I am pouring hot gravy down your pants on Sydney’s back porch again and momma is yelling at me for burning you, but mostly for wasting food. We throw your pants to the dogs and they lick them clean but the small brown-yellow teeth tear a big hole, and they make me do the patch job though I only just learned how.
You are yelling at me for brown gravy stains for days after that. In my head you are already yelling, always at me. I don’t know what you are like without it. I don’t know who you are.
Yes I do: you are Superstar. You hated me calling you that, remember? You hated all kinds of things: gravy stains and patch jobs and anything that wasn’t what you thought good music was. Before I was fifteen you slicked your hair back, kissed us goodbye and goodbye you went. You traded your patch-jeans for slacks working at Rolly Morton’s. What was the salary? Licking a penny, you told me. But then enough for slacks.
I am sixteen and momma gives me driving lessons. Last time she drove she used the median like a turn lane, scraped the bottom of the car so littles metal pieces of it fell like confetti onto Route 60. I had to take the bus to school after that. I am breathing heavy and shaking like when that boy kissed me in the mall parking lot, and here is the only driving advice she remembers: steer into the skid. She shrugs her shoulders when I ask her what the signs mean. She repeats it like it’ll help: steer into the skid.
When momma dies you are inhaling your fifteen minutes of fame like cigarette smoke. I am beside her in the room, just me. She is telling me about how she saw God at the elderberry bush last May, and she thought she was agoin at last, but she’d been kept around like Moses to do his bidding. For me, she says. Then she dies. She doesn’t look too different dead.
I never outgrow my imaginary friends; they just start looking like people I know. When momma
dies she walks out of the hospital with me. We buy ice cream cones and sit on the curb outside Rolly Morton’s and talk about when you worked there. I wonder if I am laughing out loud, picturing those awful patch-jeans. We have to whisper, you tell me. She tells me.
Sydney has a stroke when I am living with her. The only word she can form after that is “shit.” We hold hands each night as I pray over dinner. When she says “shit,” she says “amen.” When she says “shit,” she asks “Can you please pass the salt?” When she says “shit,” she asks me how school was. Shit. Shit. Shit.
The next time I see you I am eighteen. I expect you to be yelling at me on-sight but you hug me. You have a wide-brimmed hat like a wannabe Texan, and when I smell smoke on you I breathe in too deeply. You tell me you’ll only be in town for a day or two, and you’ll be right back after you stop by Jason’s. Right back.
I just keep steering and steering and steering myself in circles. I steer myself out of the rain and right back in it. I’m not sure if I know what the difference really is. Of me, this is the trouble. I can never feel the rain no matter how long I stand out in it. I can never tell the difference but water-dark clothes.