I’m twelve. My mom is annoying, but I love her. I need to keep her safe, so I try to imagine all the ways she could die right now:
She could have a seizure and drive into the river.
A dog could dart into traffic causing us to swerve into a tree,
or a cat could,
or a baby.
Thinking of the thing makes it less likely to happen. If I could predict how we die, I’d be magical. If I were magical, I wouldn’t be afraid of death. I’m not magical, so futures I predict are canceled out. It’s simple logic.
The passenger seat is fully reclined. Treetops, clouds, sky slip past. Gone and gone and gone. The rhythm is nice. The car shakes in a way I love, a familiar jostle. My body remembers it’s really just water and never the same drop for long.
“Almost there. You awake?”
She sounds annoyed, a little. My mom drives me everywhere and mostly I lie like this. I love her close, carrying me though the air. To the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston today, but any ride will do. She wishes I’d talk to her. This is so much better. Near each other and a hum all around us.
Even if I wanted to sit up and talk, I couldn’t. In the car I have to stay low, because of the windows. I love art class at the MFA so much, it would be a shame if I were killed by random gunfire on the journey there.
Our winding drive along the Charles isn’t dangerous, but people are always being surprised by their deaths. I may be surprised by mine, but not because I didn’t pay it any mind. I don’t know how people can live their lives so casually. Every single minute it’s a miracle you didn’t end.
A plane could crash into us.
An earthquake could split the road wide open.
I bend sideways to reach the dial on the radio and turn it till it catches“Livin’on a Prayer.”
I sing, “…some-day….”
Someday is just one stop along the road. Right now is someday from before. When someday comes this me will be gone.
It doesn’t make a difference if we make it or not? Does Bon Jovi believe that? How could he?
Today the treetops along Storrow Drive turn the sky to lace. This sky is ending as I watch it. This all can end at any moment. Best to stay low.
I could go crazy and yank the wheel,
or cover her eyes.
My mom quiets the music.
“Tell me what you’re painting in class.”
“Like— a swirling thing. I don’t know. If you were in a plane with, like, part ripped out of the bottom.” I’m interested in painting how it feels to fall. It’s hard. I’m not getting it.
“An airplane? Why?”
“What do you mean? Because. Because that’s what I’m painting.”
I turn the sound back up.
The road sighs along under us.
“Okay…creative. Does it feel scary?”
There are other ways to stay in front of death. For example, reading signs. It’s a little like daring God to show his cards: If the next car that passes is red, my mother won’t die today. If I can hold my breath till the next underpass, if we pass three boats of rowers, if none of the rowers look my way. Sometimes it’s a little like prayer:God, if the MFA is safe make my stomach gurgle.
Sometimes I weight the dice: If my mother is silent for one full minute I’ll die this afternoon.
“How did you choose it? Is it from a picture?”
Twenty seconds. It doesn’t really count. I knew she wasn’t ready to give up, I knew she had another question waiting. But if God is really in control he could have made her silent. So maybe it counts after all.
“No,”I say, “I just wanted to use the paint you make from that metal dust.”
It comes in vials of shiny powder that I mix with thick oil. I want to cover everything with it. It reminds me of being little and pressing my eyes hard with my fingers till lights showed up in glints. It reminds me of wallpaper from somewhere I can’t locate. Orange, glittering. Or like the sparkly inside of balls I get from quarter machines at the supermarket. I buy them just to hold in my mouth. I run my teeth along their smooth, round sides so they squeak. Their taste in my nose is sweet and shuddering like gasoline, or an orchestra.
“Metal dust? What kind of metal? Is metal dust safe?”
“Ooooo, we’re halfway the-ere.”
If I can’t get all the way to safe, I can distract myself. One way is to play songs against the inside of my bottom teeth. Each place tooth meets tooth is a note. I turn my tongue and push it hard into the dips, hard enough the tip feels scraped. It’s a cool feeling like mint or screaming.
“O-O! Livin’on a pray-er!”
I don’t understand how, but it counterbalances something. This pressure, soft pain and rhythm, this distinguishing the end of one thing from the start of another and turning that division into music keeps something else from falling. It’s about balance. It’s about weight distribution.
If she touches me we live.
My mother puts her hand on my knee.
Laura Green lives in Portland Oregon. She’s working on a memoir tentatively titled Bastard Child of a Renegade Nun, excerpts of which are published on the Hip Mama blog and in an upcoming edition of Vinyl Poetry. She attended the Tin House Workshop in 2012.
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