This story deals with Mature Themes and Subject Matter.
By Paul Riches
A bump sends a shimmy all through the car, just when the decade old grey vehicle exits the highway and embraces the off ramp, but neither of the passengers notices this rude interruption to their mutual silence. Staring straight ahead, never altering their vision, they ignore the road’s inspections and its constant slaps to their ride, all focus instead on disregarding the other.
The quietness inside is only matched by the measly odour of sweat and grime. Windows are done up tight, leaving no escape to the normal world so close by. The sweet light summer air does not touch them with its comfort, replaced with the loud creaky violent sounds from a for now functioning air conditioner. This device causes a wail of pain of the high pitched variety, occasionally breaking through the monotony of disquiet. It had long been hoped for by both riders that this offensive noise could be safety ignored, and luck still held at this point, making one mutual agreement for them. But only this one.
The bottom of the ramp provides another shimmy, which breaks the solitude and gives permission for the driver to renew a previous lecture.
“I still do not understand or comprehend your lousy terrible attitude here.” She strives to sound logical and intellectual, but is betrayed by a sarcastic undertone.
“Nothing Mother.” The passenger beside the driver snaps her head as she replies, turning as far as possible the other way, all in an effort to look out the window and ignore what is being said. She wishes she could turn her head away even more.
“Don’t nothing mom me Cara!” She snaps, her iron grip on the steering wheel causes bony knuckles to whiten. “Why is this so difficult for you? Just to do what is needed? What is required?”
So many responses go through Cara’s thoughts, all of which would bring about the pain of a thousand miseries from mother. This kind of confrontation has occurred before in the car, enroute to various events like this one, and is never pleasant for Cara. Being stoic at these moments ensures survival. Her words are swallowed and her stare locks onto the outside of the window.
“You just keep your little mouth shut and do what you’re told!” Her mother spits the words out, with daggers of anger now completely visible. Whipping one hand off the steering wheel, she punches buttons on the radio and pulls up music. A nondescript eighties pop tune scrambles out of speakers behind them, but no notes soothe the friction boiling away.
Cara’s neck muscles start to ache with all the twisting they are living in at this moment. Her eyes glaze over with thoughts as objects barely registering fly by the window. Buildings, low rise strip malls, empty fields full of rubbish, all combine into an endless series of grey parading their uselessness. A seagull squawking into view from behind the car, floating, but not quite catching up with them, is the one movement that clarifies the mental jumble possessing her soul. Its graceful exit from view, falling into the behind of her, calls back six years past. The time of the horror of the butterflies.
Arguments between her parents was the first and only memory Cara knew of any kind. What seemed normal and rational to her toddler psyche contained insults flung and hatred prevailing. Every day, whether in the living room, the kitchen, or out among the common folk, Mommy and Daddy wanting the other to evaporate into an eternity of damnation was a mantra. When school started, Cara began a crash course in how dysfunctional her perceptions were. Councilors entered her life when more and more details of the war at home became noticeable, even to the other clueless children. A single meeting at school erupted into chaos, with a thrown stapler shattering a door window and the man called Daddy vanishing from Cara’s life. People known as lawyers soaked up money trying to alternatively seek vengeance and justice from her erstwhile former father. Dwindling life in what’s left of her family is accompanied by this lack of cash flow. This existence goes on forever in Cara’s young mind, until the day the new end began.
Her mother took a rare break one night from screaming on the phone at various relatives and friends over every perceived slight directed her way, and instead calmly chain smoked through an old magazine found someplace in the cramped apartment called home. An article, taking place some years before, grabbed her attention and relegated the cigarette to another memory. Excitement raced through her face, pulling the magazine closer and closer, willing its information inside.
“Holy Crap!” She exclaimed to the article, and, hopefully, to Cara playing nearby and happy for a sound from her mommy not at excessive volume. “This guys kid broke a world’s record for collecting greeting cards, and now they are all over talk shows and stuff. And they got a sponsorship deal with a card company! Now that is a scam, making money that way, just getting a kid to do something any old adult can do.” She glared at Cara with narrowed eyes, her face pursed into thinking mode, the cigarette almost burned down to the bony fingers it lived in. “We could do this, we could. With my brains and us telling everyone you are doing it, or at least a chunk of it in front of all them, we could do this.” The burn of the cigarette steadily approached her fingers. Her eyes glared, filled with plans now forming, all aimed at Cara, who was staring back with uncomprehending eyes. Happiness was before her, a tale her mommy rarely showed for the longest of times, but the concept causing this turn of events, that which she was talking about, was foreign and slightly scary. “How about it Cara-Pie? We show that no good jerk of a father that we can make it without chasing his running ass all over the place? We pick out something nice and fun and simple, can’t forget simple, and set-up with it. Before we know it, we will be living in luxury!” The burn of the cigarette touched the skin, ever so gently and without malice, of Cara’s mother. A scream of pain caused her to jump up and bang her hips into the table, making a loud jiggly motion that distracted all. The offending cigarette plummeted to the floor and laid there, oblivious to what it had caused. Cara wished years later that this would have been enough of a distraction to make everyone forget the plans in motion just seconds before. But luck showed no love that day.
Over the next few days, half done research became the watchword for her mother. Flipping and scanning through newspapers and magazines with desperate eyes, trying to locate the easy task guaranteed to succeed. Mutterings and occasional glances are the only meaningful conversation Cara shares with her mother during these moments. Cara never fully learns what is being discarded or considered at this point, knowledge deemed useless to her by this stranger now consumed with a quest.
With this fervent activity operating at the cluttered table, Cara was detaching herself from this reality by playing with her longtime best friend, her little yellow toy truck with oversized black tires. Her bliss disappeared with a shout of “That’s it!” flying from the table. By the time Cara looked up, her mother had already flung whatever article has inspired her off to the side.
“Hey Cara-Pie, how do you like pretty butterflies? They are so pretty! You could be the youngest butterfly collector in the world!” Her mother raised a joyful sound on the last word, hoping to send contagious enthusiasm into the six year old clutching a truck in front of her.
The next day, library books lived on the kitchen table. Some old, others held together by wisps of remaining glue, and a slim minority written in the last decade. The one common denominator was the topic of butterflies. Cara was placed in a chair and handed book after book, eventhrough her reading ability was barely adequate to the mountain before her. Growing impatient, her mother glared through a cloud of cigarette smoke. “Too slow! Too slow! You have to learn this crap faster!” Picking away at the pile, she pulled out a picture book and shoved it into Cara’s hands. “Learn to tell one from another with this one.” But all this just becomes even more of a blur to her young mind.
After a week of studying under her mother’s watchful eye, Cara was subjected to her final exam. If passed, then real butterflies would enter her life.
“What is this one?” Her mother asked, holding her hand over the name in the book.
“I, I don’t know.” Cara whispered while squirming to escape from her seat.
“YES YOU DO! You have been reading this crap for days! So stop lying to me and answer the question!” Her mother shouted while holding Cara down into the chair.
“It’s a, it’s a butterfly…” Cara gave a response that sounded reasonable to her.
“Liar! You know this! You want us to be poor forever!” A slap across Cara’s face finished off that moment. Tears drenched cheeks even as the pain in her face throbbed. “ANSWER!” Her mother bellowed.
The next hour continued with these activities non-stop. Question. Incorrect answer. Slap. Question. Incorrect answer. Slap. Question. Incorrect answer. Slap. With sore cheeks and uncontrollable sobbing being the only result, her mother finally ended the pop quiz of Cara. She smushed her cigarette out in the overflowing ashtray, then glanced up through the leftover smoke at her trembling child. With a last burst of anger, she flicked her now dead butt out of the tray and at Cara’s wet face. It bounced off her chin and rolled to the floor. “You’re stupid. Get out of my sight.” Cara did not wait another second and ran for her room, hoping the slammed shut door would protect her from the butterflies.
Silence became the new order of next few days. The library books were thrown into a pile by the door, before finally disappearing back to where they came from. Some days later her mother got a job at the local supermarket, telling Cara, then blaming her for this situation. “You never told me you hated butterflies,” she snarled while putting on her work vest.
The happy happy pop music is not working on the cars inhabitants. Any soothing powers the funky beats possess never reach Cara’s soul or her tension filled neck. The sound of the grinding motor of the air conditioner thankfully fills the space between the two. The window gives only limited grey entertainment on this dull overcast day. Peeks of sunshine play hide and seek, popping out of the clouds just long enough to bathe bits and pieces of life with its radiance. Cara notices, and is not surprised, when she is not selected for this. Her eyes look up to catch a glimpse between the flatness. Into this gap, floating impossibly in the air, is a plane. A frown forms, breaking the monotonous facade Cara usually lives with. Boppy music and grinding car parts blank out from her. Airplanes only cause pain now.
After two years of working and complaining about supermarket life, Cara’s mother was still occasionally thinking up new concepts for record breaking. Most never got beyond some initial research, now accomplished by a home computer and an extremely slow internet connection. Lists were drawn up of possible targets, with nothing seeming to be able to produce the money required for luxury. On one night, her mother pulled away from the online world just long enough to grab another cigarette from the pack. She than tosses the now empty box onto a pile made up of unpaid bills, partially clipped coupons, and little scraps of paper. Looking at a just refreshed webpage while lighting the cigarette, her eyes narrow on a banner ad about exotic vacations. Seconds later, as the gears shifted and clicked into dollar signs, her eyes widened. “Cara! Planes!” Cara stopped rolling her truck around in a circle and felt a sting on her cheek. Her mother had not hit her, but she still felt a slap. She breathed hard and long. Something else to hate that flies.
Two days later, without the benefit of any library knowledge gained or internet site glanced at, her mother had bundled them up and headed off to a small airport just outside the city. A large hanger with all sorts of small planes parked idly inside, greeted them. Cara stood just outside the small office of the flight school owner. He did not look like a pilot to her. But then again, she had never seen a pilot before, so what did she know? With the door open, the whole conversation, ongoing for several minutes, quickly degenerated into an argument. And her mother was rapidly losing ground.
“She is not taking flying lessons! I don’t care much you want to pay me, or any media deals you offer. She is only eight!”
“But she is a very smart eight your old. She has always loved butterflies, planes, and all sorts of flying things! She practically begged me to take her out here and go into the air!” Her mother finished off by poetically waving her arms in the air, while looking upwards wistfully, with a flourish that came across comical to anyone watching.
“No. N. O. No way in hell. She is too young. And look at her,” he pointed at Cara standing just outside the door, “She definitely does not want to fly. Not in the slightest,” he looked at Cara’s immobile features and shook his head. “Why are you forcing this onto her?”
“I am not forcing this onto her!” Her mother stabbed her finger forward, pointing an accusation towards him. “You just don’t want to do this, for, for, my poor child!” The searched for words spilled out quickly. The next part skipped out with much faked sorrow. “My daughter has Cancer. She will be dead soon. Please let her fly.” Tears welled up and started to pool under her eyes. Cara was stunned. She knew what Cancer was. She did not have Cancer, at least as far as she was aware of. What was her mother not telling her?
“She has Cancer?” He asked incredulously, than turned and stared at Cara again, reading her surprise. “She has Cancer?” He asked again with an edge of anger pouring out. A pause of a few seconds, followed by a final eruption, closes all further discussions. “Get the hell out of my office!” He pointed to the exit with his arm visibly shaking.
Her mother stormed out, cursing the man and his parentage, and grabbed Cara roughly by the arm. As they make their way to the car, Cara finally gained the courage to voice her terror.
“Do I have Cancer?”
“Of course not, you idiot. Now we got to find another way to get money.” She lit a cigarette while looking for her car keys.
The clouds close up on the sunshine. But it made no matter to Cara, since none of it came even close to the car, still filled with attempting to be catchy songs from long ago and the rattling of some unseen motor. Cara could hear her mother scrambling for a cigarette, than succeeding in her task when the smell of smoke touches her nose. It momentarily takes her attention away from the throbbing in her neck, all along one side. This pain is less, far less, than dealing with the woman called mother.
A long harsh field zips by the window, party hemmed in by a dismantled and deteriorating fence. It abruptly ends when a small strip mall appears out of context beside it. Two convenience stores and a fish and chips place blip into her eyes, but the twirling roadside sign, advertising the computer store sitting alone at the end of the building, makes contact the most. Flipping around and around, the sign alternates from “Cells Unlocked” to “Training Offered.” Computers are her secret.
After almost a year filled with court orders and litigations, her mother finally squeezed some more much needed money from Cara’s long absent father. It was a small bounty, but brought the bills close to up to date. By the time of Cara’s ninth birthday, no gifts were given because of tightness of funds still being active, but the true present was this long spell of peace from her mother. While still arguing with anything and anyone who crossed her path, chain smoking all along the way, she had not queried Cara about ideas involving money. They still rarely talked, which pleased Cara to no end, but this was only outwardly admitted while in the privacy of her room.
Cara was almost fooled into assuming a somewhat normal life, when one day her mother was silently reading some article online, which should have worried Cara right away. Jumping from the computer, clapping her hands together with absolute glee, she exclaimed joy to Cara, who was cooking dinner in the kitchen. Maccaroni and cheese was the specialty quite often, including tonight. Cara jumped away from the boiling pot, knowing full well what was about to happen. “Apps! You can be the youngest apps maker in history! They will pay us millions!” Her mother finished off by doing a little dance all around the small apartment. Cara’s heart hurt watching this display. She prayed for a second that her mother would trip and fall down and not get up. Cara hated that thought as soon as it formed and felt ashamed. Then she saw her mother still dancing and bit her lip to prevent the prayer from being conjured again.
An hour later, tutorials and videos were force fed to Cara online, all to learn what the whole world has to offer about apps. With her mother smiling and laughing and chain smoking all along right behind her, Cara plunged into this before now unknown place. At first, it was all a confusing jumble with much talk of what works where and how. Soon this alien language slowly started to make some sense to her, which brought a measure of happiness to this task. When the clock hit ten, her mother, while quite pleased with the progress made, began to flag and wanted to wrap up for the night.
“Actually, can I stay up some more?” Cara turned in the chair and pleaded.
Her mother looked pleased and gently touched her daughter’s head.
“Sure Cara-Pie, that would be okay.”
As her mother walked away to her room, Cara felt love for the first time in what seemed like years towards this woman, someone who hours ago she wished harm upon. Shame filled her. Her mother was back, the woman who vanished even before she was six, the loved one who may never have existed except in some nirvana memories Cara harboured. The fact this reality is all because one of her mothers plans could finally work this time, finally fulfill the constant need for money, so much of it seemingly needed because of Cara, as she was continually told, all these thoughts were denied their proper enlightenment in her young mind. This jumble was pushed aside with the simple happiness of a mother finally content and money now guaranteed.
Cara spent two more hours piling into the minutia of apps, with the basic ingredients becoming clear to her. The skill and magic of coding was required and the unique ability to ferret what was needed by the greater mass of humanity. Learning the technical language was coming easy to Cara, whipping through online tools at record speed. Computers, a fact of life for so many, especially her age, was an environment she rarely ventured into, with her mother monopolizing their ancient desktop model. As the clock ticked by twelve thirty, she knew the programming tactics would prove not difficult for her till now hidden talents. The real issue, the one to trip the two of them on their long fought road to success, was going to be the desperate need to find that one unique app. Cara shifted her now laser attention to scanning the millions of apps available, eyes darting over screen after screen of what the market held, trying to find the missing link the world wanted. One o’clock hit with no tiredness on Cara’s part, just steely determination to solve all of life’s problems right now. By two, lethargy finally started winning over her nine year old body, with pinching her arm and searching online for wake up tips being her remedies. Two fifteen became the surrender point, with Cara dragging her tired self into her room and hitting her bed, still fully clothed. Sleep came easily, with visions of peace dancing before her closed eyes.
Before Cara awoke fully, the computer pounced into her thoughts. The sun had risen and beamed its rays of love into her room, greeted her on this new day. Glancing at the clock and seeing it was almost eight and her instrument of creation, the computer was waiting for her magic. Sprinting out of bed, Cara was within seconds back at where she had barely left off at. Her mother was moseying out of the kitchen, steaming coffee in one hand and half done cigarette in the other. “Hey Cara-Pie, up and at it again? That’s my girl!” A smile, not usual in these situations, spread across her face.
Cara was happy at this moment, to mutually have something between them, that she gave her mother a face full of triumph and a glow of joy.
Her mother looked startled at this display and let the discomfort show. Cara barely sees this unease, having already turned back to her work. The rest of the day goes by with minimal disturbances to Cara’s workflow. Bathroom breaks are executed with ruthless efficiency, meals consumed at super speed, and hands only leaving the keyboard in order to guzzle water and soda in equal amounts. While Cara was completely immersed into programming, even pulling off some rudimentary ones, and quickly graduating to more advanced work, the elusive fact of just what her app would be still had not found her. All the while, her mother, a being not noticed or acknowledged by Cara for hours and hours, was sitting like a twisted vegetable full of anger on the couch. Her rightly seat at the computer was taken, and she was relegated to the regular old television nearby, which was massively not as fun or interactive. By nightfall, her temperament was reaching its end.
“Are you done yet? How long does it take to create a god damn app?” She shouted out of nowhere.
Cara jumped in her seat. Programming had become her blood now, pulling at her mind and soul and welcoming its newest, most vigourous recruit. She stared at the back of her mother’s head and saw the snarly face on the other side. This shook her. The mission they both were on today now seemed like folly, since all was fine and good with the quest for money until it disturbed her mother’s precious life and schedule and so called well being. All of Cara’s thoughts and feelings retreated to self defense, well away from the rest of the day. She knew what she had to do to survive, roll back the clock to yesterday, and try to placate the beast.
“The programming part I am good at,” she answered half truthfully, because mentioning that she was actually great at it would have declared war, “It’s now trying to find the right app to make.” Cara struck a casual tone, making it sound as if that last part was a minor quibble in life. “What do you think our app should be?” Including her mother was an obvious attempt to bring her into this mysterious process, knowing full well any help provided would slow Cara down. This enterprise was entirely on the young girl’s shoulders, but this could never be known by her mother.
“Well why didn’t you ask me Cara-Pie?” She said the last bit with a sarcastic flip. Her mother bolted up from the sedentary position and strided across the room with an in charge step. “Remember I know what people want, no need, Cara-Pie. You are far too young to understand those basic human principles.” Even at nine, Cara knew this wicked tongue of her mother’s condescension, but paid it no mind since it changed the tone at lightning speed. The next precious minutes, stretching to almost half an hour, was daughter explaining to mother what the immense field of apps held. Dumbing herself down, recovering research completed already, Cara started the slow beginning of inclusion. Her mother would interrupt and babble nonsense that prompted lying nods from Cara.
This universe of dishonesty made for survival over the rest of the week. When alone at the computer, Cara would slam through material at breakneck speed, with epic results apparent. When mother was hovering behind, the time was sucked up with brainstorming useless ideas to utilize Cara’s talents. That one target, always nebulous, always missing, still stymied Cara, the new genius, and her mother, the old dimwit.
By the eighth day, Cara had accomplished another great miracle of learning, all while watching the clock for when her mother would be home from the meager supermarket job. She had prepared a false report full of hope and promise, all to quiet the juggernaut about to enter the apartment. As soon as the key hit the lock, Cara bounded over and brimmed her mother’s ears with tales of apps and online wonderment. The ploy worked, it always worked, and the sad fact this play had to be used at all only bothered the edges of Cara’s soul.
Finished with listening to the fiction, her mother planted in front of the television, with a smoke already living between her fingers. Cara set back to real work, saving their lives.
The shout punctured Cara’s reverie. She glanced fearfully over to the couch. Her mother had exploded up, with arms wildly hitting the air in front of the television.
“This little bastard just stole our money! Our money!” Her mother wailed in agony, twisting limbs to mirror the shouts. “Why does God hate us?” She screeched upwards to the heaven represented by the stained apartment ceiling. “WHY?” This last exclamation caused her body to crumple to the floor like discarded paper.
Cara carefully edged off her perch and slowly circled around to the far side of the couch. Staring at the offending source of her mother’s misery, the television set, she gasped at the horror before her.
A news story, a nice long extended profile, was being paraded onscreen. An eight year old boy, somewhere out in a place called Toledo, had created and perfected an app.
Blood fled her body. An app. Her Holy Grail, the reason for these sugar fueled eighteen hour stretches on the computer mixed with soothing talk to her mother, was now out of her grasp. Peace and money evapourated at that instant. This boy, a year younger, had destroyed her life.
Still filling the room with anguish, her mother’s body kept contorting and twitching into impossible spasms.
Tears pelted her mother’s eyes as she belted out another primal thought.
The news report continued, not even noticing the chaos it had wrought. Bits about the app being released tomorrow, how anticipated it was, and the unrivalled genius of the boy, with parents beaming on in the background.
Half straightening her form, arms now moving with some measure of control, her mother flung back the remote, then whipped it at the television. Betraying her effort, it clanged off the bottom corner of the set, smacking off the back panel of the remote and causing the two small batteries to flee.
Dropping her cigarette to the floor, she scrambled over the couch, muttering obscenities to the world. Reaching the computer, she kicked the chair out of the way, knocking it on its side, and grabbed the mouse.
“What are you doing?” Cara exclaimed, racing up behind her and clawing at the mouse.
“It’s over! It’s over! Your stupid little project! Was never going to get us any money anyway!” Her mother shouted, while struggling with Cara over the mouse.
“IT’S OVER! YOUR CRAPPY LITTLE THING IS GARBAGE!” Her mother bellowed as she finally shook Cara off and shoved the young girl onto the upturned chair. The pain of collision reverberated throughout her body, but was promptly ignored by Cara’s determination. Before she could become untangled from the chair, she saw her mother glare down at her, all full of spite and venom.
“This waste of time will end NOW!” Her mother pronounced the last word with the authority of an evil god, slamming Cara into submission. If she was older, if she was bigger, maybe Cara’s future could have been saved. If. If. If. At this moment, she knew with absolute knowledge, that the life she was planning, somewhere down the line, was gone. Cara stayed in the heap on the floor, with the chair jammed around her, just giving in now to the inevitable.
Having won the battle of wills, her mother gave Cara an extra glare, turned back to the computer, and began clicking away. Cara stared defiantly, as file after file was piled into the garbage can on screen. All the wonderful things she had accomplished, every bit of her soul poured into this starting project, now about to join oblivion.
“Done! Done with this nonsense!” Her mother clicked one last time, onto the empty trash button, and was signaled triumph by the crunchy sound effect.
She turned back to Cara, glowing with pride, and was met by the smoldering gaze of a nine year old full of hate.
“This was for the best! That other kid beat you! We had no choice! Time to move on!” Her mother kept pleading, babbling away with multiple excuses offered to explain this plan away.
Cara pulled herself up in one quick motion. She faced her mother dead on. Their eyes locked. No words came out of Cara, just a stare, pummeled into her mother.
She holds this position for several seconds, then turns away and strided into her room and slammed the door.
“Cara! Cara-Pie! I love you! Come give your mom a hug!” Her mother pleaded to her daughter, now escaped behind a solid door.
The streetscape has become another blur of dullness, with one or two small office building poking into the landscape. Another bump in the road causes the speakers to warble a bit, making the song almost match the pitch of the air conditioner. Cara could not figure out of if it is all these constant thoughts, always with her, day and night, or her aching neck muscles, a new development for this ride, bringing forth the slight tears gently stinging her cheeks. She never told her mother how truly great she is at those precious computer skills, knowing full well the damnation everything would become. Those abilities were downplayed for survival, a horror she knew no child should have to partake in.
An intersection, empty of life, passes by. More smoke, floating over from her mother, bothers Cara. A billboard appears on the horizon and she can hear her mother snort in derision. It is advertising a movie, opening soon, based on a popular teen book. A book she would have loved.
Silence rules between the two for the most part during there few times together. Two years of mostly solitude, with keeping the distance being the rule of the days. When alone, whether at school or when her mother is working her odd hours, Cara busies herself with accomplishing straight A’s. The computer remains untouched by her as much as possible, all in order to avoid the wrath of mother. This daily routine is painful, but necessary, until Cara can find a way from here.
About six months to her twelfth birthday, the newest horror started.
Her mother barged in late one night from work and invaded Cara’s room, waving something in her hand non-stop. Cara repressed her first urge, to order her mother out and end the conversation with a glare, because even with her additional height from over the last few years, she was still a fraction undersize to take on her tormentor. Instead she listened, pretending respect, all to find out what scheme had broken their treaty.
“A lady at work gave me this book! Thought you might like it! It’s all the rage! A movie is being made! Imagine how much we could make if you wrote a book!” Her mother’s enthusiasm was bouncing out of her, as if she was attempting to inject it into Cara. “Want to see it?”
She gave the book to Cara, who very carefully took it in hand. She noticed the man on the cover, holding a trident, and quickly realized this was the same book that virtually everyone at school was reading, one group even by the wall at lunchtime. She had ignored all this, focusing to the exclusion of all else, on schoolwork. Now her mother was handing over a copy, not for enjoyment or enlightenment, but to try to replicate it’s success.
She looked up to her mother’s eager, awaiting, face. Cara knew this was going to happen, with her consent or not, since her mother had decided already. It would be just easier to go along.
“Looks interesting! Let’s try it!” Cara faked a happy smile, all to clear her mother from the room.
The next day the plan was formed. She would read the first three chapters, then the final one, then peruse one or two online reviews, all to get a feel for what plot elements made this book a success. Cara was not happy with this cheat, but again remained silent. After a few days, she had completed this task with much remorse, since she really loved the start of the book and was not happy with missing the middle sections, but had grasped enough of the ingredients to please mother. By Saturday, Cara was stationed in front of the computer, with her mother gleefully patrolling behind, chain-smoking away. She proceeded to write what her analyzing had told her to, but it became increasingly obvious that mimicry, not invention, was what Cara was perpetrating. Realizing this, she tried to throw in twists, but found more and more she was just swiping what she had caught of her mother’s reality shows. By the end of the first day, mother was visibly upset that the word total only equaled five hundred.
“Stop being so fancy-assed! You’re not Shakespeare or anything!” Her mother shouted while flipping through the printouts.
Cara did not respond. She had written garbage and she knew it. She had no plan except to copy, and copy badly, so what did mother expect? Cara already knew the answer to that, but still had to go through this farce to its bitter end.
Sunday started the same as Saturday, and the word count barely reached a thousand. Her mother this time was not silent, but instead constantly berating every idea and word and action Cara choose, all while barreling through a pack of smokes. By nightfall, the printouts were being waved around like a weapon, while her mother punctuated the air with insults.
“This stink. This sucks. Why is this taking so long? We need a book, and a good book by the way, right now!” She shook the pages in Cara’s face, snarling away. “Do you want this to fail? Have you been failing all this time on purpose? Why do you hate me?”
Cara held her response in check, reigning in her first impulse to smash her mother’s face in.
“THIS IS CRAAAAAAP!” Her mother shouted, crumpling each page into a ball, throwing them into the garbage can, one by one, and sending Cara a daring look.
Not getting any reaction, she grabbed the book that started it all days ago, and slammed into the garbage as well.
Cara still does not move.
Sensing victory, her mother took her cigarette and posed it over the garbage. Then casually dropped it into the can. Seconds later, smoke began to stream out of the top. Cara could smell her work, and her gift, being engulfed by fire.
Her mother smiled. “Anything to say?”
Cara got up and walked back to her room, trailing one word behind her.
Cara’s mind snaps back to the drive as the car suddenly, at too fast a speed, mounts a driveway. She slowly turns her aching neck away from the window and sees the building before her. It is another non descript low rise office building, looking normal in so many ways. Her tear filled eyes spy the sign, their reason for this trip, sitting in a ground floor window.
Her mother has seen something on the news yesterday about how archery is undergoing a big revival these days, and has come up with the idea of Cara winning a medal, a record breaker for someone her age. The fact she had never expressed interest in the sport never enters these plans.
As her mother parks the car, flicks off the radio and air conditioner, she creates an eerie silence, then breaks the moment by gathering her purse and preparing to head out. The cigarette will be the last to go, right before they enter the building.
Cara wills herself invisible.
Closing her eyes tight, praying with all her young might for mother to not see her, or suddenly have an epiphany and become a whole other person, or for her to wake up and be six again and have both parents in love.
Anything but this.
“Get out of the car damnit.”
Cara’s eyes pop open. It has not worked. No answer comes for her pain. Willing her limbs to move, she slowly exits the car. In a daze, she stares at the Archery sign, and cannot continue forward.
“Move your ass.” Her mother snaps as she comes around the car.
Cara opens her mouth.
Cara says the word from deep inside and is surprised by it. The one word on her lips since she was six is uttered. And she is happy with the word.
“What did you say to me?”
The one word comes out again. It is not an abnormality. It is her.
“WHAT DID YOU SAY TO ME?”
Sensing a change she does not fully understand, her mother shifts gears.
“This is for us to make money! Don’t you want that?”
“No. This is for you only.”
Cara‘s inner cork is opened, pulling out another her, one who now says everything her soul is feeling. The instinct of just surviving has now become the dominance of control.
Her mother, looking scared and desperately trying to regain command, flips into a mode rarely used in years.
“Cara-Pie. Sweetie. You are my little one”
“You have not called me Cara-Pie since I was eight.” She snaps.
She could tell the universe is moving, maybe her prayers are answered, because that last tactic proves how dangerous she now is.
“Cara-Pie, Cara, honey, sweetie.” Her mother visibly grapples with words foreign to her. “Mommy just wants the best for you. Mommy wants you to be happy. Mommy loves you.” She trails off at the last part, completely realizing how insincere and odd it all sounds coming out of her. Cara sees the nervous energy in her mother shoot the cigarette back up to her mouth, causing one very long inhalation to happen, resulting in an extended coughing fit while exhaling. Cara notices the errant smoke peppers her mother’s eyes with irritation. She does not care.
Many thoughts move to Cara’s tongue, some vile, a few nasty, others bitter and pointed. None seem to encompass succinctly what exactly Cara has now become. But finally one does become obvious.
With a plan now solidified, Cara strides forward with a purpose not seen in her since the days of the app. Walking around her mother, whose features clear from squinting pain to gleeful happiness, she heads towards the door marked Archery.
“Good! Good! Head to the door! Let’s forget all that unpleasantness ever happened! Okay, Cara-Pie?” Her mother’s strangled voice keeps emitting from somewhere behind her, but barley registered in Cara’s ears.
Swinging through the door, she seeks out the front desk, just inside the foyer.
“Hello, you must be Cara, your instructor will be out in a minute.” The receptionist let the words chirp out, then notices the clouds of daughter and mother coming near her.
“Can I use your phone please?” Cara’s tone is even and unemotional, making the receptionist comply immediately. Cara sees the lady’s eyes dart between the two.
“The phone? What do you want the phone for Cara-Pie?” Her mother’s whiny voice filters in from the side someplace.
Cara’s fingers pound three digits on the keypad while she holds the receiver calmly to her ear. A second later, her voice speaks the new plan of salvation.
“Send the police now. I am being abused by Sabrina Stone.”
She sees the receptionist’s horrified look. And she hears her mother, off to the side, screeching.
“WHAT ARE YOU DOING? DON’T SAY THAT! THEY WILL SEND ME TO JAIL! I AM YOUR MOTHER!” Her sounds shake the air with righteous indignation, with only the receptionist being hit emotionally.
Cara turns her head and faces Sabrina, all while still holding onto her lifeline, the receiver, now filling her soul with reassurances from officials sending help.
“No. You are not my mother. Not for years and years. You should be in jail Sabrina. And soon you will be.”
Sabrina is stunned, even dropping her cigarette.
“Good riddance Sabrina, good riddance.”
The Long Drive To Nowhere is Copyright 2013 to Paul Riches
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First published on Friday, April 19th, 2013.