safe place

Posted on: February 4, 2013

Brit sits on the carpet in the living room, an elbow propped up on the glass coffee table and its corresponding hand cupping her forehead, pushing back her sandy blonde hair. The fingers of her other hand trace the fingerprints streaked across the glass. They remind her of the sticky hands of small children who scream and whine until they get what they want from tired parents. She wastes time and avoids packing up to visit her mother who lives four hours away, her mother who never visits, but always calls. The relationship is strange, as if Brit’s mother never quite understood her role as a parent, but ascertained that food and unwelcome criticism were part of it.

A basket of laundry. An oversized purse. Cell phone charger. Brit slides into the driver’s seat of her old black Jeep and dreads the price tag her gas tank will yield in the hours to come. Making eye contact with herself in the rearview mirror, she pulls back her hair into a loose bun and slides on her sunglasses before cutting on the engine and pulling out of her apartment complex onto the highway. She didn’t eat breakfast and she didn’t call work to say she would be gone for a few days. Brit busses tables at a fancy restaurant downtown and lives mostly off of tips and leftovers. Her father calls every once in a while to ask if she needs money, but she always says no and he always sends a check.

Driving always makes Brit so sleepy. She prepared a high energy playlist for this, but it only seems to lull her faster. The only remedies are impromptu phone calls to various people that she really doesn’t want to talk to, but knows that conversation will keep her from falling asleep at the wheel. One of her friends, Rachel, likes to complain about her boyfriend and say that he doesn’t understand her needs. She talks about how he doesn’t fulfill her emotionally and she kind of wonders if being a lesbian is the answer. Brit says, “Why not give it a shot? You might find your soulmate.” Rachel chastises her with, “Unh! Brit! Like, I’m not that serious about it. God, you sound like you’ve done that. You’re probably gay.” Brit is suddenly wondering why she called, why she gets coffee with this chick once a week, and why she hasn’t hung up yet.

The only redeeming aspect of the drive to her mother’s house is the landscape. Right now it is autumn and the grasses are gold, the trees touting red, yellow, and orange leaves. The lyrics to “Fields of Gold” by Sting are coursing through her mind as she smiles to herself, leaning forward and setting her chin at noon on the steering wheel. Miles of road roll beneath her, making her eyelids flutter every so often. She remembers the long drives of childhood when she would sleep in the backseat with her sister as her father listened to Madonna’s newest cassette. Dreamily, she would say to him, “Hey Dad, I know all the words. Do you want to hear me sing them?” He says yes and she sings until she drifts away once more.

Brit turns onto the long dirt driveway that leads up to the house settled on a vast plain. The Jeep takes the bumps and gravel in stride as it approaches the ranch style home with blue shutters and a large live oak that sprawls its canopy above the roof. There’s a garden in the back, rich with lettuce, mint, and zucchini sure to be on the table this evening. The kitchen window is open and Brit can see her mother standing at the sink, probably washing dishes or fresh produce. Her mother looks up, smiles, and disappears to come to the front door.

They don’t hug or kiss. They probably don’t even say hello. Brit’s mother immediately grabs the laundry basket in the backseat as Brit collects some trash and her purse from the passenger’s side. She slides her sunglasses on top of her head and follows her mother into the house where it smells like rest. Brit takes off her shoes and makes a beeline for the sunroom where her favorite futon is already prepared for her arrival: a blanket, a pillow, and her childhood teddy bear. Her mother starts the first load of laundry and says, “You always forget to empty the pockets.” Brit replies, “I know.”

“Come to the kitchen,” her mother says. Brit complies and sits down on the floor with her back against the refrigerator door. Her mother peels carrots and asks her to fill her in on what’s been going on. Brit talks a little bit about the guy she’s been hanging out with who is really sweet and plays baseball.

“It’s nothing serious, but I like him. He opens doors for me and stuff.”

“That’s good,” says her mother before interjecting, “But don’t get serious so fast. You’ll scare him away.”

“Okay, Mom,” Brit replies as she stands up and makes her way over to the kitchen table.

A blueberry pie sits in the middle and all she wants to do is stick each of her fingertips into the spaces between the braids. She begins to pick at the edges of the crust and slip the tiny pieces between her lips, nibbling as she contemplates the strange coexistence of love and hate for one’s parents. Brit considers the dread she felt as she sat on her living room floor, anticipating her mother’s supreme dissatisfaction with the world, which is constant like the invisible sound of a television that is turned on and muted. What upsets Brit most is that she is also dissatisfied. Try as she might to meet society’s norms and fit in with others her age, she wants nothing more than to disappear as her mother has into the countryside. She wants to turn off her phone and never have to answer again. 

Photograph by: Whitney Ott
Written by: Natasha Akery

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