No Direction Home
Updated: May 14, 2021
I'll be on hiatus for the next two weeks - you know, Christmas and New Year's and three teenagers and ALL of the things - but I'll be back the first week of January with new ideas, along with some fresh writing (or at least only day-old). Right now, let's just celebrate the fact that this dumpster fire we call 2020 will soon be in the rearview mirror. Merry Christmas!
Kailee flopped down on her bed, hair hanging down over the side. Her bedspread was black, which she liked, but she was way over the pink and green that had been splashed all over her bedroom, like puke, just last year. She was fifteen. No time for baby shit anymore.
She rolled over onto her back and scratched at her belly, flipping through the playlist on the iPhone she had finally wrangled out of her parents. She was literally the last kid at the high school to get her own phone. Of course, her parents were unmoved by that argument, only caving when there was a lockdown at the school and they couldn’t get ahold of her to see if she was okay. Typical.
She’d included some classic stuff like Cream, Prince, and AC/DC, although her parents liked stuff like that too, which was totally annoying. She kept up with her own generation too; she wasn’t one of those kids. She had songs from Lady Gaga and Drake on there too, although if she was being honest she didn’t like their lyrics or beats too much. She had plenty of Taylor Swift too, although she didn’t tell her friends about that either. It was her little secret.
Right now though, she needed her Mom to help her iron her shirt for the Christmas concert. Kailee played the bass clarinet in the concert band. She was the only one; she liked being a little separate and apart from everyone else. She knew how to wash her clothes - Mom had seen to that, although Kailee didn’t like to do it and would sometimes wear things that were questionably clean rather than wash them - but ironing was its own bag of tricks. She couldn’t quite figure it out. The last shirt she had tried to iron for the last band concert had ended up with a series of triangular marks that looked like burnt Doritos.
She took it down the long hall, down to her parent’s room. The hall dead-ended there. The door was shut. She opened the door without a warning as Prince played in her ears. I shoulda known by the way you parked your car sideways that it wouldn’t last… She held it open for a few seconds, her hand frozen on the handle. Then she shut it quickly but gently, like she did when she washed off her baby brother’s face after breakfast. Fast, but not too hard.
She walked quickly backwards, retreating to her room. She flung the shirt onto her desk chair, where it hung limply. Little Red Corvette, baby you’re much too fast.
The sight of her mother bent over the bed, her breasts bobbling loosely as she rocked back and forth against her father was bad enough. But his face, a terrifying mask, his small but noticeable belly slapping up against her mother in that terrible rhythm, was the worst. Her mom, her mom who made her toast every morning - with too much butter and not enough jelly, but still - her arms bracing herself on the bed, her thighs white and lumpy like pancake batter and her own belly as slack as her mouth. She panted wildly, like a dog after a run. (I like to run in the hot, hot sun. It was a line from one of Ben’s favorite books. Kailee read it to him almost every night while he squealed and clapped his hands and afterwards she would kiss him then with wet and squishy lips, her heart full).
Kailee closed her eyes, trying to flatten the picture that rose up in the stars behind her eyelids. She had seen porn (she was fifteen!) but it always looked funny and plastic and not terrifically enjoyable. She had laughed along with her girlfriends as they watched it on the basement TV at Jenna Stein’s house. Kailee had not wanted to ask where she had gotten the scratched DVD, but she was almost sure it belonged to her father, Mr. Stein, who was bald and drank lots of dark beer and watched golf on TV.
Kailee went downstairs. Her stomach was queasy and her mouth tasted hot. She was at the refrigerator door, looking for something easy to eat – something that didn’t require any thought or effort – when her father appeared. A salty, earthy smell rose off of him and his hair, curly but thinning, was sticking out over his left ear. He was tucking his shirt into his waistband.
He mouthed something to her but she had her earbuds in and couldn’t hear him. Turn it down, he mouthed exaggeratedly and mimicked turning the dial down. This always irritated her – because it made him look so freaking old – but usually she was a good girl and did what she was told. She would turn it down, maybe rolling her eyes, but she would turn it down. She would also feed Ben when asked and she would read him books and she would even change his diaper, being sure to wash around his little mushroom penis and into the folds and cracks of his fat upper legs. She did these things because she was a good daughter.
But now she looked at her father, her own mouth clamped tight, pressing the volume up button on her iPhone. Dylan recited his tinny lyrics straight into her brain: How does it feel? To be on your own?
She shut the fridge door, no longer hungry or queasy, and ran upstairs, leaving her father standing there alone.
That night at the concert, Kailee sat on the stage with the band - who were small but mighty as Ms. Leigh, the director always told them, shaking her fists to punctuate the phrase - waiting for the next song in her freshly-pressed dress shirt, already dampening at the armpits. Connor Wilkins sat next to her in a Santa hat, his bassoon swept off to the side towards her. He bounced it against her calf as he flipped the page for the next song. Sorry, he mouthed, his lips curving into a smile that told her he was not very sorry at all.
The glare of the stage lights produced stars in Kailee’s eyes. At the dim edges, she saw Ben sitting contentedly on her father’s lap. He was not waving his short arms in the air or chewing on his fist or fussing from having to sit still so long; he was really listening, almost transfixed by her music. Her father’s hair was combed now into sparse waves that curled primly against his head. He was smiling with his teeth for no reason at all.
Her mother sat beside them, apart. She was not smiling. Her hands were clasped tightly as if in prayer, although their family was not religious. Her legs were crossed at the knee, and her overlapping leg swung in loose time to the rhythm of the unforgivably young and merry band.
You're invisible now, you've got no secrets to conceal, Kailee thought wildly and began to laugh into her instrument, producing a terrible squeak that reverberated through the auditorium. Ben clapped and her father winced. Still, her mother was unmoved.