Published in Tilted House Feb/Mar 2023
The old car was still there, crouched down in the weeds. It shrank, she thought. No, the weeds never grew over the roof before. She fought her way to the driver's door, stopping occasionally to pull a blackberry bramble away. She was pregnant and it was hard to bend over. When she reached the car, she stood looking inside and running her finger along the window groove. The tires rotted into the ground. The car had planted itself.
She and Harley sit in the abandoned car, necking. She pulls Harley's hands away and slides across the seat. Harley watches as she buttons her blouse and tucks it in. She knows he’s irritated. Dust from the upholstery rises in a cloud in the afternoon light and settles in her mouth and on her skin. She swallows, then scratches her arms. She tries not to lean back suddenly. It bothers her that she can't see past the cracks in the windows, and when the doors are closed, she can't hear anything outside.
Harley turns the knob on the door handle beside him. "Did I tell you what we're doing Saturday night?"
"I can't do anything. I'm grounded, remember?” One ten minute ride in Grant's car and she was restricted for a whole month.
"Can you sneak out for an hour? I want you to help me get some guns from Zak's hardware store."
She is shocked. "What do you want to do that for?"
"For the revolution.” He says this as if it explained something.
"What revolution, Harley?"
"Jesus, where’ve you been? I talk and nobody listens."
Feeling dumb, she goes home to read the newspaper. She does this carefully, expecting to find a two-inch square about it on the sports page or right after household hints. She can't remember that Harley mentioned it before.
The door had been left ajar and the blackberries claimed it, growing over and under in a mad tangle. She tried to pull it open, but it only made a creaking noise of strain on rusted hinges. So she turned herself sideways and squeezed inside. It wasn't easy. She settled down on the dirty, rotten upholstery, rubbed her belly where she’d pushed it against the door handle and looked through the springs at a pile of gum and condom wrappers. Broken knobs and quivering, twisted wires adorned the dashboard.
It's Saturday night and she's scared. Harley leans over the hood of the old car, looking at a paper. It’s a drawing she can't make out. Harley folds a pillow case and stuffs it in his jacket. "You coming?"
"I can't. I snuck out for a minute to talk to you."
"I don't want to be talked to."
"What do you need guns for?"
"I'm not telling you again."
She springs away from the car and grabs him by the arm. "Are you're gonna try to get Yorkie and Tommy out of reform school?” Harley tries to pull away, but she digs her fingernails into his arm. "They stole a car, Harley. They're lucky to be in Juvie. They should be in jail.” Harley yanks his arm out of her grasp. "I’m trying to understand what you’re doing,” she says. “Who's going to shoot the guns?"
He pats his jacket, checking the pillowcase. "Just go home.” He walks towards main street, a tiny cluster of dusty neon lights in the distance.
"You can't do this," she shouts after him. “It doesn’t make sense.”
The windows used to make everyone look blue and the cracks cast a web of lines on faces inside. Now, she looked out at a tangle of weeds. "God, those weeds. They crept up. Next to her, yellow and green wrappers for gum, red and white for condoms. Old-fashioned condoms. Serious ones. Not like the jokes she bought.
She was older then, and sophisticated. She went to the city and got a job in a drycleaner's. She hung shirts on hangers all day and danced in the bars every night. In the ladies room one evening, she found a condom vending machine on the wall between Tampax and a Spray of Perfume, the lever stuck at White Shoulders. She bought a half-dozen condoms in bright colors. When she took them back to her table, everyone laughed. "The sexual revolution is here," she said, making a fist.
Later, using Sierra Sunset Red, she decided the colors were a waste. The condoms were a waste: she was pregnant. She felt stupid and so embarrassed that she couldn't discuss it with the guy who was the father. When she grew obviously large, she quit her job and went home.
The streetlights on main street flicker on, but she still doesn’t go home. She waits for Harley, expecting to hear gunshots and then see him running toward her. Finally she sees him, walking slowly down Poplar Street, leaning backwards and hanging on to the bulging pillow case. He staggers up to her, dropping the pillow case at her feet. "You couldn't help me at all, could you?"
She pokes a toe at the pillow case. "How'd you get in?"
"Next time, you'll have to come and see."
"What are you going to do with those?"
"I'm not going far. Let's hide half of them under the seat of this car. I'll hide the other half in the woods behind my place. You want to carry your half?"
"No, I'm not touching them. I'm going home."
But she helps him lift the back seat out of the car and slide in half the guns.
The back seat was just springs now, scattered fragments of fabric, and a soft mouse nest of naked pink bodies. When she saw the nest, she pushed herself back out of the car. She was glad she hadn’t sat on the mice. We played house here, she thought, with our dolls and dishes. Had picnics. Told secrets. Played doctor and patient. Read dirty books to each other. Drank booze and smoked. But we were kids.
"You're just kids," Judge Brown says. "What did you plan to do with so many guns?"
She wishes she can explain a revolution she never understood.
"It was a joke, Ma," she said. "I got those colored condoms as a joke."
"It's Theft One," the judge says. Harley goes to reform school.
When she hears this, she knows things will never be the same again. After the hearing, she visits the old car, sits inside, and cries. She notices the cracks in the windows have grown deeper, and glass has fallen out. The sun shines through the holes in thin shafts. She sits on the hood, listening to the birds and watching the wind blow through the trees. This old car and I are going nowhere, she thinks. Absolutely nowhere. A paper bag has blown up against some bushes. She gets it and a large rock. Then, she pounds out the shards of glass, carefully putting the pieces in the bag. She puts the bag in her closet.
"I don't understand what you think about," her mother said. "Having a child is no joke. We'll have to keep this a secret."
"How do you plan to do that?"
"You'll have to go away."
Her mother sat on the bed and watched her clean out her closet. She dragged out old prom dresses, straight skirts, and pointed spike shoes. And a paper bag full of glass. She threw it all out.
"If you go away, you can give the baby up for adoption," her mother said.
"What's so terrible about having a baby? You act as if I robbed a bank."
"People are married when they have babies. You haven't mentioned it. Are you getting married? You act as if you hadn't thought of it."
"I'd rather not think of it. I don't mind having a baby, but I don't want to get married."
"Who’s the father?"
"A guy I met. You don't know him."
"A guy you met? Any old guy?"
"Things didn't work out.” She had to pretend there’d been a relationship.
"Are you serious? Is this a trick?"
"No, mom. I wish it was."
But her body played a fantastic trick. It grew and grew and exploded into two people. She thought it was a miracle. She named the child Richard Casey Monroe, born because of a broken Sierra Sunset. "That's your name," she told him.
She pushed the baby carriage around town, smiling. That was how she happened to be out in the street the day a man from the city loaded the old car onto a flat-bed truck, leaving a hole in the blackberries the same shape as the car. "Gonna fix her up," he said, as he tied it down. Ropes stretched across the hood and over the roof. The old car moved away from her, broken headlights bouncing over the potholes in a cloud of dust. After that, she walked by there everyday, to watch the weeds climb into that empty space.