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Lauren Lights Out

Story by Joshua Rupp (Read author interview) December 16, 2014

art by James Alby

I’m Lauren. I’m eight. Dad says we have to go.

We pack some stuff in the truck. There isn’t room for the dog. Dad busts its head and leaves it down in the basement with Mom.

We’re driving at night. I should be sad, I guess. I start to cry.

“Stop that,” says Dad. “You never cared about that bitch one way or the other.”

He gives me a cigarette. “You can hold it, but you can’t smoke it,” he says. I hold it in my lips. It’s like the time a moth got in my mouth while I was asleep. I pretend to puff on it.

I’m trying to remember the dog’s name. Mom called him something. Theo? Leo? Dad would just say, “Who names a goddamn dog, anyway?” Dad hates dogs. They’ve been digging up all the gardens of all the peoples everywhere for all time. Screw them.

This was my third mom, and she didn’t last that long. I didn’t like that place, anyway. I didn’t like the green carpet that grabbed you. Dad says, “You can’t trust a woman, no way, no how. Promise you’ll never become one.”

I promise. Dad starts to sing. He sings “When the Saints Come Marching In.” When he hits ‘the saints’ he nudges me with his elbow so I know when it’s my turn to go, so he’s like, “Oh, when the SAINTS …” and I go “WHEN THE SAINTS …” and he goes “Oh, when the SAINTS …” and I go “YEAH, WHEN THE SAINTS …” and we go on like that until I miss once and he just stops and lets me finish the song with the window down so we leave the song behind us.

Feels like we drive forever. It gets light, then dark again. Dad stops once for cigarettes, once for gas. I don’t know if I’m asleep. Sometimes I think I’ve always been asleep, but Dad says I’ll wake up one of these days.

We listen to the radio. A Jew is talking about fighting in the desert. Dad listens until he can’t stand it anymore and turns the radio off. “We should never have given women the vote,” he says. “If your kids ever ask you how we ended up with a nigger president, you might tell them that.”

Dad stops to get a map. He tells me to wait in the car. He tells me not to play with the radio. A woman is standing up ahead of us, getting gas. She looks like Mom, but I can’t remember which one. I turn the knob on the radio back and forward really fast so that all the voices become one voice. I wonder if Dad would let me have a cat. He doesn’t like cats, but he doesn’t hate them. I think I had a cat when I was very young. I remember it sitting at the foot of my bed. But later it would keep getting bigger and bigger until it was bigger than me, and I could feel it breathing on my face. The voice on the radio tells me to get out of the car and run. Dad comes out of the store. I turn the radio back to the station we were on, so he won’t know.

“Can I have a cat?” I ask Dad as we drive off.

“If you’re good, he says.

I try to remember the first thing about me. I was standing in the sea, and a big wave washed over me. Dad says that never happened. I remembered him picking me up and carrying me away from the water. Dad says we never lived near the sea. He says I saw that in a movie.

“You’re a storyteller, though,” he says. “You didn’t get that from your mother. You got that from me.”

Sometimes I dream I’m a house with no windows. I’m flooding. I feel the ocean filling me up from the basement. When I turn to tell Dad, the black water comes out of my mouth and starts to fill the truck, but Dad doesn’t notice. I blink and the water’s gone.

Dad starts to sing again. I help him finish the song. I don’t miss this time. He tells me thanks. He says without me, he wouldn’t sing in the car. He says without me, he’d be nowhere.

“Where are we going to live?” I ask him.

“This is where we live,” he says.

About the Author

When Joshua Rupp was a child visiting Germany, he went to the Bone House, a cage in town where they stacked the skulls dug up from paupers’ graves. While he was staring at the skulls, a man from a local stall came over, wound up a mechanical chicken, and made it walk over the top of the cage. He then took his chicken back, bowed, and went away. Joshua realized that nothing more important was ever going to happen.

About the Artist

James Alby is a photographer from Portland, Oregon. This image was used via the Flickr Creative Commons license.

This story appeared in Issue Forty-Six of SmokeLong Quarterly.
SmokeLong Quarterly Issue Forty-Six

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