The exit arrives in half-lit neon bulbs
and street lamps sporadic off the highway.
A thump-thump as we cross the overpass—
Dad dropping me off at Exit 108.
I wake to Mom parked in the potholed lot
in front of Dairy Queen. We’re late again.
The exchange was always brief, with few words
save for weekend reports, bedtimes, updates
on sniffles or coughs—efficient dialogue
devoid of undertones, emotive hang-ups
reflective of a marriage long since dissolved.
Then a bear hug from Dad and “See you soon.”
This night is different. I’ve slept at Dad’s
said nothing since we left his house in Parsons.
And as we stop, facing my mother’s car,
his eyes meet mine in rearview: “Stay inside.”
His stare leaves my thoughts spiraling out of time
and down into the dark pages of our past—
The door slam behind my father jerks me
from the seat. “I’ve changed my mind,” he says to her,
and I know to say goodbye to status quo.
Images of broken glass, bloodied fists,
closet hiding spots, screams of hatred and sworn
lies swarm my mind like hornets. Here we go.
Mom’s echo smears around me, “Please don’t,” “Please don’t.”
My father threatens keeping me forever.
The busted picture frame knocked from the wall
when I was two or three. Mom swearing she
will call her lawyer. My father telling me
he’ll kill himself. People watching from inside.
She calls out to me through his flailing arms,
begging me to tell him I’d rather go home
with her. I want to be left alone, kept out
of their latest fight. Dad, so certain he’s right,
tells her he’s unwilling to give me up
and “Screw school. He doesn’t have to go.”
My mother pleads, my father steams—their words
the same tired decade-old battle cry.
Yes, it’s as if I haven’t aged a day.
I slouch as he returns roaring to the car,
saying nothing to me, wanting no part
of his bounty, soiled and sobbing in the seat.
Then he slams the gas and grinds away, leaving
a maelstrom of loose gravel, broken asphalt.
I pass once more through the folds of time and hope
for something like death, watching the dust disperse
until it’s just the neon bulbs, street lamps,
my mother’s shrinking silhouette, and the stars.
I stopped by the bank one day for cash with Jack.
Drive-thru: ahead a child in braids bounced
in the back seat of the 1980 Chrysler
Cordoba while the driver placed a checkbook
inside the drawer. Jack leaned up in his seat:
“Hey, can you cash this check from my grandmamma?
Been dead for 30 years, but you know it good!”
He stopped his mocking when a young girl
in spaghetti straps walked across the lot.
We both took notice—teenagers after all.
Green paint peeled off the Chrysler’s trunk, and inside
the driver tried to feed the child some fries.
“I bet he’s cashing Mom’s welfare check,”
Jack said, swigging his Coke. “The family’s huge,
y’know, with fifteen kids to feed—no child
support from all their different baby-daddies.”
The teller returned the book. And Jack kept on:
“Here’s some cash for crack. Go buy some speakers
for your mangy trunk.” The car now out of view.
What if he’s saving up to send his kid
to school some day?” I asked him, driving up.
He mouthed a what, chewing his Baby Ruth.
I turned away, greeting the girl behind
the glass. And then he laughed so loud a man
standing at the ATM two lanes away
turned and stared. Then Jack yelled out, “I got it!
“He’s saving up to pay off his baby’s momma!”
I couldn’t help but laugh.
But as we left
the bank, our friend Tremaine drove buy, his Hyundai
thumping from the twenty-inch speakers in the trunk.
We waved and shouted at him through two-way traffic
and munched the rest of our candy, downed our Cokes
on the way back home—having nothing more to say.
—Jeremy Byars, Murray, KY