Excerpt from The Distance
I’m squeezing my eyes shut to keep the dirt out, but I can hear a car coming so I have to look to see if it’s her. So I hold my hands over my face like if I’m crying but just to keep the dirt out, and I open my fingers a little and I open my eyes a little and I look down the street but it’s a truck not her so I close them again.
It’s not cold but the wind is starting to make it colder and I’m a little afraid because I don’t have a coat on or a rain coat or anything and I’ve been waiting a long time.
She’s going to get me right after work she said so I rode the bus here after school the city bus not the school bus because I don’t go on that one but I like to go to the library after school sometimes. I have a library card of my own. But the library closes at five so I have to wait out here on the steps for her and it’s been about an hour I think. And I can’t read because the dirt hurts my eyes, so I’m just listening.
Louder then softer. Then louder then softer. Every time it gets loud it gets more louder and I know it’s going to rain because I can smell it. Wet dirt. I don’t know why it smells like wet dirt when it’s going to rain and I don’t know why it doesn’t smell like that after the rain starts, but I know that smell.
A lightning bangs really close to me. I see the light everywhere through my eyelids and the boom is gigantic and it makes me jump. Then there’s another right after, then it’s really quiet with no wind or anything. I feel the air get cold on my arms and the hairs all stick up then I hear the rain. It’s just drops on the leaves, then more on the sidewalk close to me then a kind of rush sound from the sky and it starts pouring rain. I open my eyes finally and stand up and back up against the wall but the wind is still pushing rain to me and I’m getting wet and I’m starting to get cold.
This is not the first time she’s late to get me but it’s in a rainstorm and I’m really getting angry at her now. I could get on the bus but that’s 75 cents and I’d have to walk to the bus stop in the rain and she wouldn’t know where I am so I don’t. I just try to move around where the rain can’t get me as much and I’m watching down the street when I finally see the car coming and she pulls up and leans across to push open the door on my side and she yells to me Come on baby, get out of the rain and I run to the car holding the book under my shirt for dryness and jump in and shut the door.
She pushes my hair back with her hand and says, Oh, Gordie, you’re soaked baby, but I won’t look at her. I’m just looking at the wipers on the windshield and how the one on my side leaves a big streak down the middle that it won’t wipe. She’s still looking at me and she says I’m sorry, baby, something came up and I didn’t know it was gonna rain. But I know she forgot me.
Baby, she says again, are you crying? I’m sorry. I’m sorry. Gordie, you have to forgive me. You know I love you.
I’m shaking my head because I don’t want to talk to her and I want to stop crying and finally she sighs really loud and pulls the gear shift and we drive away.
When we get home it’s still raining and I get out and run up the stairs and take off my wet clothes and wrap up in a towel before she even gets there. I’m sitting on the edge of the tub trying to get warm and she comes in and sits on the toilet and she doesn’t try to hug me or anything because she knows I’m still mad because I didn’t talk the whole way home.
I’m looking down at the floor trying to see where all the same patterns are and I can tell she’s watching me even though I have the towel over my head and it hangs down in front where she can’t see me. Then I see that there’s water dripping on the floor and it’s because she’s wet too but she’s just sitting there saying nothing. After a while I get up and pull the other big towel off the bar and I put it over her head. She just sits there with a towel on her head and that’s kind of funny but I’m not saying anything. I don’t feel like it yet.
I put my hands on the towel and start to rub them around the way she does when I get out of the tub only now I pretty much dry my own hair but sometimes I still let her. She just lets me dry her hair for a while then she grabs on to me and pulls me into a hug and I’m kind of bent over with my legs pushing against the toilet and it’s uncomfortable but I let her hug me for a while and I pull the towel off her head and I smell her wet hair and I smell this other smell that she smells like sometimes.
Finally she lets go and I stand up and I still have the towel over my head and she says You look like a monk. I make a face at her and she says A monk in his underwear and that almost makes me crack up but I still don’t want to.
Why don’t you go put on your pajamas then come get your wet clothes and hang them over the tub and I’ll go make some dinner. You want tomato soup?
I nod because that’s perfect on a rainy day.
Yeah? Tomato soup?
I nod again.
With grilled cheese?
I pull the towel down off my head and wrap it around my shoulders. Yes, I say, with grilled cheese.
Oh, you’re talking again.
Maybe, I say.
I hope so, she says, and she smiles at me in that way that makes me sad for her sometimes.
I don’t want to sit around here listening to myself talk.
I nod at her. I’m trying not to talk to her.
I’m sick of listening to myself, you know?
Yeah, I say.
Yeah, she says back, soft. Then she lets out a big breath and stands up and goes out to the kitchen and I can hear her getting out the pans and opening the can of soup.
At the table I’m eating my sandwich and I can tell she’s looking at me again. I just keep eating because she’ll say it when she’s ready. Then she does.
You were scared, huh?
I stop eating and look at her. I’m sitting on the stool at the breakfast bar and she’s standing on the other side eating her soup like we usually do.
At the library. You were afraid I forgot you.
I shake my head.
Are you sure? You weren’t scared?
No, I say.
Good. She nods a little. Good. Because I would never forget you. You’re my main thing. You know that, right?
You don’t have to be afraid, Gordie. I’ll always take care of you. That’s one thing I can’t screw up.
I don’t know what to say, so I start eating my soup again.
You’re too important.
Okay, I say.
I’m thinking was I scared and maybe I was a little but not for very long and I’ve been more scared before. And I guess she’s right I didn’t need to be scared. She never forgets me.