Safe by Lilly Run

In the stillness, in the beginning I imagine the whole world is holding it’s breath, tight and desperate like an over stuffed balloon. The clouds, grass and dirt stretched thin and painful below my feet, until they rupture, sending us blind and helpless across the broken sky. Around me the birds and polished insects swinging frantically from flower to bush to tree have vanished, leaving the world hollow and silent. The wind rises, pushing through the trees, twisting and bullying them. They arch painfully and some to escape crack in long dull aches. The rain begins. Single drops falling lightly on the grass, the porch, slapping flat and dull on the metal body of the car. I close my eyes and raise my face, happy as it washes away the grime and sullenness of the five-day heat.

I hear my mother call us inside, her voice sounding pinched and crooked as her nerves grab up and close round her throat. The sound of it takes away the joy of the rain, so I pretend I don’t hear her. Pretend the wind and rain and soft growl of thunder in the distance have snatched it, shoving it back inside the house with her vacuum and dirty laundry, letting me linger longer under the black sky with my brother and sisters. She calls to us again and I turn and see her thin body pressed close to the screen door, her arms squeezed tight around her like killing vines. Her eyes counting out the five of us. They make me want to shrink. Make me want to deflate myself, turn myself into something soft and benign, something she could hold in the palm of her hand or put into her breast pocket, so she would only have to look to see that it was there.

No words pass between us as we walk back toward the house. The desperate, familiar notes of her voice have slid out the windows and down our throats, cutting out our smart ass tongues that had flown so carelessly across the lawn a few minutes earlier. The screen door snaps shut behind us and the sound of it makes her jump. She grasps the closest one, my brother, and back hands him. Pressing her nails into his flesh she shakes him, screaming wildly, “YOU COME WHEN I CALL YOU! YOU COME WHEN I CALL YOU!” The scar that curves up the side of her arm smiles at me, smiles like a wet lip. The scar my father whispers about, his eyes shinning with death and gossip. The scar my mother got as a girl reaching for her brother as he drown. Her arm tearing on a metal drainage pipe until he was still, floating half submerged like an old coat and she stood there alone in a world so suddenly quiet. The scar stretches and twists with the muscles of her arm, like it wants to scream, but it can’t. It’s been sewn up to stop anything from getting out. I’m afraid it’s him, sewn up inside her, lonely and enraged, stomping and screaming in her arms and legs wanting to be alive with us. Wanting to pull our mother under his dark water with him.

She stops screaming and I open my eyes. The scar is limp and still. A ribbon of blood traces from my brothers nose into the corner of his mouth like he’s leaking. The amazement in his brown eyes makes her start to cry and she stands in front of him making the low pitiful sounds an animal makes when it’s been hit by a car. The kind of noise that freezes your heart and makes you want to plug up your ears and hum so the vibrations cover everything. She reaches for him and holds him close like he’s a baby again, pressing his bloody face onto her breasts. “We’re sorry mommy,” one of my sisters offers, whispering lightly, as if the beauty and softness of her voice will stop her sound. The rest of us repeat her line, murmuring gently, spreading the blame out among us.

She lets him go and wipes the blood off his face with the edge of her shirt. Our dogs sniff the stain and look up at her with soft bewildered eyes. Behind her some of the rain has soaked through the ceiling and expands toward us on the floor. The beams of the old house shudder and ache, exhausted by the elements. They could splinter, cave in on us no, one would know. We are alone, rural, absent from the comings and goings of other people. She gets a pot from the kitchen and places it under the leak. Then she tells us to go to the car. I remember my father vaguely irritated, trying to dismiss her fears of thunderstorms, flying; “The pilot doesn’t want to crash either baby.” Impatient to have to hypothesize on the unlikely, the irrelevant, the irrational, “It’s a million to one.” He could be anywhere right now telling a stranger there was nothing to worry about.

We run to the car and lock the doors. She drives slowly down the dirt driveway, straining her head forward at the end, searching for cars or trucks barreling toward us, invisible in the rain. Tears well in her eyes as we drive close to the swollen banks of the Messelonske, it’s foul water churning with whitecaps. I know where she’s going. Anticipate the corners she turns, the colors and materials of the familiar houses, the rough scraping the underbelly of the car makes as she pulls into the driveway, stopping under the shadow of her childhood home. I’ve been here before. We sit silently in the car, the air growing sour with the smell of our humid bodies. I stare at the back of her head, trace my eyes over the dark waves of her hair and the curve of her neck, trying to understand her; trying to discern the quality and mood of her eyes as they travel over the wasted house, looking back into the past that scars the flesh of her arm.

Outside a fire engine passes, the red lights distorted through the cloudy windows. The screaming sirens overwhelm the quiet within for a moment before fading down an unseen street. The storm passes, slowly as storms do, leaving the streets cleansed and shaken. Trees and parked cars glisten sharply under the fluorescent streetlights. A man shouts in the distance and a door snaps shut. Windows open and the canned laughter of TV cuts into the stillness as the world tentatively comes to life again. My mother starts the engine without a word and backs slowly onto the street. She looks into the rearview mirror for a moment, at the dark windows of the house like she’s searching one last time for something she’s lost. I want to whisper to her, to calm those dark, haunted eyes. We can’t be saved mom…we can’t be saved any of us.



Gallery Design by Mike McCaffrey © 2003 - All Rights Reserved
by Lilly Run