The bottle-green car rumbles through sleepy streets, chugs along the squeaky cobbles, shrieks every time my mother tries to shift it along.
“I need a cigarette,” she says. “I can’t function without a smoke.”
We reach the outskirts, the meadows, and goats come running, stumbling, to watch us cough and sputter past. “I’ll be back to pet you soon!” I promise them in my mind, and they flop their ears, For real? and show me their crooked baby teeth.
Then Mom’s going faster and faster and we’re beyond all the pastures, zooming around Stop-sign curves. We grunt up every-last furzy hill and grind and brake back down.
If I were a goat, my eyes panoramic, I would look at everything, stare down everything, until it roared with flame–until the choices were forced to claim me, make me soft and warm.
The beach is cold, a bandage-strip of seagulls wheeling around tangled clots of debris. Sanderlings hustle like doctors and nurses: scurry and poke, scurry and poke.
Mom spreads a picnic blanket and pops champagne. She fishes her old wedding flutes from a basket and pours for two. She sticks the second glass in the sand and clinks. I am dry-mouthed, thinking about what it means to feel constantly stabbed.
The bottle spent, waves arrive–liquid ice–and Mom strips to her bra and panties. She wades in, and farther in. Her aim is clear and strong and stern as a vintage stem of glass.
When she is no longer bobbing and gasping, I rise and return to the bottle-green car. I will lock her wet-wool shawl into its old-tired trunk. I will start the motor and go.
Oh, how things never work as planned. Nothing but fun, that’s how driving always seemed. Now, the wheel is larger than a liar’s moon. The gear shift is a stubborn stork.
Mom shimmers into the back seat. I gnaw my cheeks, try to breathe. My lungs fill with knives that want to leap out and slice curses into the nearest brain. But you can’t just go full craniotomy on some person’s freshly-drowned ghost. Not after they’ve just stooped to bequeath you their shit-box bottle-green car.
Mom lights a Tareyton, rolls her window down.
She’s ignoring my presence. I’m ignoring her smog.
I think: I should heave a boulder onto the Gas. Send this crap-heap off a cliff and just hitchhike up the coast.
“Don’t be an ass,” says Mom’s ghost–but she’s not even looking at me. She’s studying an anemic fringe of mountain pine. Nestled within: a scrawny osprey on a spindly heart of sticks.
Mom stubs out her spent butt. And, miraculously, doesn’t light another. She mutters, “Let’s go pet your fucking goats.”
In the dream version, I am floored: my mother finally gets love right.
The starving osprey beats its wings. It rises, then plunges towards liquid glass.
C.B. Auder’s writing and art have appeared in Bending Genres, Atlas + Alice, Pidgeonholes, OCCULUM, Longleaf Review, and elsewhere. Find Aud on Twitter at @ClawAndBlossom.