In The Car

My father is spooked. He has crazy eyes. He woke me up, and he looked at me with crazy eyes, and they haven’t gone away. He is sitting on the edge of my bed, looking at my bookcase on the other side of the room. I feel his weight on the bed, because it is a small bed and he is a big man, a bigger man than I am. I am not even a man at all, I am only 12. I think I am a guy, at least. Not a boy. I’m not just a “boy” anymore.

He gets up. “The emergency bag, do you still have it?”

I nod, but he is not looking at me, so he doesn’t see me nod. “Yes,” I croak. My voice hasn’t been used since I went to sleep so it is not yet a voice, just a crack in pavement. I say it again. “Yes.” There it is, there’s my voice.

“Good. Get it and then wake up your brother.” He gets up and goes to my door. “Meet me in the car. Your clothes right now are fine. Just put on slippers and meet me in the car.”

I wake up my brother. “Get your duffel.” He nods, which I see, because my eyes are adjusting to the night. I look at my watch. It’s 3 in the morning.

I packed the emergency duffel when I was 10. I unzip it to look at what’s in it and see I hid Halloween candy in there. It’s 2 year old Halloween candy, in a Ziploc bag. It might still be good. My brother finds his duffel, and I carry both downstairs with me, and out into the garage.

We get into the car, in the backseat. Dad hasn’t turned it on yet. I feel scared, because I do not understand what is happening, but Dad is quiet and he is projecting his quiet all over the car. I think, this is going to be a weird story to tell my friends. I wonder what the ending of the story is.

“Where are we going, Dad?” My brother, who is 9, doesn’t know that the silence is supposed to stay unbroken. The car is cold. He is shivering – he curls up into himself like he does on long car rides when is going to go to sleep.

Dad doesn’t answer.

“Dad?” He asks again experimentally. His voice sounds sleepy.

“I don’t want to wake up your mother.”

“She isn’t coming?” I ask, like a reflex. I don’t know where we are going. I can ask about Mom, but I can’t ask where we are going.

“If I open up the garage door, she might wake up.”

He doesn’t turn on the car either. Mom didn’t wake up when he left their bed? I almost ask the question aloud, but I don’t. I don’t want to talk to my Dad or my brother. Maybe I’m dreaming. It doesn’t feel like any dream I’ve ever had, because it isn’t a dream at all. There are too many details for it to be a dream.

“Is there going to be an earthquake?” My brother asks. He is scared of earthquakes. We packed the bags specifically to prepare for earthquakes, so his logic is pretty sound for how sleepy he is. The clothes in my duffel aren’t going to fit me. I have grown a lot in the two years between packing it and this moment.

“Why would Dad leave Mom behind if there were an earthquake?” I whisper to him.

“There is no earthquake. I just want to leave and I want you both to come with me.” He turns on the car and it sounds like an animal rumbling to life, like a lion roaring maybe. “That probably woke her up.”

He presses his finger to the garage door opener, but the garage doesn’t open. He is not actually pressing the button. The door back into the house opens instead. My mom is a shadow with light behind her. I can see she’s wearing a robe. Also she has her arms crossed. My Dad presses the garage door opener and it rumbles so loudly I think it is going to wake up the neighbors. My brother gasps, because he is probably hearing all the loud sounds as an earthquake.

My Dad backs the car out of the garage slowly, experimentally. We are in the driveway. My mother has walked out into the space the car has vacated and she looks small and her mouth is taut. A thin straight line. Her arms are still crossed, and she is bathed in the headlights of the car.

My Dad pulls up the emergency brake and gets out of the car and goes to her. They talk for a moment and I do not hear a word. They go back inside the house, leaving me and my brother in the car.

“What is happening?” My brother asks me.

“We are in a car while Mom and Dad are fighting,” I say.

I know that they used to fight out in the car, because I saw them once, their voices muffled, their gestures erratic. My Dad hit the steering wheel that time I saw them, and the horn beeped and I ran back inside. I was 9, just like my brother is now. They need the whole house now, I guess. All my guesswork doesn’t matter, because they are not acting like people I have known all my life. This is all scary. And new. They’re acting like strangers instead of family.

We wait. My brother goes to sleep, lulled by the engine that my Dad left running. I lay my head on the window, which is cold. I know for sure that nothing good is happening, and nobody is going to talk about it with me, even if they try. We stay in the car and I know I will never tell anyone this story.

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