Jessica Hollander

Raucous, Exhaustion

 

In a van with two bench seats, the boys slept. Taped blan­kets over win­dows blocked fussed up brush and green road announce­ments, and when the par­ents point­ed road­side they point­ed out only to each oth­er. A lump of squir­rel. A farm­house paint­ed pink. An ele­phant cloud split open just ahead, just above, immer­sion. Cross into Virginia and the up and down of green moun­tains, fruit pies and cow pies, stretch­es of puffed trees ready for pick­ing. To the father, Virginia meant dri­ving through a blast-radius of his­to­ry. The moth­er kept her excite­ment at a low-boil.

A din­er in Winchester – here they stopped for burg­ers and slow-cooked pud­ding; the boys emerged blink­ing in jack­ets too warm for this damp heat with the col­lars high and sleeves shoved to the elbow. How they must look beside their high-waist­ed short-pant­ed par­ents. Wet out­side, but a pro­tect­ed table and a rain-slick­ered girl in rollerblades.

History hap­pened here,” said the father.

Also, there,” said the moth­er. “And there.”

Don’t point at me,” said the youngest; “Nor me,” said the old­est; and they slunk into their coats and stared at rim-crust­ed glass bot­tles of ketchup and mus­tard.

No pres­sure,” the father said. “History will be writ­ten with or with­out you.”

Inside the restau­rant: antlers, signed pho­tos, glassed-in flags, but peo­ple saw only their food or each oth­er or dim­ly the floor. The moth­er watched through the rain-dot­ted win­dow. Collections on walls: a poor man’s rich­es.

Twenty hours from home to fin­ish, the dri­ve 95% of the bat­tle. The youngest, thir­teen, col­lect­ed for shop-lift­ing and now ground­ed to a van and all the trap­pings Motel 6 pull-up-to-your-room-and-vom­its had to offer. He unwrapped soaps. Trips to vend­ing machines allowed for good behav­ior. His sleep­ing bag resem­bled a cocoon, twist­ed and flat­tened by the weath­er, by camp­ing trips with oth­er thin-chest­ed boys. Up close he exam­ined the car­pet check­ered aqua and pink. His father snored. His moth­er sighed. It was almost a con­ver­sa­tion: rau­cous, exhaus­tion. When wok­en a pan­icked child he’d sat out­side their bed­room door and lis­tened and whis­pered back answers to imag­ined ques­tions.

The old­est, six­teen, cam­ou­flaged by his par­ents’ breath­ing, took the card­key, found a gray-pony­tailed man to buy paper-bagged bot­tles sim­i­lar to those drunk in parked-car parks with his girl­friend back home. On the curb con­sid­er­ing the slick­ness of the slick­ered girl in rollerblades, he felt lone­ly.

At the motel, the old­est woke his already-wok­en broth­er, led him to the mos­qui­toed pool, and sor­ry for them­selves they wished for Meaningful Enough. A grad­u­a­tion, a career, a knock-out fuck.

Instead, their father with his last-chance vaca­tion. The boys had vot­ed for islands, for coasts, for night­club nights and skip­ping to their twen­ties, for out of their par­ents’ watch and care.

As the father col­lect­ed road­side objects, the boys stepped back them­selves. Ketchup-smeared nap­kins and coast­ers, splotched paper bags, bags of stones and curb­side sketch­es, flaps of fab­ric, wrap­pers. The moth­er, reluc­tant, hand­ed up gut­ter nick­els, bath­room-desert­ed lip­sticks. The boys won­dered what of their par­ents was con­ta­gious, what was already giv­en lay dor­mant, what could spread again. Locked in a red van speed­ing toward his­to­ry, the boys lay on bench seats, they closed their eyes, they lis­tened.

~

Jessica Hollander received her MFA from the University of Alabama. Her work has appeared or is forth­com­ing in over 50 jour­nals includ­ing Alice Blue, the Cincinnati Review, The Journal, Pank, Web Conjunctions, and wigleaF. You can find her at jessicahollanderwriter.com.