by Rose Himber Howse
When we spun out on the way to Nashville, the track marks that my father’s truck made in the highway had perfect radial symmetry. His ways were unexplainable to anyone who hadn’t seen him carve peach pits into slender brown cats. He once told me that a trout was alive against the startling evidence of its gills pricking the surface of the Green River. He said it craved the atmosphere, that it could smell the lemongrass. Once a dead spider hung like an ornament in his orange beard, and I told him so. I looked too hard at his pupils that day. When my own caught his, he choked on his cornbread. As he cleared his throat, I sensed a rapid staining of the years past. I’d somehow trapped them in sepia. He refused a sip of my lemonade, instead gripping the table until he stopped coughing. The unwavering white of his knuckles reminded me of how he held the steering wheel like he expected it to start writhing, wrenching itself from his grasp.
When we spun out on the way to Nashville, we stayed in the Mountain Vue Motel until the truck could be fixed. He had always wanted me baptized. Here was a chance; March had thawed the leaf-filled pool. My head fit in his hand like the right-sized bowling ball. When I was submerged, his yank on my hair reminded me which way was up. I rose from the water laughing, but he only shivered, his pupils blending oddly into his irises like the Smokies fading into storm clouds. He pointed upward at a peeling billboard proclaiming Jesus’ love for me, and handed me his jacket so that I could dry myself. The contents of the pocket tumbled out onto the crumbling pavement and he jerked his head toward me. As I bent down to see what had fallen, I was distracted by a dandelion growing out of a crack in the concrete. In these seconds he grabbed the jacket back, stuffing the items into its pocket. I pretended to watch the flower fixedly, and he picked two slimy leaves from my back. His big toe is as long and ugly as a thumb, and he accidently crushed the dandelion with it. I laughed, knowing that we’d hear the scattered rhythms of Nashville come morning.