I was pretty sure my parents were tricksters. From an early age, I was watching them out of the corners of my eyes.
Like when we took a road trip all the way across the country when I was four years old, driving west across old Route 66 from Pennsylvania to California, where my aunt and uncle lived. Days and days of endless barren landscapes, our brand new station wagon throwing up a dust storm that followed in our wake. No air conditioning. The windows were wide open, making any kind of talking sort of impossible. It was dry, and dusty, with a hot wind blowing in your face all day long. My brother and I bounced and blew around in the back seat in a woozy stupor. Every so often, one of us would come out of our haze long enough to let out a plaintive whine of “How much longer?” or, even more important, “Are you sure there’s a POOL?”
I got to eat pancakes every morning.
At one of the pancake places, I got a little stuffed burro with a bell in his ear for my souvenir of the trip. Except I wasn’t allowed to make the bell ring because it drove everyone nuts, so mostly I just held him in my lap and stared at him.
My aunt and uncle had a new baby. I’d pretty much never seen a baby before, and I wasn’t at all sure she was real. She just sat there doing absolutely nothing most of the time. Every so often I would pinch her, to see if she was real after all. She would scream or cry or something, but somehow I still wasn’t entirely convinced.
I was pretty sure the people next store were really, really bad and would snatch me up or hurt me if I got too close to them. They were always trying to get me to come over to their gate to talk to them, or to show me something. They didn’t speak English, and they wore clothes that covered them all up from head to toe, and they were older than even my grandparents. I made sure never to get too close to that gate, even if I didn’t see them in their yard. But that meant that I had to stay in my aunt and uncle’s garage, and that was terrifying, too, as my aunt had shown me a bottle that she swore had a genie inside. It was hard to find a place that was far enough from the gate and from the bottle, both. But at least I could stand there and shake my burro’s bell.
My parents seemed to think that everything was funny. They laughed all the time in California, and I was pretty sure they were laughing at me. But I was watching them. They just seemed like people with a lot of secrets. Mean people. With secrets.
*The blog has been silent for a spell, while I have labored over the re-re-re-writes of my upcoming novel Pushing the River. In the interim, I have become fascinated with the concept of the unreliable narrator. And I continue to be taken with the idea of flash fiction. Hence, a little piece that utilizes both.