THIS TUESDAY'S SOUNDTRACK
By Sherry Mathews
It feels so fresh outside. The wind is blowing just enough to make me want to close my eyes. I’m tired. I could fall asleep right now if my bus wasn’t coming soon. It’s late. When I close my eyes the sunlight makes the back of my eyelids dance between rust and gold. I can hear the shapes of the people walking by, every sound belonging to this Tuesday’s soundtrack. High heels clicking, bus exhaust hissing, and the white noise of chatter.
My mom used to tell me that no matter where I am I will be able to see her if I close my eyes.
“I don’t see anything.”
“Well, why would you? I’m still here.”
Three months later she died and closing my eyes is the only thing I can do to not see her. Sometimes she still talks to me but usually in the form of movie quotes.
“Mom, when are you coming home?”
“I couldn’t ask heaven for that much,” my mom would say. But then I remember that she wouldn’t say anything like that. My mom was wise but not poetic. Who knows, maybe my mom is a writer in heaven. The bus is screeching to a halt next to this cracked, wooden bench. As I climb onto the bus I can hear the bus driver coughing, feet shuffling, and hushed cell phone conversations. I see a woman looking into a scrap book. She is silent and motionless, as if one movement might break her connection to the pictures
I like to think of my mom separate from the role I knew her in. Photograph compilations of a curious girl in a tiny bathing suit line the horizon of my bedroom walls. She was beautiful. She looked a lot like me but with more passion. More life. Veronica. That was her name. Now that she’s gone I wish I knew her when she was Veronica and not mom. Calling her mom threw her into a barrel of millions of faceless childbearing women. Women who worked, cooked, and tucked little faces in at night. A barrel of women who all turned their heads like cattle when “mom” was shouted in a grocery store.
Veronica ran away from her mother’s home in Miami her senior year in high school. She was tired of listening to superiors and protecting inferiors. She used to tell me stories of how she had to lock her bedroom door at night and sleep with a knife under her pillow. After a few months of fleabites, burglary, and being broke she gave up being alone and asked her father if she could stay with him in Puerto Rico. Years after she had me I found out one of her secrets, she was engaged during her short stay in Puerto Rico. She said that he was just a fling. My mom should have stayed with him. By the time I met my mom she was all out of magic. She had a daughter who wished she was different and an abusive husband whose middle name was Herbert.
My seat on the bus is tiny. The man next to me smells like tobacco and orange juice and his voice crackles like a broken record. He keeps trying to talk to me and I don’t think I can crook my neck any farther to the left. The only thing I can see out the window is the highway line; it is so hypnotizing. To stare at the highway line is to focus and zone out at the same time. Above the lines are miles and miles of trees. Randomly an exit will appear that has a Waffle House or Cracker Barrel. Before my parents got divorced we moved around a lot and Cracker Barrel was one of our favorite places to stop and eat. I would play the peg game and always have four pegs left which meant that I was stupid or slow or some other generic insult that I already knew.
“Grace, what are you getting?” Dad asked.
“Two pancakes, a small coke, and a side of bacon extra crispy.” I got the same thing every time.
“Why did I even bother asking? My lovely, perfect, boring daughter.” Mom stayed quiet she knew that if she talked he would give her that look that I never found out the consequences for, I just knew that she tried her best not to receive it. I feel like my mom right now, trying to do anything but make eye contact with the guy sitting next to me.
I’m on my way to see my father, Linnie Herbert Garland. I haven’t seen him since my parents separated seven years ago. And even now, after all this time, I feel like I’m rushing there union. The only fond memories I have with him are on old home videos and he was acting for the camera. My real memories are very different.
“You got a B on your report card? Why did you do that? You’re turning into such a little slut.”
“You’ll never get married if you don’t get breast implants.”
“I didn’t ask for the divorce, why should I pay child support?” Whenever I think of my father those three quotes circle in my head like a train. Two weeks ago I found out that he was diagnosed with lung cancer and I almost smiled. God was sticking up for me.
It’s a small trip for such a big bus, only four hours. I have no clue what I’m going to say when I see him, I just know that I have to see him.
“Hey dad, you still hate me for no reason?”
“Hey dad, I really don’t like you but do you want me to pretend like I do until you die?”
The last one is probably the best possible choice. I can see him standing there looking quiet and brooding out of my cloudy window. He looks thinner than the last time I saw him, not at all like the hate machine that I remember. As the bus comes to a stop my fear builds and I close my eyes to think of something solid, my last conversation with my mother. It was right before I left for college and I was nervous about leaving her alone.
“Mom will you tell me a story about the future?”
“No. I’m too happy to talk about the future.” As she said that she reached up and grasped her left arm. A new sadness filled her eyes.
“Will you tell me a story about the present?”
“Okay,” she massaged her arm, gritted her teeth, and acted as if it would pass. “First, second, or third person?”
I am ready now. I need to let my father finish his story. My mother never got to finish hers, she died right there, right in the middle of the room.
I got off the bus to face a man that was not my father but a man worn down by time and guilt.
“I’ve missed you. I know you don’t believe me, but I do.”
The years of silence between us is thick and brittle, like a cut rope ready to break. The people passing could probably hear the past violence, the running away, and the attempts to forget.
“Grace, please say something.” His eyes are open in a way I have never seen before. They are blank, ready for me to fill them with something. Waiting for new memories.
“I hated you.”
Mom had wanted me to come see him for a long time. She said people change and that “Believe it or not, your dad is a person too”. She was right.
“I miss mom.” The tears are finally coming.
“I know, I miss her too.” He’s taking my hand and hugging me like he did in the old home videos, but this time I know it is real.
“I still hate you, that hasn’t changed.”
I can feel my mother here. She’s in my father’s hug, in my tears, and in the sounds on the street. High heels clomping, bus exhaust hissing, and the white noise of chatter. Other fathers and daughters saying hello. Other mother and daughters saying goodbye.
Sherry Mathews just graduated from the University of Central Florida with her B.A. in English. Contact Sherry.