“When I was little, we lived in an apartment above a bar. Right on an intersection. The lights used to flash in my room, they were right outside. I used to think it was Christmas year round. The red and green lights.”
“So what about the yellow?” she asks, fanning herself with an outdated auto magazine. The cover says September 2011.
“The yellow lights,” she says, setting the magazine down and plopping in front of the only fan instead.
“I don’t know,” I say, rubbing my eyes. “They made sense to me back then. I wasn’t very bright.”
“Are you gonna fuck me or what?”
I think of all the things I could say to her. All the things I could tell her. I could tell her about Tommy breaking his collarbone, how Mom couldn’t afford the bills so it never set right. I could tell her how Mom used to sleep with her makeup on, just in case. You never know who’s going to knock at the door, she’d always say. I could tell her about the grilled cheese sandwiches at the tavern, about bartender Bill. I could tell her about the cat next door, how it got blown up by the neighborhood kids, and I saw it all. I still see the blood, sometimes. All over the mailboxes. All over me.
“Hello?” she says, popping her gum. “I said, ‘Are you gonna fuck me?’ That’s why I’m here, ain’t it?”
“Yeah,” I tell her. Because I can’t tell her those things. “That’s why you’re here.”
As she’s leaving awhile later, I think about what it’d be like to text her that I miss her when she leaves. I think about what it’d be like to get that text. I miss you. Truth is, I don’t think I even have her number.
Mom used to tell me I looked just like him. She’d show me what fuzzy photographs she actually had—one of him by a lake, beer in one hand, the other half-raised to block the camera. All that’s really visible is the tip of his mustache and his wide eyes. The other photo was from the day they had me, Dad smiling, but his hand reaching for something just out of the frame, his eyes darting toward whatever it was. I asked Mom, once, what he was grabbing.
“Probably your brother,” she said. “Who knows?”
I met Dana at a bar, much like the one my Mom met my Dad at. As we stumbled in through my door, countless tequila shots and AC/DC karaoke songs later, hands on each other, grabbing for anything to hold onto, I wondered if this was how it all began for them, too. Then I put a condom on and forgot about my parents for a second.
I call Tommy every year on her birthday. Ask him what’s new. He’s got a wife and a couple kids and chronic pain in his shoulder. I tell him I should come visit. I never do. Flights from Michigan to Colorado ain’t cheap. He says he understands, and I know he’s telling the truth.
I remember, once, asking her why. Asking her why she still looked out the window like he was coming home. God, I must’ve been only twelve.
“Because he said he would, honey. He just needed time.”
“Six years is a lot of time,” I told her.
“Some day you’ll understand,” she promised me.
Mom never broke a promise, so I guess it must still be true, and as I watch Dana slam my door shut behind her, I wonder if she’s the type of gal I’d wait my whole life for.
“It doesn’t make sense, I know,” Mom told me. “Not logically anyway. But when you’re there, in that position, it just… you don’t question it. You take what you get.”
Somehow I knew what she meant.
Hannah Gordon is a recent grad trying to figure out what the hell to do next. She’s the assistant editor at CHEAP POP, and her work can be found in Synaesthesia Magazine, Burrow Press Review, WhiskeyPaper, and more.