Sometimes boy, you really disgust me. Acting like you know more than I in your twenty-two years. Acting like a few months traveling gives you a firmer grasp of the world than mine. You’re better versed than me? Really? I sit prone, withered in your passenger seat, mute for now and reeling. I know nothing? I know more about the world than you could hope to muster from all your culture shock adventures and your fresh new indecipherable technology, you beautiful, vile boy.
Lines trickle by below us and still I feel immovable, a weighty forced object, a burden on your desire for quick, efficient motion.
I am compelled to speak, momentarily erase the silence that shoots from condescending glances in the rear-view mirror;
‘That girl you see, she’s not a small girl, is she?’
‘Are you feeding her up?’ I continue. Why? I’m not entirely sure. The trickle of lines below slow their pace and solidify.
A grimace, a glance.
‘Are you feeding her up with that foreign grease so nobody else will look at her? I don’t think there’s any danger of that happening as it is.’
You firm your jaw and exhale. Eyes on the road you say, ‘Grandma that’s enough. I’ll turn around if you carry on.’
An empty threat. I carry on; ‘I was very slender at her age. I’m still slender now, look.’ I gesture towards my waist, once taut, now deflated. My hair, once thick and healthy now hangs in cruel wisps round hollow cheeks: I couldn’t bear to cut it off.
You don’t dignify me with a response. The lines begin to blur faster, the engine yields beneath us and we speed away.
‘I’ll be surprised if she lives past forty, the way you feed her.’ I can’t stop.
Once you pass forty time sears at a faster rate. It accelerates. People come and go, hurtling past your peripheral vision, their whole lives mere asides to a conversation.
You look dead ahead, my snipe ignored for the meantime. Long fingers on thick smooth hands grasp the wheel, exasperated. Arms tense, strong and decisive. You always look so healthy, so vital. A physical presence that makes others very aware of you with a cold, detached manner that maybe you affected through growing up, or has always been there.
My lips part and immediately your knuckles whiten and tense their grip.
Keep your eyes on the road.
‘Well? Big strong clever boy like you could do much better. Jetting off to all those places, you could have found a nice girl there. What would your grandfather say if he saw you going about with a great big lump like that?’
Eyes close again, then narrow, ‘That’s enough now.’
I continue, it just comes out; ‘Men in this family like their women a particular way. Small. They want a petite girl. Your grandfather was beautiful, he could fit his arms all the way around me and then some. Big arms, like yours. You disgust me, you know that? Sometimes you truly, truly disgust me.’
I inhale, stale breath whistling.
You push a pedal, we move faster now, lines becoming one continuous smudge. Your fingers grip red, white, tan.
‘I told you, that’s enough. I can turn this car around and we won’t go anywhere.’
A toss of your head and the dim sunlight catches thin strands of taupe hair that shine bronze, copper. Eyes fixed straight ahead. That haircut looks expensive. The childish waves I used to stroke have vanished. You think you’re a man now? Still, it gleams softly in the decaying beams of light that filter through windows you diligently polished before leaving. Everything sparkles and reeks of expensive perfume. Your car is immaculate as though we are the first to ever step inside it. Nothing whatsoever to mark it as yours, not a trace of use. Efficient. You always were. Not a thing out of place.
‘What kind of a man straightens his hair? I mean, really?’
This is met with a snort, An appreciative one?
Your grandfather had the most incredible hair when he was your age, thick waves. Your mother – she was so gorgeous as well. How they would hate to see you now with that ridiculous hair and that ridiculous girl on your arm.’ I can’t seem to stop myself speaking. As it comes out my stomach warms and relaxes.
‘You’re a disappointment. Wherever you swan off to on your travels or however much you earn doing whatever gutless thing you do, you disappoint me.’
Your eyes meet mine. ‘That’s enough.’ There is an edge to your voice now.
My lips purse involuntarily and again, I am mute. Once full lips, not perfect but full nonetheless, now a crooked red gash, flanked by indents. A strangers’ face that shocks me every time its ghost glowers back through pristine glass.
Silently, we pull onto a side road. Your arms maneuver the wheel and your eyes flash to the window, the mirror, then back again. Fluid, well-rehearsed motions. Wordlessly, a stare shot in my direction dispels the hot self-confidence that had flourished in my chest and throat. Back to the mirrors, you turn the car around.