Gwendolyn Joyce Mintz
Johnny Cash blared on the radio. Mama wanted to change the station, but Daddy said only honky-tonk music kept him awake.
Two damn states I gotta cross, he said, slipping the flask back into his shirt pocket and wiping his mouth on the sleeve. Just to hear your mama harping at me.
Mama turned toward the window. She told him that she missed her parents. Long time since I felt cared about, she said.
Daddy grunted something about wasted vacations and turned the knob on the radio even more til the car windows shook with the beat of a man walking the line.
Daddy, he was drinking but he was driving cause Mama didn’t know how.
In the backseat, I was lost in my own wonderings—hadn’t Mama heard me tell her that I loved her every night when she came in to hear my prayers?
Watch out! Mama screamed.
There was a jolt as the car hit something and Daddy jerked to a stop.
What the hell’s it doing out here in the first damn place? Daddy slammed out of the car before us.
Peeking between them, I stared at the dog sprawled in the glow of the headlights. Its body jerked and its legs trembled.
Dumb shit, Daddy said in that voice of his when he felt guilty but didn’t want to be.
Daddy nudged at the dog with his boot. It didn’t seem to be dying fast enough to ease his conscience; he turned away, sighed. I’m gonna have to take care of it, he said.
Get back into the car...get in the car! Mama yelled at me.
I wondered if the dog could feel the gravel under it as Daddy pulled the quivering animal by its hind legs to the side of the road.
You ought to be ashamed, Mama said. And look at the blood on your shirt.
Daddy was fighting some words as he settled back behind the wheel. He eased onto the road, drove a little, then eased back off. Mama stood by the dog. Daddy swung his arm across the seat, and looking over his shoulder, he stepped on the gas, moved the car back in response to Mama’s beckoning.
Really, Officer, he said, under his breath, I was aiming for the dog. He chuckled to himself, until he caught me watching.
It would be years before I could look my father in the face again.
But when I did, I searched his eyes to see if he felt the way I believe he did when I watched some dog’s blood dry on the tires of his car and wondered why it took the whole summer for the rain to come and wash it all away.
This started off as a poem. I loved the voice of the piece but I couldn’t get it to work as poetry, so I made it a story. How people relate to one another, especially within families, fascinates me.
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