't keep an even pressure on
the gas pedal, because just when she does decide that the needle is supposed
to be at sixty she will get scared and let her foot off till the needle is at
fifty and everybody shoots past us, which is scary too. She's afraid that if
she keeps her foot pressed to the gas pedal the car will increase its speed
by itself, like there is a devil in the engine, and you half think this too,
when you are sitting there with Mom, and though you both think this you never
like mention it to each other so it is funny how you know that is what she
thinks. The only way to control the car, on the highway, is to make sure that
it doesn't feel like it owns you Dad goes. Mom would feel better if there
were some reins arrangement, some way she could jerk some bit in the mouth of
the car and make it aware that she is riding it, which would make the car
know her. Thatís the thing, the car knows her foot on the gaspedal and on the
brake and on the steering wheel, but she doesnít feel like the car cares for
her, or at least when it gets all excited she is afraid it wonít pay
attention to her. Mom does not drive the car at this point so much as
struggle with the current, composed of other cars and the competition you
have to get into or you are dead between them, and with the signs thrown in
by the devil, trying to make the driving experience that much more
distracting, because you have to split seeing what is up ahead and seeing
what is behind and closing fast with seeing what is written on a sign, which
is too much splitting of not enough seeing. Which is how you always wonder
how she does without you, since you can look out for the parts she canít see.

She stakes her life on the shifts and twists of the highway traffic, and as
we come up on the exit we are supposed to escape on it is evident that this
time she has lost her daring wager, for do what she will, to get into the
far lane, from which we have wandered in the first place quite against her
will, would be like wading through a charging herd of elephants. So you all
wash up three exits later, and Mom has to drive into a gas station. You can
feel that the speed of the highway has released you all - it is as if some
tight metal spring pressing against both of your chests had suddenly been
removed. She goes in, her high heels clattering on the pavement, gets
cigarettes and evidently asks for directions. She smokes one as you all sit
there and she says my, Atlanta has gotten to be so big since I was your age.



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