There we were in the car with the outsides bleeding by us out the window. Our daddy every once in a while shook his head like he was trying to shake a fly from his ear. His wife wrapped some twine around her pointer finger until it was purple, turned around to smile big into the backseat, everything’s okay children, everything’s just fine.
We saw a black bear lumbering along through the trees and Giddy said it was looking for a pot of honey or a stray dog. We passed some red licorice amongst ourselves. Carnation had pink foam at the corners of her mouth from all the cramming.
The setting sun made a bruise of the evening sky. Carnation said the sun looked like a dollop of fancy mustard at the horizon.
It seemed like days ago that we’d pulled over and our daddy had yanked Davey out and left him on the highway by a mile marker. Theys some jelly beans and limeade in this bag, our daddy said, and dropped a paper sack at Davey’s feet. Davey’s chin trembled so bad his teeth were chattering and our daddy said Aw suck it up, we’ll be seein you. Davey stood in his spot and watched us drive on and in our dust he looked like a spirit. It was mile marker 77.
Daddy’s wife asked to pull over so she could empty her jar. We watched her squat over a dead bush a few yards away from the car and pee on into it. Our daddy flicked his head again, whispered It was his time, you pack of dummies. He was fixin to overpower me. Daddy’s wife let down her dress and started walking back. Do you know, our daddy hissed, that Davey would have carved the faces from your bodies and snacked on your flesh like it was a hog’s ear?
Carnation told our daddy to unlock the door for his wife. When she got back in she turned around to smile big at us and it was clear by her smell that she’d watered down her leg a little. Our daddy put the car back on the road and peeled his tires.
And then the sky was black as a dog’s eye but for where the moon flickered through the trees. Our daddy started humming one of his songs. His wife stumbled along with him, her voice like a choked bird but it was clear she didn’t know the tune.
After a while our headlights were sweeping over Grandmother’s motel. She came out with an arm over her eyes and our daddy said Goddamn and switched off the lights. She knocked on our window and said What a snoutful of brass buttons. Her teeth looked like they were hacked from planks and she jangled a ring of keys at us like a witch’s charms. You ain’t nothing but a pile of wet stars in a bathtub drain. Our daddy said That’s just her idjit way and we got out of the car.
Grandmother dropped the keys and sidewindered away into the darkness. We watched our daddy have his way with his wife in the first room where a key fit, her smiling big and saying Everything’s so wonderful, children and our daddy working her into the headboard like he was nailing up a granite cross.
We took a bath and watched out the bathroom window. Sure enough Davey’s ghost came fluttering in flimsy as a leaf husk and settled on the toilet. We could see right through to the ruby jewel pump in his chest. You want me to I can gather up that navy winking sky and make us a diamondsparkled sail of it, Davey said, and his voice was the same but unnatural, like some busted chorus of bells clattered out his throat along with everything else. We could visit all them quilt patches on the map, but before we could answer Daddy’s wife came and sat down to do her business and Davey’s ghost burst up like an exploded feather pillow, his parts settling unnoticed on Daddy’s wife like how dust is gold in a stream of sunlight but regular and dirty in the no-light. Giddy splashed up some water in disgust and Daddy’s wife clapped her hands while the Davey motes shivered off her and fell into the toilet and swirled down to the underworld. God strike you lonely then dead, Carnation whispered and Daddy’s wife giggled and pulled up her undies and left us.
Davey’s faint jangling still hung ringing in the air and one by one we climbed from the window and jumped. Giddy twisted up her ankle and began to crawl. Grandmother was in the office looking like a drugged specimen in a yellow lightbox, her feet up on the desk and her skirt open and a glint of drool working its way down her neck. We continued on past her and past the motel itself and into the dark thatchery behind.
It was the moon brought us there. Daddy told us our mother’s dumb forlorn soul wafted up to that white eye and got tangled up in its eyelashes, and there the moon was staring wildly from the treetops. Carnation said we was lost and we should pray and sure enough Grandmother’s motel had disappeared into a dark nothing behind us, and we knelt in the dirt and held hands and whispered bright nothing prayers and begged for an angel’s shovel to dig Davey up from the sewage so he could show us his candied heart once more. We prayed the moon would unstopper long enough to suck us through to the other side so we could see how dull the stars were at their backsides. Far off our daddy began calling for us, and we pretended it was a wolf’s howling, or a car rushing down a highway, or that loud emptiness you hear when there’s nothing to hear and pretty soon you start believing there never ever was.
Lindsay Hunter is a writer living in Chicago. She is the co-host of the Quickies! reading series, and her work has previously appeared in Nerve, MAKE, Smokelong Quarterly, Thieves Jargon, Hobart, Fiction at Work, and featherproof, among others.