A slice of life inspired by the song and music video by Cage the Elephant.
Wind sweeps into the car, blowing stray hairs out of her perfectly manicured bun, making her gold droopy earrings swing. Her focused eyes see more than the road ahead, framed by loose hair and dancing earrings. A windy strand of hair gets caught on her red lipstick, trapped by it’s opaque, daunting glow. She slowly peels one hand off the wheel to put it back in place. I roll up my window.
The air gets quieter and she glances over at me, eyes barely skimming before turning back to the road.
“You aren’t tellin mom, right?” I ask. She sighs, shaking her head.
“You’re lucky I got you out of there. They were going to process you.” She sounds so mature all of a sudden. She looks porcelain and forever young, but she sounds like mom. I roll my eyes.
“They weren’t gonna process me. They just wanted to give me a scare, I didn’t even do anything that bad.”
“Oh no? Then let’s tell mom.”
“Al,” I say, giving her a look. She tenses, gripping the wheel and then ungripping and then gripping again.
“Don’t call me again for shit like this. I’m serious.” She gives me another glare. I nod. She sees me nod and nods too, looking back ahead. The sun’s setting, glowing yellow on her royal blue dress.
“How was the wedding?”
“It was fine.”
“I thought you were bringin that boy with you,” I say. She opens her mouth ever so slightly, about to say something. It closes. “What happened?”
“Nothing happened.” She’s all monotone and sad.
“Do you want me to kick’em in the balls, or somethin?”
“Jesus, Sally, no,” She says. “You wouldn’t- it’s complicated.”
She takes a deep breath in. She starts blinking more than normal.
“You can… tell me,” I say quieter. She shakes her head a bit, wind still ever so slightly blowing her hair around her face, framing her sadness like a beautiful painting.
“He’s,” She starts, licking her red lips. “He’s just not a good person.” Her voice catches. Al’s voice only catches for certain things, and they’re always complicated and they always involve boys not being a good person.
“Oh,” I manage.
She thinks I don’t know what happened, so I just lean back in my seat and pick at the fraying hole in my jeans. But I remember when she used to cry at night, I remember when she wore turtlenecks to hide things, I remember the way guys used to hold onto her when they talked, like they owned her or something.
I just sit back in my seat and listen to the crack of wind blowing through the window.
Soon enough we get home, pull up into a dirt drive to the only house on the block with no garage door. Al gets out before me. I sit, for a minute, in the hot, silent car, watching her walk a few steps and stretch. The cicadas scream and the mosquitoes buzz, and the sun barely lights the blue air. Then she yells for me to get out too.
“Hi, mama!” Al calls, taking off her heels.
“Hey baby,” Mom calls from the kitchen. It’s a good night, I guess. Al knows too because she smiles and walks barefoot to go see her. I lock the door and check for Tim’s shoes. They’re gone.
I head into the kitchen, too, picking up the cat on the way.
Al and Mom part from their hug and Mom turns to me. I brush my face against the cat’s coat and look up to her. Her apron’s on, it smells like food. It’s a good night.
“Where’s Tim?” I ask. Her smile fades. Probably wasn’t the best first thing to say.
“Out,” She says harshly. “I don’t know. Where were you?”
“I picked up Sally from her friend’s place,” Al says, smiling, trying to change the subject away from Tim. The cat moves in my arms. I let her onto the floor.
“You never said you was goin to a friend’s,” Mom says. I shove my hands in my pockets.
“She’s safe, Mamma, it’s fine,” Al says. “What are you making?”
“Corn Casserole,” She says. “You’re favorite.”
Al and Mom eat dinner, but not a lot since Al had food at the wedding, and I go sit outside while the air cools down. It’s my favorite time of day, when it’s blue and cool and the insects start getting loud. Kids from the neighborhood ride their bikes and skateboards and some wave to me because a few years ago I used to ride my bike and skateboard before Tim sold my bike and Al’s boyfriend broke my skateboard. One of the kids come up to the stoop, though.
“Hey, Bobbie,” I say. Bobbie sits down next to me, pulls out a candy cigarette.
“Look, Sally, I got this at the fair last week. Looks like I smoke.”
“That’s pretty cool,” I say to humour him. He’s like ten, or something, and gets a kick out of it when people think he’s being cool. His mom used to pay me five bucks a day to babysit him.
“Is that you sister’s car?” He asks, taking a drag.
“Yeah. She went to some wedding and picked me up on her way back. I think she’s stayin with us for a while now.”
Bobbie nods, takes a bite out of the cigarette. He offers the other half to me. I take it, bite a piece of future cavities and fillings. A rattling metallic sound starts, getting louder and louder, and we look to the street. Some girl with short hair races by on a scooter and waves at us. We wave back.
“That’s Millie’s sister, Hannah. Do you still see Millie?”
“Yeah, sometimes,” I tell the kid. I start to think about Millie. I think about how Millie stopped talking to me when she started having sex with Lucas. How Millie had beautiful hair like Al and how Millie is fine with dropping friends like they’re nothing. I wish there were some way to warn ten year olds that relationships ruin more things than they create. But there isn’t, so I just tell Bobbie: “Don’t smoke regular cigarettes. Stick to the sugar ones, okay? The regular ones’ll kill you.”
“Yeah, peoples told me that before,” He says.
I nod, taking another bite of my cigarette, listening to the cicadas and mosquitoes and insects, feeling the heat drain out of the day. I wish someone told me things like that when I was a kid. I wish I had a lot more warnings when I was a kid. Maybe, then, things would be different. For me, and for Al.