You're driving a black car with the top down, black ragtop, and you'd better hope it doesn't rain because you've never put the top up before, don't know which button to push on this car that's older than you. You're greener than green, greener than gold, barely old enough to hold a license, let alone this seal-black car that makes you feel like some drooped-cigarette Bogey-Belmondo in an old celluloid clip, leaving mean streets for a chance at open roads and trees that rain down pollen like a dusting of gold club glitter on the lashes on the lips of a boy who was promised everything, then fled. I'll take care of you, he said. A black leather jacket that smells like a man you won't see again. You wonder what he's doing now, erasing your name from his little black book, he's giving you a black eye, you're giving him a black look. But not again.
What you know about him: he keeps his car registration in his wallet, next to the pictures of the wife and kid he said he didn't have and the condoms you knew he did.
What he knows about you: your eyes are hazel-green. You're a "quick study." You don't like cilantro.
You left without a plan, left with nothing but the car keys and whatever change you could fit in your pockets, like a kid running away from home, but this was never your home and this man was never your father even though I'll take care of you, he said. Your father, if he is still alive, is younger than this man.
How long before he wakes and finds you gone? You don't think he'll call the cops. He's not like you; he's got something to lose.
All these places you've passed, city limits, county line. Where you are now is quiet. The road is smooth and fast and you won't go back unless you're dragged back, but you don't think you'll be dragged. You've hit the road for real and this is where you live now, this night, this yellow moon, these trees rustling and bending and dropping sweet blossoms like tears onto your waiting face.
Four children swing from an apple tree. All of them are happy. None of them are me.
My sister Elise is four. She’s in a tire swing: bowl-cut hair, purple shirt, holding tight to a Blow Pop. Her smile is wide, eyes a little dazed. She’s not sure what’s going on today, why our mother’s in the hospital, why we’ve been farmed out to a friend’s house. But there’s candy!
Sara and her friend Jamie, both seven, hang upside down from the same branch, caught in a fit of laughter. They’re the only two people in the picture not related, but they look the most alike: “the twins,” our mother used to call them, not smiling, even before the day Sara showed up at Jamie’s with her suitcases and asked if Jamie’s parents could adopt her. Sara’s got her rocket pop between her teeth like a Spanish dancer’s rose. Jamie is hanging one-handed, rocket pop in the other hand. No one tells them, You’ll fall and choke on that! Their t-shirts have rolled down, exposing their skinny white bellies. They don’t notice, don’t care.
Dawn, the oldest, straddles a branch, pop held like a cigarette. It’s a self-conscious pose: knee socks rolled down, one knee slightly bent, smile a teasing half-smirk. She’s nine; her dark brown eyes look away, already plotting escape.
Jamie’s mom took the picture. My sisters stayed with her while our mom was in the hospital. They’d be staying with her a lot over the next few years. Auntie Jan, we called her, though she was our mother’s friend, not an aunt.
They’re a family I’ve never known. They’ve never heard the words bipolar disorder or postpartum psychosis. Their parents still live together. Their mother’s not crazy.
I’m not in the picture, though it was taken on my birthday. I’m being born: last child, first catastrophe.
About the author:
Kathryn Kulpa was born in Rhode Island and is very fond of coffee. She enjoys leading writing workshops for teens and adults, inventing random word prompts, and marathoning The Walking Dead. She was nominated for a Pushcart Prize for her short story "Lights Out: Zelda at Highland Hospital," published in Up, Do: Flash Fiction by Women Writers (Spider Rose Press). You can read more of her work in NANO Fiction, Superstition Review, and here.