Flames


By H.S. White
May 24, 2012 Bookmark and Share

Our mother sat silently behind the wheel. It seemed she was paying strict attention to the traffic lights, signs, and the other cars on the road, but I could tell by her quiet countenance that her mind was elsewhere. As our dusty brown Chrysler floated in the Technicolor stream of cars in motion, I watched her face, illuminated now by perfectly timed bands of amber streetlight. Hers was a somber mood.

In the back seat, Ray-Ray and Alex emerged from their brief solemness.

"Can we have some gum, Mom?" Ray-Ray asked.

"No."

Silence...

"Where're we goin'?" Alex's voice came out like chunky peanut butter tearing apart the bread of silence.

The car fell still again.

Soon my brothers, both younger than I, began horsing around. Pinching, slapping, playful twisting of fingers... "Owww!" one of them cried out. The other was giggling. I waited for Mom to snap at them but she didn't. Those two could've killed each other back there and she wouldn't have blinked, I don't think.

The summer sun had fallen out of sight save for the faintest orangy halo backlighting trees and telephone poles. It too had begun to wan as Mom eased the Chrysler into the gravel lot.

"Are we at another bar?" Ray-Ray inquired. Already we had been to three, our car cruising the dimly lit lots like a stalking huntress.

"Yep," Alex said, a half-whisper.

Mom clicked off the headlights. Gravel crunched beneath the tires. Music drifted out of the Horseshoe Lounge -- old, boring music, the kind my father listened to.

The Buick was parked on the blind side of a Dumpster, its scabrous rust telling even in darkness.
Our Chrysler came to a stop. Mom cut the engine and we all got out.

We each took an armful of clothes, carried them to my father's car, and tossed them on the scabby hood. Ray-Ray, just five, tossed a pair of shit-brown wingtips on the pile. Smiling, he went back for the others.

When all the clothes had been deposited on the Buick's hood, Mom doused them with gasoline. "Stand back, " she ordered us, then set the clothing ablaze.

During the ride home, our mother seemed more like herself. We listened to the radio -- "C'mon, baby, light my fire..." And we each got a fifteen-cent cone at the Dairy King. Mom let us stay up late that night, even though there was nothing on TV we liked...

We never saw our father again