You Can’t Get There from Here: Chapter Five


You Can’t Get There from Here

by Lyralen Kaye

Chapter Five

When Erin got home the following afternoon, Janet sat in the living room, a romance novel open on her lap, her head had fallen to the side. Asleep, Janet looked almost kind, her blonde hair a halo around her cheekbones and forehead, around her closed green eyes. Her slender body cradled by the cushions of the chair, lines smoothed from her face, she was a madonna at peace, softened by the snow-refracted winter light, capable of nurturing. She seemed a woman for whom the American dream had been written; and Erin could almost imagine she would wake a different person entirely.

For a long moment Erin stood without moving. Her stomach turned over, her skin itched from smoke and sex, she wanted desperately to shower. Instead, she watched her mother, sleeping—hands flat on her lap, her maroon skirt spread over her knees, the shimmer of light on her nylons—and almost left her there, almost said nothing at all, as if that were the only gift she could offer, the only tenderness possible between them. But then Erin saw Beth’s schoolbag leaning against the wall, she lifted her head and listened for her sounds of her sister in the house. Silence echoed back at her, mocking. She shoved her hands into her pockets and swallowed, hard.

“Where’s Beth?” she asked loudly.

Janet started awake, gasping. Her eyes shut, then opened again. They looked like an animal’s, trapped. “You scared me,” Janet said.

“Sorry. Where’s Beth?” Erin clamped her lips together, tried to bring her voice down, tried not to yell.

“With your father. He came late, no surprise.”

“You let him take her?” Erin pushed her fists against her thighs until they hurt. “Was he drinking?”

“How should I know?” Janet asked. “It’s impossible to tell, except when he’s angry.”

“You let Beth go out with him and you don’t even know if he was sober? Christ, what’s the matter with you, Mom?”

“It’s our new agreement. He gave me back some money and I agreed—”

“Is there anything you won’t sell to get more money?”

“Lower your voice, Erin. You can’t come in here using language like that—”

“Right. I can’t say anything. I’m just supposed to watch you destroy my sister.”

Janet stood up, folding the book carefully, without taking her eyes from Erin’s face. “What do you think I should have done?”

“How about driving her to meet him, and then picking her up?”

“Well maybe if you had been here instead of out doing whatever else it is you do—”

The back door swung open. “Mom?” Beth called.

Janet and Erin stared at each other.

“Janet?” Thomas’ loud footsteps sounded on the kitchen floor. “Beth,” he said. “Maybe they went Christmas shopping.”

“I’m out of here.” Erin hissed, turning on one booted foot and taking three long, quiet strides toward the stairs.

Janet kept her eyes on Erin’s face. “We’re in the living room,” she called out. “Erin’s here. Come on in.”

Erin reached the first step, took the next two in a leap.

“Hello, Erin,” Thomas said. “You should have come with us. It was fun, right Beth?”

Erin turned her head so fast her braid hit her in the mouth. Thomas stood across the room, in a brown turtleneck and jeans, his cheeks pink from the cold. Though he’d lost weight, his body filled the doorway—muscled shoulders, football player’s wide neck, girth resting on a wide leather belt. Beth, half-hiding behind him, peered around, her face scrunched up. She opened her mouth, looked at her sister, but no words came out. Heat brushed Erin’s cheeks.  She tried not to look at her father, his thick muscles, the plea in his eyes—tried not to hear the soft note in his voice, the one that appeared only when he spoke to her. She clenched her fists, stepped up to the next stair.

Beth tugged on Thomas’ shirt. “I want to show you something,” she said, glancing back and forth between Thomas and her sister. “In the kitchen.”

“Erin?” Thomas held out a hand. “Can we call a truce? It’s been a really long time.”

She looked up. His off-center blue eyes—clear, her mind noted, not bloodshot—held hers. But as he moved toward her, she stepped up again and shook her head.

“Say hello to your father, Erin,” Janet said. “He’s been wanting to talk to you, you know.”

Erin glanced at her mother, saw immediately the flood of color rising through her mother’s neck to her pinched face. But Janet stared back, not giving an inch.

“Not to bother you, Erin,” Thomas said quickly. “But Beth tells me all the thing you’ve been doing. Everything you always said you’d do. She says you speak half a dozen languages and you’ve got another degree…I always knew you could do whatever you wanted, but this, the whole world—”

“Stop it. Please.” Erin bit down hard on her lower lip.

“Listen to your father, Erin,” Janet said. “He should have a chance, don’t you think?”

Erin didn’t turn her head.

“Your father gave me back the sleeping bag you covered him with the other night,” Janet added.  “Obviously you care about him.”

Erin felt the blood drain from her face as she looked at her father, as if she could cry out to him, tell him to make her mother stop. Thomas lifted his hands helplessly. She dug her fists into her eyes to stop their burning, but suddenly she was fourteen again and she could see strippers and then, like a single frame of a movie, her parent’s bedroom door opening, the light falling over her father’s chest, pale skin, the glint of thick red-gold hair. The sound of her mother’s sobbing.  The tears on her own face.

“Mom, Erin’s crying,” Beth said.

“I never meant to hurt you,” Thomas told her. “I never meant to hurt anyone.” His voice shook.

“Yes,” Erin said. “You did.” Erin looked at her mother. “It used to be you. Before me, remember? Before I helped you—”

Janet’s face went so pale Erin thought she might faint. But then the two spots of colors appeared on her cheekbones. “No,” Janet said. “Don’t say that—”

Erin turned back up the stairs, took the rest of them two at a time. Behind her, she could hear Thomas walking out into the hallway, calling her name, saying please, saying, I love you, Erin, can’t we please forget the past, I won’t do those things again.

She couldn’t hear any more. Throwing herself on her bed, she cried as she hadn’t since she was a child, gasping for breath between sobs, hands over her face until she started to panic, her chest constricting, the breaths tearing in and out of her lungs. She curled tight, drew her legs up under her chin. She tried not to breathe.

Outside, in the hallway, light footsteps tapped slowly toward her room. She heard knuckles on the door, softly at first, then louder.

“Erin?” Beth asked, opening the door. Her face was so white Erin could see each separate freckle, even through her tears. Beth took three quick steps to the bed and crawled in, sliding her arm over Erin’s trembling back. “I’m sorry,” she said. “I’m so sorry.”

“Jesus Beth, you’d think it was your fault.”

Beth moved away. Erin rolled over, her face aimed at the ceiling, but she could smell pizza in the fibers of her sister’s green sweater; peripherally, she saw a faint red stain at the end of her sister’s sleeve. She grabbed Beth’s hand.

“Mom and I were fighting, okay? It’s not your fault our parents are assholes. I can’t stand it when you blame yourself.”

“I brought him home,” Beth whispered.

“How the hell else were you going to get here?”

“Sometimes I wish I’d never been born,” Beth said, sitting up so the red tights over her legs bagged loose at the knees. “Maybe then Mom wouldn’t have had to stay—”

“Maybe then I’d be locked up in an insane asylum.” Erin sat up, swung her legs over the side of the bed, wiped her face with her T-shirt.

“But—”

“But nothing, Beth,” Erin said. “We’re getting the fuck—oops, sorry. We’re getting the hell out of here. Go steal Mom’s car keys. I don’t care what she says.”

Beth stood up. Her eyes were red, her skin blotched. The white Christmas tree on her sweater hung stiff away from the wool. She looked so hurt that Erin pulled her into a rough hug, held her tightly for a moment before pushing her toward the door. Beth moved slowly from the room. Erin stood up, sighing, and followed her. Past the bathroom they paused, listening for voices, but silence echoed up the stairs. Outside, an engine turned over. Gravel pinged up against the undercarriage of their father’s car as he drove it toward the dirt lane, back to Portsmouth.

“Free at last,” Erin said.

Beth looked up and said nothing. Her eyes, changing as Erin watched, to a darker, harder green, filled with water. Beth shook her head and walked down the stairs. Her shoulders heaved under her sweater. Erin reached a hand out, but Beth shrugged her off.

“You don’t understand,” Beth said. “You don’t understand anything.”

“Then tell me.” Erin turned Beth around, lifted her chin. Her sister’s eyes, swollen and red, bored into hers. “You’re mad,” Erin said. “I didn’t know you were mad.”

“They hate each other and you hate both of them. I’m the only one who doesn’t hate and I can’t stand it. Sometimes I wish you’d all just shut up.”

Erin’s hand dropped to her side. “I won’t talk about them any more,” she said softly. “I promise. I didn’t know.”

Beth watched her, searching her face. She nodded to herself. “I can’t go with you though,” Beth said. “I have to go see about Mom.”

Erin’s brows furrowed and she opened her mouth. Beth stared. “Okay,” Erin finally said. “If that’s what you want.”

*                        *                        *

It snowed Christmas Eve, leaving Erin stranded with her mother and sister. She took Beth out for a snowball fight. They didn’t talk much; and Erin watched her sister carefully. At first, Beth lifted the snow with her hands flat and open, her mouth closed in a straight line. Then, Erin tugged off Beth’s pink knit cap. Honey hair tumbled out; cheeks pink, Beth chased Erin until she tripped over the edge of the driveway and fell down. Then Beth shoved snow down her leather jacket. Erin ran after her, yelling. Only on the way back in the house, when Erin’s fingers and feet were numb with cold, her T-shirt soaked under her jacket, did Beth speak.

“Don’t worry so much,” Beth said, her eyes studying the snow at her feet. “It’s okay if you really need to talk to me about Dad or something. I didn’t mean what I said.”

Erin bit down hard on her lip. “It does matter,” she said. She went inside, changed her shirt, socks and gloves, and came out again to shovel the walks and driveway, giving Beth a lopsided grin and pat on the shoulder as she opened the back door. She didn’t know what else to do.

Outside, her boots crunched over gravel and the crisp coating of ice. She dug the shovel in, lifted it, her muscles straining as she cleared the steps to the front porch, the walkway, her sides and armpits pouring sweat. Maine had woven its blanket of white over the trees, their house, the field of marsh and grass. Silence hung in the thick sky, in the covered branches; even the sound of the sea seemed muffled by the snow. Erin lifted the last shovelful of heavy white slush, glad for the pain in her muscles, a distraction from the growing dark inside her. When she stomped into the kitchen, rubbing her cold hands together, Janet brought her hot chocolate, and talked about church, the priests, some new computer trick she’d figured out with email. Sitting at the kitchen table, Erin cupped the mug in her hands, bent her head to inhale its steam. Her mother’s voice droned on. From the upstairs came the sound of pop music on Beth’s stereo.

In the large front living room, family presents sat piled around the tree Thomas had brought over. The gaudy colors—red and green, gold and blue—on the wrapping, along with tinsel and the smell of pine, enlivened the room. Making an excuse to her mother, Erin walked in for the hundredth time and eyed the biggest box, which was wrapped in three sheets of unmatched Christmas paper and tagged with her name. It looked like Thomas’ handwriting, with only the from Beth in different script. Erin could almost smell the earth of new leather mingling with the sharp bite of pine, but no matter how many times she stared at the box, it didn’t go away.

* * *

            On Christmas morning Erin pulled on jeans and an old sweatshirt, edged quietly down the stairs, and tucked the box far behind the tree. An hour later, Beth came down wrapped in her favorite pink robe, twin to their mother’s. She looked like a blonde angel, and Janet, following, like a madonna. Janet came quietly to the couch, where she sat with her legs crossed, hands folded in her lap. Erin plugged in the green cord of the tree lights, and it began: Beth exclaiming over each gift, jumping up to hug first Erin—for the IPod—then Janet.

Erin opened gifts from her mother with cold white fingers, head bent to hide her reaction. The cell phone and charger, she set aside. She bit down on her lower lip, and opened a small box that held gold hoop earrings; she didn’t have pierced ears and didn’t intend to get them. Her head snapped up, but Beth handed her the gifts she’d bought: a small flashlight for camping and a biography of Margaret Meade, who had always been Erin’s hero. Erin took a deep breath and smiled at her sister, who sat surrounded by open boxes. When Beth smiled back, Erin pushed her gifts from Janet back under the tree. A shower of pine needles fell over them. Janet watched, her face pinched and white, her unblinking eyes fastened at a point just over Erin’s head. She stayed that way, unmoving except for her hands, which folded the same piece of ribbon over and over again, until it was small enough to fit between her fingers.            Erin pulled Janet’s unopened presents from under the tree, piled them near her mother’s feet. Janet’s eyes glanced down, then quickly away.

“Come on,” Erin said. “They won’t bite or anything, Mom.”

Janet lips turned up at the corners, an attempt at a smile. After a long moment, she picked up a gift and began breaking the pieces of tape with her fingernails, folding the paper carefully and laying it on the couch. Finally, she pulled a wool skirt from its tissue paper wrappings and held it up in the air. Her face grew tight; she didn’t look at Erin or speak, but kept opening the boxes. Finally, after the third box, she held up a sweater the exact green of her eyes.

“Oh, Erin,” she said. “They’re so…nice. I haven’t had new…they’re so expensive.”

Erin’s shoulders relaxed. “Consider them your new work clothes,” she said. “I’m sure you’ll get be more responsible than anyone they’ve ever even heard of.”

Janet didn’t answer. Erin caught a glimpse of her mother’s eyes filling before her head dropped. Her thin hands turned up in her lap. Neither of them spoke. Erin looked frantically around the room, searching for the windows and doors. It was Beth who got up and put an arm around Janet’s shoulders, bending forward so their two blonde heads leaned together, Beth who made them change into Christmas clothes—Erin let Beth tie a green ribbon at the end of her braid, though she wore her uniform T-shirt and jeans—Beth who started a card game by the tree until the afternoon dinner was almost ready.

“There’s another present,” Beth whispered after Janet left the room. She leaned forward, the gold bells hung on her red sweater jingling like tiny chimes. “For you, Erin. It’s from Dad and me.”

“Dad?” Erin asked, frowning.

“It’s mostly from me please open it I know you’ll love it and I want you to have it please!”

Erin dragged the box toward her slowly. “You wrapped it?” she asked.

Beth nodded.

Erin tore at the sheets of unmatched paper in quick sudden motions, then opened the box and pulled out the leather jacket. She sat still, the material crushed tight in her arms, its thick smell familiar in her nostrils. Her body began to go numb—a spreading sensation that started in her chest and pushed outward, until she couldn’t feel Beth, or their house, or her mother in the kitchen. In her mind, she stood alone in the cold, looking down at a sleeping man with red hair a shade darker than her own.

“Try it on,” Beth said. “I bet it will fit.”

“It fits,” Erin said, but she slid her arms into the jacket’s black sleeves, knowing, as she did so, she couldn’t give it back, especially after her promise to Beth. He had her.

Beth drew her knees up under her chin, the dark gold of her hair falling over her shoulders. Her sea eyes studied Erin’s face eagerly. Erin tried to smile.

“It’s only perfect,” Erin told her. “You want to keep my old one for me?”

Beth frowned. “Why can’t you keep it?”

Erin sighed.

“Nevermind, there’s more,” Beth said. “Look in the box.”

Janet came back and stood in the doorway. She, too, had changed to a red and green dress, decorated with trim of Christmas plaid. Erin held out her arms, turned the collar of the black jacket up over the white of her shirt.

“Wonder how much that cost him,” Janet said. “But it looks good on you, Erin.”

Erin exhaled loudly, blowing up her bangs. Without looking at her mother she turned back to the box. She pulled out the chaps, and was surprised to see, beneath them, a hardcover book. She picked it up.

The Road from Courain,” she read out loud. She flipped open the front cover to read the jacket, and ten hundred dollar bills started to slip out. Ten. She could see their green faces fanning open. Touching them gingerly with a forefinger, she moved them aside and read what Thomas had written.

First payment on a debt long overdue, he’d written on a white card. Get a Ph.D. in anthropology like you’ve always wanted or a motorcycle or take yourself somewhere like the Outback she describes in this book. I’m sorry. I love you, Dad.

Erin’s breath caught in her throat. Her hands tightened on the book and her face blotched red. For a moment, she wanted to trust him, wanted to forget so she could believe the gift came without barter or obligation; and she could see what the money would buy her: the beaches in Cancun or in Sydney, the train passes, the weeks of waking up to any destination she wanted. She fanned through a few pages, biting down on her lower lip. She rubbed the money between her fingers. The numbness faded. Now she just felt cold.

When she looked up, both Beth and Janet were staring. Erin held up the money; Janet took a step forward and held her hand out, palm up.

“He’s trying to give you my money,” Janet said, her voice rising.

“He says he owes it to me,” Erin whispered. She put the money back into the book and closed it, her hands trembling.

“He doesn’t owe you anything.”

“What?”

“You said he should have asked me before he took it out of the account.”

“I think you better take that back.” Erin rose and stepped forward. “Thomas is not the only one who never gave me a dime toward school.”

“You had your scholarships. You didn’t need money.”

Erin knuckles gleamed like bony moons over the shiny tan cover of the book. “I lived on boxed macaroni and cheese and had to work to pay for that. For the first couple years, my scholarship only covered tuition. I was poor. I even went to food pantries. Twice.” Her eyes drilled into her mother’s. “Take it back.”

“Mom,” Beth started to say.

“Bethie, please stay out of this,” Erin said. “If she’ll just take it back, we can end this, and have your Christmas.”

“It’s my money.” Janet crossed her arms. “You’ve never needed anything. Why can’t you let me have it?”

“I never needed anything?”

“You’re so independent. You’re always saying.”

“I’m not giving it to you.” Erin tucked the book under the new jacket, holding it tight to her side as she picked up the chaps. “You can rot in hell without it. I’m sorry I ever helped you, you hear?” She was screaming. “Since he can beat the shit out of me whenever you get pissed at me no matter what I’ve done for you and neither of you owe me anything and I can just take care of myself. I wish I’d let him take every penny.” Hot tears burned the skin on her face. Turning, Erin made for the stairs. “At least he knows what I like,” she said. Then she looked at Beth. Backed up against the living room wall, Beth was sobbing, her skirt crumpled in her fists.

“It’s Christmas,” she said softly.

“I’m sorry, Beth,” Erin said. “I’m just…sorry.” She turned and walked up the stairs, slowly, this time, as if her body might break apart, skin, muscles, bone, fraying into the white silence of the house. This time, as she sat against the headboard with her father’s gifts in her arms, no one came. She found herself listening for his footsteps, for the sound of a car in the drive, for the way he’d opened the bedroom door to look for her, his thick hand on the gold knob, red hairs gleaming over freckled flesh, hands that would smooth her hair, lay cool cloth on her bruises. But that was gone for good, taken by a cold night, a bar, by her mother’s whimpers from behind a bedroom door. She gripped the leather jacket, told herself it was right not to love him. The room grew dark, and she sat still, trying to banish all memory. In her mind, she painted pictures of Mexico—beach hotels, sand, wide stretches of water. Slowly, she built the world around her, took herself away from winter. When the last piece fell into place, when she was speaking Spanish to a woman who leaned toward her, flashing power and dark eyes, Janet’s quick raps sounded on the door.

“Don’t come in.” Erin pulled her knees to her chest. “I don’t want to talk to you.”

“I saved you dinner,” Janet said.

“Right.” Erin buried her face in the leather skin of the chaps.

“It’s Christmas, Erin.”

“Right,” Erin said again. “It’s my fault, isn’t that what you came up here to tell me?”

“I want you to come down.” Janet voice started to fade. “That’s what I wanted to say. I really wish you would.  So does Beth.” Footsteps sounded on the hall floor as she walked away.

Erin got up, put the book carefully on the bed, and went to stand at the window, hugging the new jacket tight over her ribs. Outside, the forked limbs of trees bent toward the frozen ground, laden with their burden of snow. She knew exactly how heavy the snow felt, exactly the toll it took, the way the branches might freeze, break away completely. Calls of the last gulls sounded in the distance. She went back to the bed, took the money from the crisp new pages of the book and slipped it into the inside pocket of the coat. She patted it down. This might be the closest Janet had ever come to an apology, but Erin would decide about the money. No more games, she thought.

When she went downstairs to the kitchen table, Beth climbed onto her lap and buried her swollen face in Erin’s neck. “It’s okay,” Erin said. She looked up at Janet. For the time their eyes connected, Erin could see her mother knew it wasn’t. Maybe, Erin thought, she’d finally admit it never had been.

*                        *                        *

The next day, Janet went on her interview and was offered the job on the spot. After cooking the celebratory dinner, doing dishes and vacuuming the house, Erin got her father’s address from Beth. She borrowed Janet’s car and drove to his apartment in the second floor of an old Victorian near the water. She sat outside for a moment, slipping the money into a bank envelope, trying not to think of what she was doing, trying not to listen to the voice inside her that said she could take it, leave, never have to deal with him and whatever price he’d try to exact from the gift. She looked down at her leather-covered forearms and shook her head. The jacket, she knew, was bad enough. Tensing, she pushed open the car door quickly, forced herself to walk in the front door, climb the carpeted stairs, knocking snow from her boots as she looked from side to side. At the top of the stairs, a hallway stretched to the left, holding three doors, but right in front of her the rich smell of steak, the sound of her father humming an old tune from South Pacific identified his home as clearly as a name tag. She slid the narrow envelope under the door and took the stairs down two at a time. The singing stopped, but no doors opened, no voice called for her to return.

Later, at Collette’s, she sat at the bar alone, her pale hair hidden beneath her black jacket, shoulders slumped, a shot glass of Jim Beam in her hand. She drank three in a row, tipping her head back each time in a rough jerk. Finally, she switched to beer. The next morning she barely remembered the face of the woman she kissed in one of the bar’s dark hallways, the woman she made love to on the back seat of her mother’s car.

The next night, she went to Collette’s again, and threw up in an alley before driving home. It became a daily pattern in the week between Christmas and the New Year—tequila, Jim Beam, her blue-jeaned legs sliding from beneath her, bruises from the falls, and then the different women, hallways, making out on barstools, even going home to strange apartments. Finally, early New Year’s Eve, after Erin had played pool until she couldn’t stand, then taken a seat at the bar, the bartender told her she couldn’t have any more to drink. Not only that, the woman wouldn’t let her drive. She phoned Patti, who walked into Collette’s ten minutes later, her round face serious, hair clumped up over her ears.

“You should have called me,” Patti told Erin.

Erin lifted a shot glass and finished the last drops. “On my new cell phone, with its family plan, I could call you,” she said.

“What?”

“Could have had a thousand bucks to drink up,” Erin said. “Christmas present from Dear Old Dad, along with this lovely jacket.” She slid her arms into the sleeves hanging on the barstool and shrugged the jacket onto her shoulders. “Gave the money back to the asshole.”

“You did what?”

“Kept the jacket,” Erin answered, running a hand through her bangs. “Had Beth give it to me, but she doesn’t want me to say anything bad about him.”

Patti whistled.

“Phone’s from Mom.  Can’t give that back either.”

“They sure know how to get you, don’t they?”

“Beth needs to get out of there,” Erin said. “But if I take her, it’s kidnapping. I’ll spend my life in jail and my mother will have everything—”

“Okay.” Patti zipped the leather up gently, her head tipped back to look into Erin’s face. “Please don’t puke,” she said. “That’s all I ask.” She tugged Erin’s braid out from under her collar.

“Puked last night,” Erin said, lurching to her feet. “Or the night before.”

“I need someone to drive her car,” Patti said to the bartender.

“I will,” a woman at the end of the bar said as she stood up. “As long as it’s not too far.”

“York,” Patti told her.  “Ten minutes, tops.”

“I wish you were my mother,” Erin said to Patti, leaning against her as they left the bar.

“I’m a bit young,” Patti answered. “But I think the job description fits, at least tonight.”

In the truck, Erin opened the passenger window and leaned her head out as they drove up the highway, and then onto the back roads. Her peach hair streamed out of her braid; her face grew numb with cold. She wanted to talk to Patti, but the motion of the truck made her stomach churn; all she could think about was getting air, lots of it, into her lungs. Finally, back at Patti’s apartment, Erin lay on the couch.

“I don’t get like this when I’m not here,” she muttered to Patti. “I swear. I don’t.”

“Sshh,” Patti told her. “Sleep.”

“You don’t believe me,” Erin said.

Patti didn’t answer. She left the room and came back a minute later carrying a blanket, which she spread over Erin’s body. Erin watched Patti as the room began to spin. She pushed one booted foot off the couch, planted it on the floor.  It helped.  A little.

* * *

            In the morning, hungover, Erin listened as Patti told her about the bar gossip, about the women Erin had slept with, two of whom Patti knew. “Did I hear you right yesterday?” Patti asked. “You gave your father back a thousand dollars?”

Erin nodded.

“You nuts?”

“Nobody gets to buy me,” Erin said. “I have money from Japan. And I’m don’t make deals with the devil. Besides, there’s nothing in this world he could do to make everything all better.” Sitting in the narrow kitchen, a morning beer in front of her, Erin watched the frost spreading its cobwebs over the kitchen windows. She lifted her beer and took a long swallow.

“I don’t know. I think you should take it and say fuck him.”

Erin stared straight ahead without moving.

“Sorry. Maybe I shouldn’t have said that.”

Erin didn’t answer.

“You sure you don’t want him to make it up to you?”

“Did I ever tell you,” Erin asked. “about the time my father took me to a strip joint?”

“Your family is fucking weird. Catholicism and strip joints.” Patti shook her head. “At least my holy rollers are consistent.”

“I hate your family,” Erin said. “I have fantasies about burning their precious bibles right in front of their eyes.”

“You ever do, I’ll help,” Patti said. She looked at Erin. “Tell me about the strip joint.”

“Strippers are bad luck. That’s what I decided. For me, they are the worst possible luck.”

“Erin,” Patti said. “I have no idea what you’re talking about. What happened when your Dad took you to the strip joint?”

“It doesn’t matter.”

“Erin!”

“It’s just, that’s the reason for everything.”

“For what?”

“You ever think that God is some kind of crazy freak who just keeps making the same things happen over and over again?”

“Erin. You’re scaring me.”

Erin looked at Patti then, really looked. Then she sighed and drank the rest of her beer in one long gulp.

“The strip joint?” Patti asked.

“It was the last time I ever went riding with him,” Erin said. “I used to love that. We went everywhere—camping, restaurants, bars, you name it. He was like…he was my best friend before you.”

“Ever since I’ve known you he’s beaten the crap out of you.”

“Yeah, well. Things changed. Anyhow, this one day he decided to go to Massachusetts, God knows why. Usually we rode up north, taking back roads. Hey, remember the time I stole his bike and gave you a ride?”

Patti nodded. “I remember your bruises after he found out the next day, too,” she said.

“Right,” Erin said. “The usual.” She got up to get another beer. “Anyhow, we went to Saugus, God knows why. The ugliest strip in Boston. He took me out to eat at that huge Polynesian restaurant. He drank Mai Tais. I was supposed to be drinking a virgin pina colada, but he bought a shot of rum and spiked it. We were there for hours. One reason is, he decides to tell me the entire story of his childhood. He grew up the youngest of eight boys. His brothers used to chase him around with sticks in the woods behind their house. Sometimes when they caught him they’d tie him up and leave him there for hours. Once they took his pants off and made him walk home in his underwear. Like something out of Lord of the Flies.” Erin paused. “I felt so sorry for him. He was sort of shaking when he talked about it and he got all intense.”

“Poor him,” Patti said.

“I think they really hurt him. His mother didn’t stop it, either.” She looked down at her hands, then back up. “That kind of thing, it can really fuck you up.”

“He’s still an asshole.”

“Yeah. I mean, right.” Erin gulped her beer. “Anyhow, when we finally left the place, it was dark. He only drove about 500 yards up the road before he we pulled into the parking lot of this bar—the Long John something—and he walked inside.”

Erin stopped for a moment, tightened her hand on the beer, feeling the cold bite into her palm. The woman’s pelvis, the hoots of the men, the way she’d shrunk into herself. She took a sharp breath, drank some more beer, shook her head from side to side.

“Erin?” Patti asked.

“I’m fine.” Erin looked out the frosted window. She held out her arm, watched the dim light fall down its length like a sleeve. She didn’t even have to shut her eyes and the highway stretched before her, trucks and cars passing, her father’s body behind her, leaning back, the bulk of him so hard to balance. She could feel inside her the old determination, to make it, to hold on, to keep him safe.

“I hate talking about this,” she said.

“It’s okay.”

“No, it’s not, Patti. That night was the first time he hit me.”

“God. How old were you?”

Erin shook her head. “That’s what I mean. About strippers and bad luck. In Thailand the women do tricks, did you know that? With ping pong balls and razor blades, shoving things inside them while the men watch, I went into this bar by accident—”

“Jesus, Erin!”

“And you know, back when I went with my father, I used to think if I could just do the right thing, I could make things stop, make them different …I don’t know. My mother. Me. Someone. And it’s all so fucking stupid. I mean, think of all the mythic heroes. Joan of Arc was burned at the stake. King Arthur was offed by his own son. So why do I keep trying—”

“God, I hate when you talk like this.”

“Like everything I do is just shit, you know?”

“But when you try, people know you care.”

Erin looked at the floor, began tracing the tiles with one booted toe.

“You make things different, Erin. For me.  And your sister. You make that little girl’s world better, Erin. You know you do.”

Erin opened her mouth, then closed it. She leaned her head down on two tight fists. “Fine,” she said without looking up. “Maybe I do something for Beth. But I’ll tell you this much. You can’t ever expect a reward. Because I stood up for my mother. And that’s when things changed. They got worse. Not for her. For me.”

“You stood up for her?”

“I just…I just…I don’t know. He was…out of control.” The legs of the kitchen chair scraped against the linoleum as Erin turned away. “Now she wants me to give her money. And, I can’t just fix everything, Patti. I can’t.”

“You don’t have to—”

“No, I mean, I have to get out of here—”

“Just come stay with me—”

“Patti. They’re killing me.”

Patti looked at her. “I hate to say it,” she finally said, reaching out a hand and pulling Erin into a hug. “But I think you may be right.”

*                        *                        *

The next afternoon, Patti dropped Erin at home. She leaned forward before Erin got out of the truck, gripped Erin’s forearms with her small chunky hands, and stared into Erin’s pale blue eyes.

“God knows I want you around,” Patti said, the flesh of her cheeks pale in the winter sunlight coming over the dash. She squinted—against sun or tears, Erin couldn’t tell. “But if you don’t hit the road, I’m going to come get you and buy you a plane ticket myself.”

“Really?” Erin said, her mouth starting to twist.

“I mean it.” Patti gripped her tighter. “We’re all each other’s got, right? Family is shit and lovers leave. You promised me.”

“That I’d never leave you, if you don’t count traveling around the world.” Erin remembered, the summer after high school—she’d been living in Provincetown with Rachel—and Patti’s parents had kicked her out of the house without even a bag of clothes. Erin had called in sick to work, borrowed a car and driven up to Maine the same day. On the way back, Patti had hooked her thumbs over the belt of her hip-huggers, leaned her head back against the top of the vinyl seat, and closed her eyes. She’d made Erin promise they’d never blow each other off, never lose touch. No matter what, Patti had said, sitting up suddenly, sweat staining the armpits of her black Annie DiFranco T-shirt, a small roll of fat pressed over her belt. Erin had promised, then taken Patti to the tiny apartment on Commercial Street where the three of them had lived until September, when Erin and Rachel had moved to school.

“Erin, no one who knows you could ever believe you’d live a normal life. Travel all you want, just let me know where you are. Which country, I mean,” Patti said. “Give me the number of your damn cell phone.” She let go of Erin’s arms, pulled her into a hug. Erin felt the soft folds of her friend’s stomach, smelled the shampoo in her hair. She hugged Patti back, hard. Then she punched her lightly on the arm.

“I’ll be fine,” Erin said. “Take care of yourself and make that woman treat you right.” She got out, listened to the gravel spin from under the truck’s wheels as she waved good-bye. Straightening her shoulders, she walked toward her mother’s house.

She stepped in the back door, her jeans smelling of smoke, her mouth thick and heavy with the beer she’d been drinking since morning, her promise to Patti loud in her own ears. Janet and Beth both turned to her, and she was suddenly aware of the circles under her eyes, the fact that she’d disappeared without calling them.

Janet crossed her arms over her chest. She was still dressed for work, the blue silk of her dress falling liquid past her knees. “Well, look who decided to show up,” she said.

“How come you go out every night?” Beth asked. “I don’t even have school and I never see you.” Beth’s face flushed, but she wouldn’t look away.

“I just wanted to see my friends, I guess.” Erin turned to her mother. “It’s time for me to move on,” she said, unable to look at Beth. “As soon as the roads clear, I’m heading to Mexico. I can get a bus to Arizona from here.”

Beth turned her back and stared out the window.

“Fine,” Janet said, turning back to the sink, her hands moving slowly under the faucet, rinsing off cups.

“Mom—”

“Maybe we need you to stay, Erin. Did you even think of that?” Janet asked.

“Why? So you can use me to get money from Dad?”

“I’d think you’d be happy to help your sister.”

Erin looked at Beth’s back, the shaking of her shoulders under her Christmas sweater and lifted her hands. “Beth? I can’t. I don’t want to hurt anyone, but I can’t. ”

Janet turned off the water and dried her hands. “People change their minds,” she said. “Every day.”

“No,” Erin answered. She folded her arms over her chest, her jaw set.

Janet placed cups in the dishwasher in orderly rows. “If you weren’t going so far we could come visit you,” she said. “If you stayed in this country, for example. I could at least call you when I wanted, no charge.”

“I don’t like this country,” Erin said. “And you never called me before.”

“Things change, Erin.”

They stared at each other. Erin looked away, saw Beth standing at the window, walked over, reached out an arm, and touched her sister’s shoulder. When Beth wouldn’t look at her, Erin pressed her hand to the glass and felt the cold sink into the palms of her hands. “Beth?” She bent down, but her sister turned away.

Erin sighed. “I bet they love you at that job,” she said to her mother.

Janet closed the dishwasher without answering.

Erin turned back to her sister. She pulled Beth to her, even though Beth struggled, flailing her arms to get away. “I’d take you with me if I could,” Erin said.

Beth twisted away. “No,” she said, turning her back again. “I’m staying with my Mom.”

Erin looked at her sister’s back, at her mother’s, at the hanging copper pans, the stenciling. She couldn’t breathe, as if Beth had lanced her, pinned her in place. No one spoke. Slowly, slowly, Erin started to back out of the room. “I’m sorry,” she said. Then she ran up the stairs to her room.

“They have a saying about people who keep running away,” Janet called after her. “Things catch up with you sooner or later. You ought to think about that.”

Erin, blindly shoving socks and rolled up T-shirts on top of the chaps in the bottom of her bag, tears rolling down her face, blocked her ears and thought of beaches, panels of sunlight, the contours of sand smoothing out beneath her body. “Mejico,” she whispered. “Mejico.”

You Can’t Get There from Here: Chapter Four


You Can’t Get There from Here

by Lyralen Kaye

Chapter Four

            The next night, after listening to Janet talk about Thomas and his negotiations with the priests—he’d agreed to pay a generous monthly stipend, but wanted to see Beth every other weekend—Erin called her friend Patti from the kitchen phone, and made plans to go to Collette’s Bar that Friday.

“I’m going nuts,” Erin said, wrapping the phone cord around her wrist and slinging one leg up over the low partition. “My Mom is either bitching or telling me about all the ways I can help her. Beth asked if I was gay. I’m thinking of heading to Mexico. Like, yesterday.”

Patti laughed, but her voice was serious when she offered to let Erin stay at her apartment. Erin declined. She just wanted to go out. She wanted, she told Patti, to get laid.

“Better watch it,” Patti said. “You’ve got a bit of rep around here.”

“Come on!”

“You always pick someone up.” Patti’s voice was dry. “Rachel hears about it.”

“I thought we’d been through this.” Erin tucked the phone between her shoulder and head, looked around to see if Janet were nearby.  “About Rachel, I thought I told you–”

“They call you a heartbreaker.”

Erin’s leg dropped to the floor. “What do you call me, Patti?”

Patti didn’t answer. The silence stretched between them until Erin started moving, her foot tapping the floor in regular beats, like a metronome.

“Patti? You’re my best friend. What do you call me?”

“I think you’re the queen of all exits,” Patti said. “But I didn’t mean to get you upset. Let’s just go and have fun, eh? Tell your mom you’re staying over if you want.”

Erin agreed. She hung up, pale eyebrows drawn together.

She spent the day going through her backpack and doing laundry. Late in the afternoon, she borrowed Janet’s car, drove over the bridge into Portsmouth, staring at the ice floes, the strong currents eddying dark in the gray light of winter. She parked in town, stopped to talk to a travel agent about Mexico. Then she went to the bank where she kept the money she’d earned during her two years in Japan—the most money she’d ever made in her life, and she’d managed to save nearly all of it. Once, she thought she saw a gold car snaking through traffic behind her, but she couldn’t be certain. When she’d left the house, Janet had been on the phone with Thomas’ lawyer, arranging visitation with Beth. Thomas would see her for the first time in over a month on Saturday, and had asked if Erin might come along.

“No way,” Erin said to Janet. “What does he think this is, old home week?”

Janet frowned. “Think of me,” she said. “And of your sister—”

“Forget it, Mom,” Erin said. Then she’d grabbed the car keys and headed for the door.

Now, she looked back over her shoulder. No gold car. But Thomas wanted her back, and Erin knew how he was. Apologies and gifts would follow her like a virus, as they had when she’d been studying in Paris. She had known then to send them back, to build a fortress of refusals. But this time she could feel the jacket he’d bought for her settling over her shoulders like a belief in love. She kept seeing his broken skin, the slack flesh around his jaw. She tried to steel her body back into strength, tried to tell herself she didn’t feel sorry enough for him to do what he wanted.

Before she drove home, Erin stopped at the Portsmouth mall, where, counting out the bills like days she was giving up in Mexican cities, she bought more Christmas presents for her mother and sister, the conservative sweaters and skirts Janet liked, new leather sneakers and an IPod for Beth along with a gift certificate for ITunes. Then, she bought a stereo for Patti’s truck.

Janet was in the kitchen when Erin came in. Her head was bent over a laptop, her blonde hair gathered back from her face with a scarf, a navy turtleneck hugging her chin. She looked up and smiled at Erin with just a small turn at the edge of her lips. Erin noticed the plea in her mother’s eyes just before Janet began to speak.

“I’m looking for a job,” Janet said. “I’m afraid it’s rather hopeless. I don’t even know what to do. Your father never wanted me to work.”

Erin stopped, raised a blonde eyebrow. “You want to get a job?”

Janet nodded. She looked back down at the laptop’s screen. “Beth’s in school,” she said. “And we’ll need money. There’s a job here, just temporary, at city hall. It’s on a computer, typing in records. They say they’ll train.”

“Email them,” Erin said.

Janet turned all the way around in her chair so she faced Erin, her arms upturned at her sides, her face open in appeal. “I don’t know how.  To write a resume.  Or what to say to them.” She looked at Erin from under her lashes. “Would you ever do it for me?”

Erin started to shake her head.

“Just this once? To find out what I should do?” Janet looked up into Erin’s face. “It’s so easy for you, Erin.”

Erin head tucked down toward her chest. She started to blow up her bangs, then stopped herself. She looked at her mother.

“Please?” Janet said. “It’s really hard for me.”

Erin looked at her mother for a long moment, her stomach tight with pity. She pulled up a chair, opened Word, and typed in her mother’s name, address and phone number.  “Tell me what you’ve done at the church in the last five years,” Erin said.  “That’s your job experience.”

Janet ticked off duties—household budgets, shopping, taking messages, scheduling home and hospital visits.

“And you do all this for free?” Erin asked, typing quickly.

“I’m happy to do what I can,” Janet told her.

Erin opened Gmail, created an account, taught her mother how to hit send.  She wrote an email and attached the resume.

“Thank you, Erin, really,” her mother answered. “I never could have done that.”

“You can do it now,” Erin said.

“I don’t know.”

Erin began to pick a thread out of the fraying cuff of her leather jacket. “I may not be here next time.”

“You could be,” Janet said.

“I’m heading to Mexico after–”

“And you’re a good daughter to help your mother,” Janet told her. “Thank you.”

Erin frowned. “I’m not a good anything,” she answered.

Janet stared, her cameo face stripped of artifice, vulnerable. Her hands clasped and unclasped on the table top, so Erin sighed, then explained how to save the resume into a file folder, how to attach it, how to make changes if the job had a different focus, the words like gates trying hard to stay closed. Janet’s green eyes grew wide as Erin handed her a pen, made her take notes. For a moment, Erin wanted to touch her mother’s hair, hold her as she would a child, say it would be alright. She clenched her fists. She couldn’t afford to love her mother, couldn’t afford to remember that once, after days of grounding and hitting Erin, Janet had gone to a parenting class at church and had come home with an assignment to tell Erin what she loved most about her. Voice thin with effort, she’d told Erin she loved her protectiveness, the way Erin always noticed when something was wrong. Erin had been sure, when Janet reported back to the parenting class, that her mother would get an A, but what Erin remembered was the strain, as if saying anything good about her daughter cost effort, as if it were work. Another time, when Erin was a teenager, Janet had come up behind her in the bathroom, touched the long strands of Erin’s hair, let the pale red-gold silk drift through her fingers, and said the word pretty. Both times, Erin fell inward, collapsing into the detonating force of her mother’s approval, the desire to hold it, to find an way to inhabit that brief moment forever. But almost immediately she felt the moorings of her life begin to disappear. Without the familiar structure of anger and distance, Erin thought she might fade away completely.

Now, she dug her fingernails into her palms. She finished the job instructions, picked up the bags of presents, and walked up the stairs to her room, thinking of Patti’s moon face, her stubborn chin. Erin couldn’t wait for the evening to come. For the first time in days, she might be around people who possessed some form of sanity.

*                        *                        *

Erin left the house at nine, telling her mother and sister she was going out and wouldn’t be home until the next day. Identical frowns creased both their faces. When her father had lived there, and Erin came to visit, no one had ever spoken about when Erin came and went, where she slept. But now four tiny lasers circled Erin all the time, trying to hold her in place. She walked down the gravel driveway in darkness, thinking of the maps tucked into her backpack like tickets—to the beaches of Cancun, the ruins and waterfalls in the jungles of the Yucatan.

Patti’s truck was parked at the end of the road. Opening the door, Erin slid into the cab next to Patti’s new lover, a woman she hadn’t really met, only seen asleep the first night she’d arrived. Older, gray haired, the woman had a face so young it shone. Patti’s lovers were always at least ten years her senior; they always left Patti at the first sign of trouble. Now, Erin looked over the woman’s shoulder at Patti and grinned mischief, her nose crinkling. Patti started to protest, shaking her head.

“You’re a lot younger than Patti’s last girlfriend,” Erin said to the woman.

Patti’s lover turned. “Really? Tell me about her. Patti won’t.”

“Shut up, Erin,” Patti said. “Older women are great.”

“That’s why I like you.” The woman leaned over and kissed Patti on the cheek before turning back to Erin. “You don’t agree?”

“Erin’s an equal opportunity lover,” Patti said. “Over-twenty females is her only criterion.”

“We’re not talking about me,” Erin said. “We’re talking about your ex.” Erin turned to look at the gray-haired woman. “She was a jerk, that’s why Patti doesn’t like to talk about her. She left, what, two days after your grandmother’s funeral?” Patti glared, but Erin continued. “And Patti’s grandmother was the only one who still talked to her then.” Erin lifted an eyebrow, kept her eyes on the woman’s face. “We’d hate to see something like that happen again. I mean, Patti’s got the most generous heart of anyone I’ve ever known.”

The woman stared at Erin.

“Ignore her,” Patti said. “She gets really obnoxious after she sees her family. Plus, she thinks she’s my mother. Make sure you get her permission if you every want to ask for my hand in marriage.”

“I think it’s terrible that anyone did that to you,” the woman said, laying a hand on Patti’s arm. “You should have told me.”

“That’s what we want to hear,” Erin said, relaxing against the seat.

“Yeah,” Patti said. “Right. Can we talk about something else, please?” She frowned at Erin, muttering her heart wasn’t so generous she wouldn’t consider a well-placed kick to shut a certain person up, but then Erin smiled and her pale eyes held Patti’s affectionately until her friend’s face softened.

“Okay,” Patti said, turning her eyes to the road. “I’m a fucking saint. Now what else is new? Really.”

The rest of the ride was punctuated with loud laughs from Patti and her partner as Erin told the story of her mother asking Erin to help her get a job.

“Maybe I should go to the interview in disguise,” Erin said. “In drag, most likely. Pretending I’m her.”

Patti hunched over the steering wheel, laughing, but when they parked in downtown Portsmouth and got out of the truck, Patti touched Erin’s arm. “You alright?”

“My father gets to see Beth tomorrow morning,” Erin whispered.

“Shit,” Patti said, shoving a clump of thick hair behind her ear. “You better not be there. Want to have breakfast at my house? If you can keep your mouth shut, that is.”

“I’ll be good,” Erin said. “I just do it because I love you, you know.”

“Yeah, yeah. Family sucks and lovers leave.” Erin held up her hand; Patti high-fived her. An awkward silence filled the truck.  “It’s just something we say,” Patti told her girlfriend.

“After her last girlfriend, you can see why,” Erin explained.

The woman looked from one of them to the other. “Okay,” she finally said. “Whatever.”

They pulled into the parking lot and got out of the truck.

“How to win friends and influence people,” Erin whispered to Patti.

“Fuck you,” Patti whispered back.

“In your dreams,” Erin said. “Now go make up with your girl.”

They walked into the half-light of the bar. From upstairs the sound of guitars and women’s voices floated down like smoke, but the ground floor fanned noise forward from pool tables in the back toward an empty dance floor up front. Erin breathed deeply, slid through the women at the bar and bought three beers and a shot of tequila. She tossed the shot back as soon as the bartender put it in front of her, took a breath that ignited the burn in her throat, then carried the beers to Patti and her lover, whose heads bent toward each other, talking intently. Erin handed them their beers, then backed away.

She went to the pool table, signed up to compete. Erin racked up, knocked three stripes in, dominated the first game. And she kept winning, so long after Patti and her lover had made up and gone to talk to friends, Erin still bent over the table, the cue’s narrow tip staining her fingers chalk blue. She’d been drinking all along, lining up her beer bottles on a wall shelf to keep track. By the fourth game, she’d had seven.

In between games, she’d move out of the light and lean on her pool cue, one hip jutting out, her T-shirt pulled tight over her breasts. A ball of heat grew in her belly as she watched the women. Sometimes, when one walked by, she’d make eye contact, a smile breaking surface on her face. One woman stared at her, frowning; Erin swore at her softly, turned back to the pool table, but underneath the breath of cold, she could feel warmth. She played another game and won, then asked for a break. She walked to the bar, conscious of her movements. She surveyed the room quickly. A woman was watching, her eyes dark in a face that shone copper and brown. Spain, Erin thought, Latina. The woman started walking toward Erin, her movements slow as summer.

Erin leaned back against the wooden lip of the bar, stretched out her legs. When she took the woman’s hand into hers, gave the woman her name, breath eased out of her mouth in one long slow sigh.

“I’m playing pool,” Erin said. “I’ll be done soon. Then we can dance.”

“Don’t you forget.” The woman cocked her head to one side. One hand touched the end of Erin’s braid.

Erin tipped her head to the side. “No worries,” she said.

Back at the pool table, her first shot sent three balls into corner pockets. She won easily. Occasionally, she looked up into the line cast by the other woman’s gaze, let it reel her a step forward.  Then, near the end of the game, she spun around and saw Rachel at the bar, dark curls falling over a thin face with its pointed chin and delicate bones—a face that looked only slightly different than Erin remembered, a little older, less innocent, but still open, Erin thought, still carrying that odd mixture of intelligence and bewilderment, as if the world Rachel longed for was just out of reach.

Erin didn’t know what to do. She hadn’t seen Rachel since they’d both graduated college, hadn’t really talked to her since they’d broken up in their sophomore year. Rachel lifted a bottle of mineral water, drank. Her face, with its sharp and asymmetrical bones, was too oddly shaped for prettiness, but her deep set-eyes were beautiful. She watched Erin without smiling and lifted a hand.

Erin signaled she’d come over and talk, then went back to the pool game. She’d been leading by four balls, but she lost badly, missing every shot. She stood staring at the floor, memorizing its cigarette burns and beer stains, turning the cue around and around in her hand. When the game was over, she high-fived the woman who’d beaten her, a wry twist to her lips. Then she walked across the room to Rachel, smiling first at the woman who waited for her near the dance floor.

“Still the same?” Rachel asked, her head tilted toward the woman.

“Rach,” Erin said, softly. “Does it matter?”

Rachel looked up, and their eyes met. Erin felt heat rising in her face. She started rubbing her own pale arm with blue-stained fingers, leaving behind streaks and dust.

“I’m sorry,” Erin said suddenly. “You know I am.”

“Let’s not do this,” Rachel told her. Then she sighed and tried to smile. “What country you in from anyhow?”

“Spain.”

“So tell me about it. How come they got gay marriage if they’re so Catholic?”

Erin started explaining the country, the women she’d known. Rachel wanted to know about Judaism in Spain, about the history of the Inquisition and the effects of the Holocaust, how the European Union had changed the culture. Erin answered her questions, feeling the slide into familiarity, something she couldn’t afford: warmth, the light of ideas in Rachel’s eyes, the remembered feel of small hands on her face, the way Rachel’s fingers had whispered over the bruises that stained the oblong plates of Erin’s quadriceps, thighs, shoulders, back. Rachel had hidden Erin in her bedroom late at night, after Thomas had thrown Erin from his house, made love to Erin as if her skin might break if Rachel didn’t touch her so gently. At the end of high school, Erin had lived with Rachel’s family until she could move to Provincetown for the summer.

“I wish you could see these places,” Erin said.

Rachel looked away. “Sometime,” she answered.

“My mother kicked my father out of the house,” Erin said. “That’s why I’m here.”

Rachel turned to face her. “Oh Erin,” she said.

“He wants to see me.”

“Why? He in the mood to break someone’s arm?”

Erin’s shoulders curved forward.

Rachel reached out a hand, put it over Erin’s longer and paler fingers. “I’m sorry, but I saw what you looked like after he hit you, remember?”

Erin wanted to lean into Rachel, give over all the tiredness that hovered just under her skin. A mistake, she thought. I keep making the same mistake. Then she felt a hand on her elbow. She followed its pressure, looked into the dark eyes of the woman she’d picked for the night. Her body went cold.

“Go ahead,” Rachel said.

Erin looked at her.

“It’s okay.” Rachel let her fingers brush so lightly over Erin’s that Erin wasn’t sure if they’d actually touched her or not. “Just be careful at home, all right? Take care of yourself.” Then she turned away.

Erin’s pale eyes followed her, stunned. But when the other woman took her hand, Erin walked out onto the dance floor. She glanced back to where Rachel was standing. Some woman had come to join her. Their heads bent close; they kissed.  Erin lifted her head and felt each small mirror of the strobe light bounce off her skin. She began to dance. When the woman reached for her, held her waist with both hands, Erin let herself slide forward. Rachel had someone, didn’t she? It didn’t matter what Erin did now.

*                        *                        *

They kissed in the bar, then outside, in the shadows of a Portsmouth alley, their hands inside each other’s coats, searching for skin. Their breath steamed into each other’s mouths. Erin thought, Now, here, I don’t care about anything. But the woman was already pulling away, laughing, leading Erin to her car, a Honda with Massachusetts plates. They began to make love on the leather seats, their clothing opening under each other’s fingers. Erin tried to push Rachel’s face from her mind—the tangle of dark curls, the stubborn off-center chin, but it hovered even as Erin moved her mouth over the other woman’s breasts, as she shut her eyes, leaned back, let herself move into forgetfulness.

When it was over, Erin hungered for more, for the woman’s skin, rich and textured, for a deeper erasure of Rachel’s touch, of her parents’ voices. They went to Patti’s, where the door was open, a note left for Erin to be quiet. They spoke only in whispers, going to the kitchen for hot drinks, but as the woman backed Erin up against a counter their breathing grew deep, exhales coming with force, like wind, like tides. Erin’s mug crashed onto the tiled floor; she heard Patti’s voice in the bedroom. The woman asked if she should stop, but Erin waited only a moment, and when Patti didn’t appear, pulled the woman’s body against her own.

Finally, toward morning, they fell asleep. Erin woke to the woman kissing her good-bye. She watched the long slow movements of the woman’s body as she dressed, as she walked to the door. They didn’t ask for each other’s number. Erin lay back down, tossed her braid out from under her shoulder, and went back to sleep.

You Can’t Get There from Here: Chapter 2


You Can’t Get There from Here

by Lyralen Kaye

Chapter Two

“You’re nuts,” Patti said as Erin stuffed clothes and toiletries into her backpack. “You’re welcome here.”
“She wants me to help her,” Erin said. “And I said I would.”

“Why should you do anything for her?” Patti sat down on the edge of the couch, her gray sweatshirt bunching around her middle. She ran one hand through her thick black hair; it stood up in new clumps when she was done. “She’s been a bitch to you forever.”

“I feel sort of responsible,” Erin answered. “For Beth.”

“But you know how you get, Erin.  She uses Beth against you, and then you freak—”

“I barely even know my own sister, do you realize that? Seeing her once a year doesn’t exactly cut it.” Erin dug her nails into her palms.

Patti sighed. “My mother and brother decided to start speaking to me earlier this year. You know how long it’s been? Since that time they kicked me out and you had to rescue me in high school. I was stupid enough to get excited about seeing them. After five minutes of civil conversation they had a lot to say to me. Most of it was about Sodom and Gomorrah.”

“I’m sorry,” Erin said.

“They call now. I got an answering machine to screen them out.” Patti looked down, started rolling up the sleeves of her sweatshirt. “Of course I still listen to their fucking messages. Hoping, you know? And it doesn’t do any good. It just tears your heart out.”

“It’s not so bad for me. I mean, about that. My mother just pretends I never told her I was gay.”

“You have other problems,” Patti said.

“My father’s gone. Maybe I can make things better. For Beth—”

“There’s Rachel,” Patti interrupted. “She still asks about you, God knows why. She has a new girlfriend. But we could have her over.”

“I was an asshole,” Erin said. “I’ve just never been any good at the long term thing. I bet she asks to make sure we won’t ever run into each other.”

“You’re as stubborn as you were when you were sixteen, you know that? You haven’t changed a bit.”

“Funny, I thought I’d mellowed. I’m at least willing to consider the possibility that I may not be right all the time. I mean, I wouldn’t mind being wrong about Rachel hating me. I wouldn’t mind being her friend.”

“Well, you’d never know it.” Patti stood up, took two steps across the living room, and picked Erin up by the waist. She swung her around while Erin laughed and yelled to be put down.

“What is it with you?” she said, laughing.

“Proving dominance,” Patti said. “I’m the alpha.”

“Dream on,” Erin said.

“Yeah, well you better be over here a lot, that’s all I’ve got to say,” Patti told her. “Your mother isn’t going to steal my yearly visit with you. There, I draw the line.”

“Me too,” Erin said. “If there’s a line to draw, that’s where I draw it.”

* * *

            That night, rolling around in her childhood bed, Erin couldn’t sleep. The moonlight from the window over the desk pushed past her eyelids, so she adjusted the blinds. Sitting for a moment on the edge of the bed, she listened to the silence of the house, the wind outside, the hum of an engine in the driveway. She grew still, listening. She hadn’t heard the car drive in over the gravel—maybe she’d been in the bathroom. Quietly, she pulled on her jeans, zipped them with cold fingers, shoved her feet into her boots. Her heels knocked loudly against the waxed floors as she walked down the hallway to the panel of glass at its end, the one that looked over the front of the house. Her father’s car sat in the driveway, its gold paint a touch of gilt against the leafless trees. Swearing, Erin stomped down the stairs. Flipping on light after light, she went to the window and pulled back the curtains. She imagined her father’s head turning, imagined he could see her there, her body fragmented by the small squares of glass, the bars of white wood.

She waited for a moment, then found her jacket and walked out the front door in hard deliberate strides. Ten feet from the front porch, she heard the click of gears shifting; the engine roared. The Buick—a company car as always, she was sure—started to pull away. She could just see the shape of her father’s head in the car’s shadowed interior. Stumbling over the gravel, her legs unsteady as stilts, Erin ran after it.

“Ever hear of a restraining order?” she screamed into the cold.

Her father drove down the dirt road, tires spewing up stones as he fishtailed, the red glow of his taillights trailing side to side. He skidded and nearly hit a tree. Erin gasped, standing in the night air, her jacket open, until the lights died like stars. She walked slowly back to the house, shrugging at Janet, who stood at the top of the stairs, a robe belted around her waist, face pinched, white and hungry.

“He was drunk,” Erin said, looking down into her mother’s frightened face. “He’s gone now. Go to sleep.”

“He’s gone?  Already?”

“If he keeps driving when he’s like that, he may be gone in more ways than one,” Erin said. “He won’t be back tonight. Tomorrow we can see about a restraining order.”

Janet shook her head. “I could never do that.”

“You have rights, Mom.”

“I have to live in the real world,” Janet said. “I can’t afford to just…confront him like that.”

Erin sighed. “Go to sleep,” she said. “Beth said you don’t get enough sleep.”

Watching Janet walk down the hall, Erin waited, then turned off the downstairs lights. Back in her childhood room, she undressed and sat on the edge of the bed, her breathing ragged. Looking out the window, she saw the curved scythe of moon. Sitting there, it seemed time faded, as if the past had its own gravity, as if the pull of that pale light reached for her across continents, across time. She shivered. Without thinking she began pulling at her old dresser drawers, looking for long underwear, sweatshirts, the clothes she’d worn after motorcycle rides. The clothes she’d put on after she’d driven her father home from the strip bar.

She froze, her fingers still clasping the bronze handle of a drawer. Deliberately pushing the drawer back in, she sat back on the bed, resisting the swift undertow of memory. She tried to concentrate on counting backward in Spanish—cien, noventai-nueve—it was no good. Between the numbers she couldn’t help listening, expecting to hear sounds—Thomas’ heavy stumbling footsteps, the drunken thud of his briefcase as it went down, or the roar of his motorcycle. She couldn’t help remembering how the meaning of those sounds had changed. Dad, she thought, just once, like a cry. Sitting there, in her old room, she couldn’t tell herself it didn’t matter that she’d lost him, it didn’t matter that once she had waited for his footsteps, that she had been warmed by the rough tenor of his voice growing louder as he yelled at her mother.  That she had thought he was on her side.

He had been. And somehow, that had caused everything, Erin thought, even the strippers. Though long before that night, she had heard Janet crying in the bedroom next door, the sound wild, more like an animal than a person. Predictable: the next day, after the crying, Janet would call loudly for Erin to get up, to vacuum, dust, polish silver, clean out the attic, rake leaves, one of a million tasks that had filled her days when she was too small to refuse. Erin had longed to be outside, to hide in the trees and wild grass, or fly over the mudflats, chasing the herons and egrets until they lifted up, their long legs dangling, then rising as their wings beat, heavy kites slow in the wind. She ran after them, leaping into the air, imagining a more permanent escape from the prison of their house. Erin didn’t want to think about the price she had paid for such escape: a paddle had hung on the kitchen wall on a special brass hook, its warped rectangular surface covered with black ink, surrounded by small drawings of animals in red. If the little deers don’t mind, the paddle read, hit them on their cute behinds.

Erin remembered Janet’s tight face, the way she’d stood, examining tables and trunks, the way she’d checked for dust under all the knickknacks and rapped Erin’s hands with the edge of the paddle for any mistake. She remembered Janet saying Erin was more trouble than ten normal children, why didn’t she just quiet down, quit asking questions, quit asking for books, for time, quit asking to go to museums, movies, libraries, plays? Why wasn’t Erin grateful for what she had? And Erin knew, remembering, that Janet had never said these things in front of Thomas.

One afternoon, Erin had run out of the house right after school and played in the marshes until dark. She could still see the fervent spread of sky, flaming upward in a mixture of orange and gray. She could feel the freedom in her small body as she reached up to touch the branch of a tree, as she pulled one stalk of marsh grass after another. Walking over the mudflats, she stripped off her shoes and pretended she was a girl in a book she’d read, rescuing a boat trapped in the water by walking lightly over mud flats that might sink at any moment from beneath her feet. She knew that she, like any girl in any country, could become a hero, someone for whom God had created a specific destiny. She could feel it in her body; the slender white of her bare feet growing blue with cold, her arms held out for balance with her shoes dangling over her shoulders, everything in her reaching, a girl poised for flight into the unknown, her face flushed with color, expectant.

When she came home, Janet was waiting, the skin on her face taut and pinched. She looked at Erin for a moment, and Erin tried to hide the freedom of the afternoon, wash it from her face. Janet’s eyes narrowed.

“What are you supposed to do after school?” Janet asked, her voice rising with each word. “Tell me, Erin.”

Erin took a step back. “Help you clean.”

Janet glanced at the mud-stained bottoms of Erin’s pants, the untied shoes with their dangling laces and yanked the paddle from its hook. She grabbed Erin’s arm, her face mottled and red. “And now you’ve left mud from the door to this room, haven’t you? Answer me! Haven’t you?”

Erin glanced quickly behind her. She saw a footprint back near the door. “I’ll clean it, I promise–”

“You are the most inconsiderate girl I’ve ever met! I would never treat my mother the way you treat me.”

The paddle swung down in a loose, wide arc. Instead of hitting her backside, it glanced off Erin’s skull with a sharp crack. She reeled, tripped, fell to her knees. Crouching, she gasped, looking up at her mother as Janet lifted an arm and hit her again, across the back.

“That’s what you get for disobeying me.” Janet held the paddle poised, half-lifted, at her side. “You will learn to do what I say.”

Erin curled tighter over her bent legs. Janet’s mottled face came closer. She gripped Erin’s arm, yanked her to her feet, began pushing her across the polished floors toward the closet.

“No,” Erin whispered. “Not again. Please, I’ll clean. I’ll do the dishes, I’ll—”

The closet door opened. Erin tripped over the vacuum cleaner as Janet pushed her inside. She sprawled as the door shut behind her. She turned over, pulled her knees to her chest. She began pushing against the floor with her feet, back, back, the floor under her buttocks moving until she could feel the wall at her spine, familiar, stationary. She inhaled, the fumes from bleach, ammonia, Lemon Pledge entering her lungs.

“You’ll stay in there until I say,” Janet called from behind the door.

Erin heard the chair pushed into place. Slowly, she stopped shaking. The scent of bleach pushed in at her until she started to fade. Her breathing slowed. Her arms clasped her knees. France, she said to herself. She closed her eyes, felt the world tilt, felt herself slip out of her body, out of the house until she was transparent, until she didn’t exist. France, she said again. It was the word she’d use to find her way back.

Later, the chair pushed away from the door with a loud scraping noise. The door opened. Erin’s eyes snapped open, then blinked against the light. Janet bent down, stretched out an arm. Outside, Erin heard the sound of a car motor shut off.

“Out,” Janet said. “If you know what’s good for you, you won’t go complaining to your father.”

Erin scrambled past her. Ran up the stairs to her room. She slammed the door, and stood with the jamb at her back, feeling its ridges against her muscles as she listened to her mother yelling, to her father’s footsteps on the stairs, heavy and slow. He opened the door of Erin’s room, turned on the light, brushing waves of red hair back from his wide Irish face. Looking up, Erin could see the faint cleft in the center of his nose. She grabbed hold of one of his legs with both arms and wouldn’t let go.

“You can’t fight with your mother, honey,” Thomas said.

She held him tighter.

His hand came down on the top of her head. She yelped, wincing. He touched the swelling on the crown of her head with the tip of a finger.

“What happened?” he asked.

Erin pushed her face into the cloth at his hip, burying her nose in the smell of beer and smoke. She inhaled deeply, taking the bar smells deep into her lungs.

“Erin?”

“Nothing,” she said.

“You can tell me,” he said. “We’re buddies, aren’t we?” He loosened her arms from his legs and picked her up. She wound her arms around his neck, trying not to cry, trying to be strong, motorcycle strong, as tough as he had always taught her how to be. He pushed her hair away from her face. “Let me get you some ice,” he said.

She heard his voice downstairs, swearing at her mother; she heard Janet’s voice rise, heard her own name. Then, a thud. She sat up, ears straining for any sound, but the silence lasted and lasted, stretching, it seemed, from her room to the kitchen. She heard Thomas swearing again, but this time, Janet didn’t answer. Soon, heavy feet pounded on the stairs, and Thomas returned, frowning, the blood high in his face. He carried a cloth bag full of ice and a towel.

“Erin,” Thomas said.

Erin didn’t answer.

“Erin,” her father said, sitting down on the bed. “What did your mother do?”

She leaned against his side, smelled the familiar mix of bourbon and starch, both embedded in his businessman’s shirt.

“I want to hear your side. I think I know already, but I want to hear.”

“Nothing.”

“Erin.”

“I played outside,” she said. “I got mud on the floor.”

“She hit you, didn’t she?”

Erin didn’t answer.

“Erin, I know she hit you.  Just nod your head.”

Erin looked up at her father.

“I knew it,” he said. “That fucking bitch.”

She flinched.

“I’m not mad at you,” Thomas said.

He touched her hair gently, finding the lump again. Erin rested against his lap as he held the ice in place. He spoke softly about where they’d go that weekend, all the way up to the border of Canada. They’d camp, even though it was cold. Maybe one of the other motorcycle riders he knew would bring a kid her age. Falling asleep to the sound of his voice making promises, Erin believed the deep tenor would block forever her mother’s arms coming down, the crack of wood against her body, and the closet door opening and closing, leaving her alone in that small hard world in the dark.

*                        *                        *

Erin sat on the edge of the bed, head heavy in her hands, temples pounding. She reached up, pushed the pads of her thumbs against her aching eyes. The memory of her father’s hands in her hair, his voice promising escape, made every cell in her body cry like a separate child. When she was little, she had believed he could cure anything. She had been wrong and now…now he was gone, leaving her with Janet, with two mothers—the one who’d hated her and the other, who now called her, said she wanted her near.

Erin could see, like a photograph hung on one of Janet’s white walls, her mother’s figure silhouetted against the back porch. Janet’s hands stayed hidden, behind her back, but her face was blotched red with rage, her eyes the green of algaed rocks, and just as hard. Blinking, trying to dispel the memory, Erin lay stunned, trying to dispel the memory. She wondered if she should go back to Patti’s. Outside, the world began to grow faintly light.

She dozed off at dawn, was awakened by Beth’s small hands pulling on her shoulders as Beth called her name, saying, you promised. Groaning, Erin got up. She held Beth’s hand tightly as they walked down the stairs to the kitchen, wanting to ask, to say something, but Beth smiled at her, looked up with her sea eyes clear of memory.

“Drink some coffee,” Beth said, standing on tiptoe to pull a mug from one of the cabinets. “Wake up, will you?” She slid across the tile floor and started tickling Erin.

Janet, sitting at the kitchen table with a checkbook in front of her, frowned. Erin couldn’t meet her eyes. Splashing cold water on her face at the sink, she muttered something about using the car. Then she grabbed the keys from Janet’s outstretched hand, and went for her leather jacket.

“She’s a bear in the morning,” Janet said to Beth. “Just like her father.”

“Right. I’m just like him,” Erin said.

“I didn’t mean that,” Janet said.  She reached out a hand, then dropped it as Erin slung her jacket over her shoulders.

“I’m going out the front, Bethie,” Erin said as she left the room.

Driving Beth to school in Janet’s car, she pulled her mother’s crucifix from the rear view mirror and put it in the glove box. Beth giggled.

“Listen,” Erin said. “I want to ask you something serious.”

“Okay.” Beth pulled one leg up to her chest and held on tight.

“Has Mom ever…punished you?”

“She grounds me sometimes. But mostly we get along. Only now she always wants me to sleep in her bed when Dad comes and…you know. And sometimes she doesn’t talk for a whole day. Or she yells.” Beth stared out the window, began pulling at a loose thread at the top of her knee sock.

“But she doesn’t hit you?”

Beth shook her head, kept pulling at her sock. “Mom’s okay, Erin. Really. You just have to be careful when she’s in a bad mood.”

Erin’s shoulders relaxed. She poked her sister. “I came home so you’d have someone to talk to,” she said to Beth. “Unless you’ve started talking to the furniture, going loca on me.”

“Say something in Spanish. Say something really long.”

“Mi hermana es muy pequeníta, pero habla todo el dia de qualquier cosa, incluso sus novios. Ella tiene veinte mil novios, cada uno muy celoso.”

“What’s that?”

“I said that you’re the size of a mouse, but you talk all the time and have twenty thousand boyfriends who are all very jealous.”

“You did not!”

Erin smiled, pulled the car to the side of the road and picked up her sister’s friends at their bus stop, laughed and answered their questions, let them play rap music on the radio. Their plaid uniformed bodies packed tight in the back seat of the car blurred in the rear view mirror to a panel of blue and gold. Finally, she pulled up at the school.  Beth, before she got out of the car, leaned over and quickly kissed Erin on the cheek. Smiling into Erin’s long gaze, Beth’s face was lit as only a child’s could be. Erin sat still, holding the image of her sister’s sea eyes, her thick brows, turned-up her nose, remembering Beth as a toddler, the high sounds of her laughter, the way she’d run across a room to Erin as if the source of love was found in her sister’s arms. Remembering, Erin wanted to believe Beth had grown up unscathed, that Beth, running over the mud behind their house, had never returned to beatings or closets.

Janet was sitting at the kitchen table when Erin walked in the house. Half hidden by a low partition, the phone at her right hand, she looked like an injured bird, head down, slender shoulders hunched beneath her blouse. The defeat eroded the image of the night before, until the memory of the taut spine, the open closet door, turned to shadow and all Erin could feel, looking at her mother, was pity. Hadn’t it always been this way? Thomas appeared and Janet became someone small and defenseless, someone Erin was bound to defend, no matter the cost. But afterward Janet returned to herself, to the mother Erin knew, beauty the veil over a woman hard with duty, who arrived promptly for parent conferences, sat upright in church, and believed in being a lady, keeping her problems to herself. Erin looked at her mother’s back, at the low wall between them, the hook where the paddle had hung, now strung with patchwork oven mitts. The shining surfaces of the kitchen reflected back emptiness like a thousand mirrors. Erin hesitated, but then Janet lifted her head; Erin saw the two telltale spots of color on her mother’s pale cheeks. She froze. When Janet opened her mouth to speak, Erin turned quickly and walked away before she could hear what her mother had to say.

A few hours later she woke to the sound of vacuuming. Putting a pillow over her head, Erin tried to go back to sleep. Sounds of cupboard doors opening and shutting, of low heels on wood floors, of banging pans, penetrated the soft down over her ears. She got up, showered, put on jeans and a T-shirt. Grabbing her leather jacket and a couple pieces of fruit, she walked out of the house into the dead blades of marsh grass, the smell of salt. Shivering, the sweet tang of apple in her mouth, she reached up once to touch a tree, but the mystery had gone; she was only cold. Sighing, she hoped by the time she got home Janet would be over it, whatever it was.

You Can’t Get There from Here: Prologue


You Can’t Get There from Here

by Lyralen Kaye

Prologue: 1999

The first time Erin Donnelly walked into the strip bar to find her father, she was fourteen. Pulling her red-blonde hair out of its ponytail holder to make herself look older, she’d slipped off her Dad’s motorcycle onto the asphalt of the parking lot with a clatter of the boots he’d bought her for riding, just a little too big so she could grow into them. She walked with a swagger, like she knew what she was doing, because the bouncer stood, arms crossed over his chest, watching. Though she’d grown taller than most of the boys in eighth grade, Erin knew she could only pass for sixteen, not twenty-one. The bouncer glared, but she convinced him to let her inside, holding a motorcycle helmet in her hand like a talisman that connected her to her father.

Music pumped through the bar. She stared at the bodies of strippers with their creamed skin, the glare of yellow lights playing over their muscles, and it seemed she almost knew them as the harbinger of an adulthood that rushed toward her, relentless. She inhaled with a sound sharp as a whistle, forced herself to stay still. Slowly her eyes adjusted to the red candles that lit the back of the bar. Across the room, her father sat alone at a half-moon booth with two empty shot glasses in front of him. She crossed the room, aware of the men watching her, and it seemed, suddenly, she wore a Catholic uniform skirt, saddle shoes, not passing for sixteen at all. She kept her head up, walked right to her father and faced him.

“I thought you were just going to the bathroom,” she said.

He looked at her, the muscles of his wide Irish face slack, blue eyes mapped with red. “I wanted a drink. Erin? You’re fine, Erin. Right? You’re fine.”

She sighed, helped him to his feet, watched him stagger to the door of the bar, wondered what she’d say to him about getting the motorcycle home.

“You drive,” he told her when they got to the bike, his words slurring into each other. “Like I taught you. No one will ever know. Ready?”

She swung a leg over the bike in answer. And then she concentrated on pushing the bike up with his weight behind her, pushing the electric start, turning the gas handle toward her with her right hand. She leaned into a curve that took them out the parking lot and back onto Route 1. Her slender arms cramped from her grip on the handles as the miles ticked by, up the wide highway back from Massachusetts to Maine. Alert to every shift of her father’s weight, she shivered under her leather jacket, ground her teeth, gripped harder. Finally, she steered onto the gravel of their driveway. Behind her, he listed to the side; for a moment she thought the bike would slide out from under them, that they would land on the cold, stone-covered ground, but then she compensated for his weight and braked. As she switched off the headlight, she listened to him breathing, smelled bourbon and sweat.

“Shit Erin,” he said, digging his heels into the gravel with a harsh rasp. “Did you have to take that turn so hard? I think I’m going to puke.”

“Well don’t do it on me,” Erin answered. “You should be grateful I got you here.”

“Yeah, yeah, I’m grateful. Okay, I’m grateful.”

“Because if you ever do this again—”

“You did good,” he told her. “Chip off the old block. I’ll let you drive as much as you want next time. Not just in parking lots, either.”

The porch light came on he spoke. The front door opened, and her mother stepped outside, white face gleaming in the dark as she peered forward.  Her pregnancy swelled under a wool sweater whose ends didn’t quite meet. She must see them, Erin thought, as her mother crossed her arms. For a moment, Erin froze. Her breath formed clouds as it escaped the plastic visor over her helmet. She watched, her eyes dilating, as the shadow of her mother’s body fell toward them. Behind her mother the house—pristine, Maine clapboard, hardwood floors in large rooms—stretched like a cavern. Erin didn’t need to look to know what she’d see: the rise of her mother’s blonde head, the stiff neck and spine, the way her lips thinned to a white line, the way she stood, a statue, unmoving. Erin wanted to call out, to beg, even just to say, I know I’m too young to drive, but I brought him home to you.

Her father gripped her shoulders from behind; Erin dug her heels in, grabbed the handlebars to keep the bike from falling. He dragged a leg over the bike and managed to stand, swaying. Erin sighed, pulled off her helmet, and walked toward her mother, trying not to look at that white face with its two high spots of color. As she hurried by, her mother placed a hand on Erin’s back, gave her one hard shove. Erin stumbled, fell, scrambled back to her feet. She glanced back over her shoulder, still moving toward the first of the steps upstairs. Her father already stood in the doorway behind her. She sighed with relief.

“Nice, Thomas,” her mother said.

Red hair flattened from the helmet, his paunch pushing forward against the bright gold zipper on his leather jacket, Thomas swayed forward. His face changed, lips slackening as they had in the strip bar. His thick fingers reached up and tweaked her mother’s breast.

“Nice, Janet,” he said, and laughed.

Erin stared. Her father, who took her riding, who bought her leather, her father, who drank, but not like this, not when he took her out on the bike, her father who, riding, threw his head back and sang Irish folk songs into the wind…Erin’s boots banged up the steps, away from both of them. She could hear him reeling into the kitchen, and her mother quietly making her way up the stairs.

In her room, Erin tried to stretch the painful cramps from her hands, tried not to think of how her mother would make her pay. Sins of the fathers, she thought, shivering. She pulled on a hooded sweatshirt from Notre Dame. She stood, then, went to the window and watched clouds file past the moon’s dingy pearl surface. Around her the sounds of the house stilled; she heard her father’s footsteps in the hall, and then, for a while, nothing. She waited, her body tense and cold.

Later—how much later she didn’t know—she heard the sound of whimpering, coming through the wall muffled, but high-pitched. She couldn’t breathe. The sound continued, like the faint mewing of a feral cat, crying over its wounds. Erin dug her knuckles into her forehead.  She knew she should be strong, like a hero, like Jeanne d’Arc, like Harriet Tubman, like King Arthur, someone who couldn’t stand to see a woman wronged. Dad, she thought, just once, like a cry, because he was the one who had taught her strength. She started to shake. She took one footstep, then another. Made it to the center of the room. She knew if she could just keep moving, what she would find when she knocked on her parents’ door. She thought of her mother’s belly, of the child that would be her brother or sister. Her body flattened by night, by sound, she took another step, then another, heard the whimpers grow louder as she stepped into the hall. She walked quickly to her parents’ bedroom, knowing if she waited any longer, she’d lose her nerve. She knocked. The sound stilled. No one answered.

Erin knocked again, loudly, her knuckles rapping on the thick wood until they hurt. She heard her father’s footsteps approaching. And then the door opened into the rest of her life.