Omen

10 Sep

Dad drove. Dad always drove. In the old country, years before, Dad taught Mother stick shift and she learned how to pass on the left side in fourth, even though oncoming cars made her stomach rumble and get tight with pain. But after a while, Dad got tired of screaming out instructions and he took over there, too. He just drove himself. Always. That’s how it’d been from then on.

The boy sat in the back, on the bench. There was a little cut into the cloth, from the previous owners, and he was pulling at the yellow stuffing. There was no need to pass on the left. The highway often widened into four lanes.
“Leave it,” Mother said from the passenger seat without turning. She was pulling at a long hair on her eyebrow, looking into the visor mirror and toying with the position of the tweezers.

The highway left Ohio and went east through Pennsylvania for a while, then curved down south and cut through old mining towns littered on either side of the concrete ribbon. They advertised their familiar offerings of McDonald’s and Arby’s and Comfort Inns with skyscraping signs and logos perched up on thin poles, spearing the low clouds and fog. It was November. Dad had to drive slower on the wet pavement. He would come up close on a puttering car and shake his head and mutter “damned fool” before switching lanes at the last possible second.
“They ought to move over to the right. It’s the rule of the road,” he’d say.
Mother had learned a long time ago not to watch traffic when Dad was driving, so she busied herself with more out of place hairs on her eyebrow. When she finished she placed the tweezers in its case, put the case inside her purse, and went back to fiddling with the pages of the magazine.
“Leave it, I said.” She shifted her eyes down from the vanity mirror.
“I am,” the boy said and stuffed the material back into the seat through the narrow mouth of the cut. The sharp edges pinched his fingers. Dad came up fast on the bumper of a Chevette and honked twice. The boy heard Mother’s stomach rumble. She flipped pages, wetting her index finger from time to time for a better grip.

They slept in the same room. The boy had his own bed and Mother and Dad shared the other. The motel was just off Highway 1. They had arrived. They were there, in town, only the house had not been readied yet. The men had draped canvas over it, from top to bottom, and were fumigating for roaches and ticks and bed bugs.
“Take this,” Dad said and handed the boy a coffee mug full of broth, which had been boiled by a portable electric warmer plugged into the side of the wall, next to the nightstand. The appliance looked weird; like a big, electric, iron claw which was plunged into the liquid until the water was hot enough to boil. Dad had brought it over from the old country. It’s how he made coffee for he and Mother when they were on the road. The chicken soup tasted faintly like Turkish coffee.
“It’s cold out there,” Dad said and pulled open the window curtain, looking out into the dark, strange night.
“Brush your teeth after,” Mother said, “and then bedtime.”
It was late. After eleven. The highway noise pushed the boy slowly into a restless sleep. He could hear the two of them whispering, and incorporated it into his dreams. And then he couldn’t hear them anymore.

When the boy woke up suddenly, Dad and Mother were already at the window, looking out. There was a huge bang and in his dreams, the boy interpreted it as a chunk of building separating itself from the facade and crumbling down nine stories onto the concrete boulevard. Waking violently in a strange motel room disoriented the boy. He reached for a second pillow on the floor next to the bed, for comfort.
“Jesus,” Dad said.
“What was that?” the boy asked.
They turned, the both of them in unison, saw that he was up, then went back to look. Mother put out her hand in an authoritative “stop” move.
“Jesus.”
The boy walked up to the table, where they were both sitting. Father had a knee on the chair and was craning his neck, his face almost touching the window, his breath fogging up the glass.
“What was that?”
“Eh, what was that. Go back to bed,” Mother said and tried to put her palm on the boy’s chest, only she was still looking out and her hand searched aimlessly for her son’s breast bone.
The boy took off the chain and turned the deadbolt. He pulled hard on the door and it opened with a whoosh of suction created by the heater blowing stale, tepid air inside the room.

The small section of highway just in front of the motel was flooded with light from emergency equipment and fire trucks parked hastily askew, and obliquely to both lines of traffic. They had closed down this segment of the concrete ribbon, and men with helmets were walking about furiously, gesturing and carrying tools and cases and rope or chains. The boy lifted up on his toes and saw the mangled metal of both cars waiting patiently to be dealt with. And then he saw the crushed motorcycle, lying on its side, a crooked pedal up and pointing to the left, like a broken arm calling for help. The body was splayed out a few feet behind the torn machine. It was decapitated. The boy looked for the head. He saw it on the shoulder of the highway, the helmet still on.

Dad shut the door suddenly and pulled the boy by his ear. Then he pointed to the bed. He was angry. Mother pulled the curtains together by the plastic sticks attached to both sides.
“What did I tell you? Huh? What did I say?”

He heard them whispering in his dream. He heard Dad whimper like a fragile child, afraid of what he had seen. He heard him tell Mother that it was a bad omen and God had sent them an awful sign—a celestial gesture of apocalyptic change certain to come into their lives if they didn’t go back. He heard Dad plead his case to return. But Mother was resolute and didn’t budge.

He heard them for a while argue in whispered vitriol, and in his dream the words they were slinging were stealthy arrows flying through the cold, November air in this strange night they were spending, waiting for their new home to be fumigated.

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3 Responses to “Omen”

  1. Rachel 10/09/2008 at 1:11 PM #

    A powerful little piece.

  2. Stef 10/09/2008 at 5:10 PM #

    I like this .. good imagery.

  3. (S)wine 11/09/2008 at 10:55 AM #

    Thank you both.

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