Joellyn Powers


After we killed your father–after we cleaned the blood from the windows and stuffed the paper towels down the garbage disposal–we sat in the car he gave you, staring at the closed garage door. You had your hands in your lap, and I had mine on the steering wheel. I had a hard time believing my hands were still attached to my wrists. I looked over at you and you seemed drunk, but I knew you preferred caffeine and there had been no time to drink, before, anyway. The lump of your fists on your lap made a dent between your legs, pushing your skirt around your thighs like a circus tent falling down. It was getting dark and cold and I asked you where you wanted to go and you said, Anywhere. I thought of money, and I thought of food; I thought of guns and jail cells and cold cement floors. But I turned to you and said, Ok, and I started the car.

We eat in all night diners. While we look at sticky menus with our fingers edging towards saltshakers and sugar bowls, we realize something: there’s truth in pictures of pancakes. The confection of syrup running down, pooling on the plate and slowly forming a whole new circle beneath the stack of circles above, is just what it pretends to be: a photo of something that we will never order. We set our menus down and order eggs from waiters that always look the same.

Before we started driving, we made a pile of our things in the deserted baseball field down the street from my house. I don’t know why you wanted to do it, but I figured that without your father you wanted to be without your things too, and I might as well join you in the bonfire of your vanities. The flames came from the flick of a match and they licked at our clothes, our shoes, our books and our bed sheets, the things we wanted and thought we still needed but could no longer carry with us. I held your shoulders as you cried, watching the pages of your favorite novel burn to a crisp. Somewhere in the distance, the sun would rise in the morning but we would already be gone, driving through the desert back to the highway, in the car that was your father’s.

Once, while we were lying on the grass by the public pool, during a summer when our bodies were young and our minds were, too, I told you about a dream I had of a firefly trapped in a gutter, how it sputtered and glowed and couldn’t get away from the grime-covered grate. I told you I had never remembered a dream so clearly and I was afraid it had actually happened. You sat up and stared at me and smiled so quickly I jumped. Your braces flashed in the dark (three months later, when those braces came off, I would run my finger across your teeth as if they were piano keys). You pulled your shirt over your head and I couldn’t believe I was here. I can’t believe I’m here, I whispered, and you kissed me, full on, right on the mouth.

When we leave the diners I always feel like we’re being followed. But you get right in the car and set the air conditioning to high and won’t look at me for the first five miles we go. I drive down highways and roads by farms and strips of gravel that are more like pencil sketches than roads, and I always see fireflies, fireflies everywhere, even when it’s light.

In school I wanted to shove you against lockers, pull you into broom closets, pin you onto desks. I stared at the rivets of your spine while you leaned over your paper in math class. Turning the pages of a book, the words never formed sentences but instead formed the shape of your face: the word “through” became the line of your nose, “water” the dip of your lips, “perhaps” the extra hairs around your eyebrows. I watched porn on my dad’s computer before he got home from work and erased the files twice: once from the Internet history and once from the digital trash. You liked the public pool because no one ever went there when it was closed. We sat on the grass and stared at the clock on the wall by the lifeguard stand and you would count the hours until you had to be home. I’ll drive you, I always said while kissing your shoulders, your hands, your neck. He’ll hear the car, you always answered, touching my eyelids and closing them slowly, like window shades.

It was all because you told me about the night when you were ten, and how he stumbled against your doorframe, a black mass framed by the light you always left on in the hallway, in order to know that everything was okay. You told me this in our favorite place – in the Lyndon at two a.m. when the only other people around us were drunks and thieves. Your hands were curled around a mug of coffee and I could see the steam rising into your nose. It was quick, you said, but you never forgot it and you don’t think he did either. You said all of this like it was the thing making your finger twitch against your mug. That’s why he gave you the car, a Gameboy when you were twelve, a diamond necklace when you were fifteen, you said. When it sparkled around your throat all you could think of was the unfiltered light in the hallway that surrounded his impassable frame. I never expected you to cry but I’m not going to lie when I say I wanted you to. Give me a minute, you said, pushing away from the booth, and you went into the bathroom. I looked down at my plate of hash and in it I saw brains – fried and dry – greased onto a dish. I felt sick for getting mad at you that one night, when you said you were too tired to give me head.

I didn’t want to do it, but beyond what you told me I sensed something new. It was hard to see the shape of it; every time I sensed the thing that it was I seemed to be surrounded by glass – windows, mirrors, ceramic cats and planters full of geraniums – and the sun is always too bright.

We drove to Nevada where we played poker with men who looked mean and sad. We won some money with my one good hand and bought ourselves some beer, which we drank too quickly and felt sloshing in our empty stomachs like a sea fed by grain, grain floating on the waves. We slept in the backseat and when you had to piss I held your hand, walking to the edge of a field where you squatted to the ground. I wanted to kiss your toes, your fingers, your eyelashes – anything that came off of you like a growth but belonged there anyway, just something moving with the nerves spreading through your body like the lines on a map marking roads we had never been to. In the morning I wished I could make you coffee because I remembered how much you liked waking up to the smell. Instead we drove along, our arms hanging out the windows, and I looked over at you, homeless and free, and knew I never wanted to stand at the end of a long aisle and see you before me, in a white dress, but just there against the brown mountains out the window, in the palm of my hand when I held it under your chin and you smiled like a cat. But without my hand, only you, yourself, alone – riding out the last dregs of gas to the edge of the world and another plate of greasy food.

Joellyn Powers attends the University of Pittsburgh. She has work appearing or forthcoming in Metazen and DOGZPLOT. She lives amongst the Amish and enjoys reading sad books, writing sad stories, and generally trying to be a happy person.
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