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Best Western


With the dry pop and twang of country music

playing from one speaker in the back of the car,

my father and I drove through North Carolina,

at fifty-five miles per hour,

a purple curtain stretched out over the summer sky.

My father’s face was stunned and bitter

as if something beyond his control had bought his memories

for a high price, and he was only now realizing

their loss. We had been driving so long

that our destination seemed almost a secret to us,

to be revealed upon our arrival, and indeed we hesitated

when we got to my grandmother’s house

by the ocean, with lazy curtains dawdling by the window

in the breeze. Inside my grandmother’s body was laid out,

pale-skinned, her hands crossed. I had never seen her before.

Aunts and uncles, cousins like gnats moved around us, translucent,

as the sun went down. In another room men’s voices boomed carelessly,

talking of numbers and shapes, of buildings not yet built.

My father stood by the coffin, grasping its side,

and a blue-haired aunt approached him, rested her hand

on the shoulder of his stiff navy sport coat. “She died

in her sleep,” she said. “There was nothing

we could do.”

But for my father, I imagine now, his mother had died in

his sleep years before that. She’d died as he slept

at boot camp, she’d died as he reached over and touched

my mother’s face on the honeymoon bed. He had run away

at age fourteen, bought a ticket

for some far-away state. . . . Leaving the army,

leaving his wife, never making up his mind,

what need had he for a mother?

And now I think about my mother, and the night he stole me

from her. We drove for hours then, too, sleeping restlessly

in a Holiday Inn somewhere in New England.

I had one pair of underwear and a book; they rested

on the television console as we tossed and turned,

and that was when my mother died for me. She slipped away

in that midnight, and her ghost has kept me running

long after my father grew too old to run with me.

My father found another aunt as we moved toward the door,

toward the car, toward the Best Western motel room registered

in our name. We’re very tired, he said, shutting the screen door,

and that was only half a lie, because as soon as we got

into our separate beds we passed into a long, dark sleep.

But if we had taken the exit to the highway,

we could have kept going for days, driving

to distance ourselves from the tendrils of our pasts

that clawed and groped for us

in the suffocating summer dusk.

© 2010 Silverfish Review Press

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