After school traffic accumulated on Myrtle Avenue on yet anther cool, foggy Humboldt County day, my mother reached across my chest as she slammed the brakes to avoid hitting one of the neighborhood’s stray dogs.
“Moooooooom! I’m wearing a seatbelt! You don’t haaaaaave to do that.” I bellyached.
“I know sweetie, it’s called ‘instinct,’ I just want to keep you safe, it’s what mom’s do. “
“How do you spell instinct, Mom?” I always did well in school, but I had become increasingly interested in my spelling homework in recent months, as my mother has taken to spelling out information she didn’t want me to hear during her friendly “adult conversations.” Yesterday I had heard her ask our family friend, Pat, if he wanted to meet us for M-I-L-K-S-H-A-K-E-S at A-R-C-T-I-C-C-I-R-C-L-E after she picked me up from my elementary school where I was attending first grade.
My mom always picked me up with a snack in hand which was a drastic change from when my father would pick me up. My parents had been divorced since I was three and because my dad drove a delivery truck route that did not always maintain a formal schedule, he would often be late to pick me up from school. In one instance he forgot to pick me up all together, and I waited in front of the school in the dark until one of the office ladies drove me home to my mom. Today my mom had a fruit salad-like mixture of cantalope, honeydew melon and green grapes, our favorite.
After being released by my teacher I sprinted to the back lot where my mom was parked in her gold 1976 Monte Carlo. She popped open the passenger door before I even made it to the chain link fence that surrounded our campus. I always felt so tiny in that car, even though I was always a little chubbier than my classmates. The dirty beige vinyl stuck to the back of my legs where my shorts ended and because the key had recently broken off in the ignition, starting the beast required a flat head screwdriver and an exposed dashboard.
We pulled out of the gravel on to 16th street, past the halfway houses and the older kids who were allowed to walk home alone. Though my mom’s house was less than three blocks away, I would not gain that privilege until the following year. I expected to see Pat waiting on the front porch when we got back, but the walk from his Old Town loft took him longer than expected. The car came to a stop with a squeal and before my mom could kill the engine my all time favorite song, from my all time favorite movie poured through the speakers. Bohemian Rhapsody by the band Queen had been used in the opening scenes of the film Wayne’s World and since then my mother and I had continued with the somewhat ritualistic head bang at the guitair solo mid song.
“Pleeeeeease! Can we stay in the car? I love this song! Moooooom!?” I cried out.
“We’ve got plans- oh, oh well. Sure we can wait in the car. Do you want to play Red Car, Blue car?”
Red Car, Blue Car, was a game my mother invented to play in the driveway of our house. We’d sit in the car facing one direction, the driveway parallel to the street, and try to be the first person to spot either a red car or a blue car. My mom was the master of this game. She called cars before they even appeared, it seemed.
“Red car!” my mom peeped.
“Shoot! How’d you get that so fast?” I frowned.
“Blue car!” She said a little bit louder. Traffic was thinning out just to pick back up again at the five o’ clock hour.
I was appalled, I hadn’t even called out one car before she had tallied up at least ten. I began watching her like a hawk. Studying her eyes, trying to figure out if maybe she had some sort of super power. I had already considered this because both her siblings, my aunt and uncle were born with vision issues and were legally blind by the time they were my age, but my mom had no issues.
“RED CAR! Yes! Got one!” I practically hit my head on the roof I jumped out of my seat so high.
Just then I noticed my mother gazing in the rearview mirror, and before I could tease her for being in love with her own face, she said the magic words.
“Red car. There’s another one.”
My jaw dropped, and I sat completely silent. My mother looked at me with serious concern in her eyes.
“What’s wrong, honey? Are you not feeling well?”
“You’re cheating.” I scowled.
I’d never seen my mother laugh so hard in my life, and to this day, I’ve never felt so betrayed.
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