The Lullaby Of White And Black Flames

I don’t know how to begin this.

It’s like when your house burns down, and then you’re worried that the phone bill might have been in the mailbox. Would they send you a new copy before it’s due?

That’s what this post is going to be like. Me, worried about what’s due when it’s already over.

OK. Nothing really matters now.

Might as well start with part of what I promised: What the fuck’s with the cable service in St. Cloud?

Every hotel we’ve been with has been plagued with random static channels that come on when you least expect them. Which is at 3 in the morning. At full, snowy volume.

I don’t know anything about TV technology, other than how to plug things in and aim the remote, but is there some sort of signal that can make sets come on at all hours of the night?

Perhaps I’m supposed to jump to Poltergeist conclusions, with ghost alligators in the broadcast sewers, but I think it’s probably some problem with Comcast or whatever service the hotels are using.

Still. Annoying as fuck – I have to unplug the TV each night.

Anyway, I’ve been trying to make the best of things.

Mom wasn’t helping at all. She was still dressing all punk like she did in the old photographs I found in some 7-inches (right before we started running away from Portland), and she hangs out almost all day a few blocks down at the Crossroads Center.

Yesterday I braved the warm, sticky wetness that’s been dominating the weather, and went to the mall to catch the bus. I decided to go in for a few minutes to hit the bathroom, and as I walked past a gaggle of girls leaving Justice, I saw Mom sitting on some chairs, over by the Mountain Dew machines. Yes, the soda machines have their own mini-lounges and TV sets, to accentuate the sugar and caffeine rush experience.

Anyway, she was there, and for a moment I thought she was staring at the Victoria’s Secret, or at least the pink and white sale signs in front. As I walked over, it was clear that she had on her far away stare again, and that she was looking at whatever people in crazy town look at – fluffy bunnies fighting fluffy chicks in Nicolas Cage matches.

Yeah, I’m a refuge from crazy town myself right about now, and it all started when I sat down next to her while her fingers tapped and twitched away against the table. I gave her my usual tug against her left earlobe – the same thing I had been doing for years – and she turned around and grabbed me by the throat, and looked at me with hungry eyes like I was a lollipop.

“Don’t.” Let her hand relax a bit. “Mira.” Forced smile. “Don’t sneak up like that, Mira.” I quickly pushed away from the table and sprinted away past Caribou Coffee and Best Buy Mobile, towards the Food Court.

I couldn’t fucking believe her. I didn’t even care about the bus anymore, I just wanted to take whatever exit was as far away from her as possible, and never look back. No one touches me like that, ever.

I made it about a hundred feet away, and right before I turned towards the Proactive vending box with Avril Lavigne all over it, she suddenly rushed behind me and grabbed me by the shoulders.

I remember her arms, warm and strong, and her studded bracelets poking against my neck and chin. Then there was a quick blackness, and I woke up on a couch over by the restrooms near JC Penny’s.

I can remember what happened, but as she sat with my head in her lap, carefully brushing my hair with her hand, it was like a warm wave of forgiveness rushed over me. I wanted to jump up and slap her, but instead the anger just floated away.

We stayed there for a while, just looking at each other. The same way we always did at home, good day or bad, during our special time when nothing mattered but her smile. I clearly hadn’t grown out of her blanketing control, but this was ridiculous.

It didn’t seem like it then. We got up, walked past the Food Court lines (an hour must have passed in order for there to have been the lunchtime crowd), and weaved past Aerie and Macy’s, and down the corridor to Target.

I was still in a daze, more interested in the used video game shop than the big, white bullseye, but she led me by the hand, past the red snack center and candy-cluttered checkout lines, and down the aisles.

I didn’t understand the point. Did we need greeting cards or towels for our new life? Would the latest Blu-ray or pink panties from China make everything better?

Everything was heavy, swimmy, blurry, and I could have swore I saw a girl in a red and black Circle X uniform, straightening the cereal. Isn’t Circle X only in Japan? Long black hair with two pony tails, held by twist ties. She was smiling at me. I knew her. Did I know her?

Mom saw her too, and started to freak out, and so she picked me up like a big bag of potting soil and ran out of the store, my feet dangling and occasionally catching against hung clothes or the floor. I felt frozen. Disconnected.

She ran out into the sunny parking lot, and put me down long enough to push me past the red Target shopping carts, around the corner of the building and back towards the front of the mall.

She kept looking up at the black-windowed security cameras, and seemed to hide me from them as we ran past a few stray cars and the nearly empty loading docks.

“Mira, breathe. Breathe.” She was making such a big fuss about that, until I realized that I was holding my breath, all cheeks puffed out like I was ready to meet the bottom of the pool. So I let out the air, a big whoosh before she started tugging me forward again.

“It’s too soon…. shit!” She looked up intensely at the sky. “The subway’s going to come soon.”

As we quickly rounded Sears she aimed me towards the bus shelter.

Too soon? What fucking subway? I would give up my backpack full of twenties if I could just understand what has been going on for the past month.

She waited with me on the uncomfortable seats. “It’s going to be OK.” She didn’t sound convincing at all. “I’ve got the twins, and I’m going to take care of everything this time.”

Crazy. She paid her crazy dollar to put me on the first bus that was headed back to the Transit Center – a few miles away near the Mississippi river.

“Listen to me, Mira.” She sat down next to me, and it felt like everyone on the bus was looking at us, including the driver. “The only way that I can save you now is to steal the golden spike. Do you understand me?” She clutched my hands extra tight, and then let go as she stood up. “Of course you don’t. I hope you’ll forgive me someday.” Raised her voice to a yell so the entire bus winced. “Have you ever prayed Mira? It’s time to pray now.”

With that, she squeezed past an impressively large woman that was getting on the bus, and ran back into the mall.

I’ve wished for many things in my life, but I don’t think I’ve ever prayed. I wouldn’t know where to start.

I imagined myself jumping off the bus and following her.

I kept imagining that as it went forward a few feet, and then turned past some parked cars towards the exit.

It was a beautiful dream, a chase ending in an endless embrace, with warm smiles and tears.

The hotel was a few blocks away, but I didn’t care.

I just stayed on the bus as it wove through the city, past banks and houses and trees and barely any people actually walking around.

When I walked around town, did people in cars and on the bus stare at me, feeling sorry that I had to make my legs work?

Or was I just the same as a telephone pole, or a button you’d press to walk across the street? Something you’d never pay attention to unless you were lost on the way back to the SUV.

I don’t know anything right now. Except that my mother didn’t come back to the hotel tonight, to take me out to dinner, or for anything else.

Her room is right next door, and it’s been silent ever since I got back this evening.

I lied to the desk clerk, the young guy with the big ears that keeps asking me out. I told him that my Mom sent me down since she had locked her key card in the room. That sounded good to him, and I rewarded him with an extra smile. I like big ears.

Once I opened the door with a click and whir, I tried my best not to freak out. I was too old to give in to the freaking.

It was empty.

The sink was dry. The dresser hollow. The bed made like it was ready for the next guest.

Nothing in the fridge. Nothing of hers anywhere.

The fucking TV was on, throwing static into the air-conditioned wind.

Is this it? Is she really not coming back tonight, or tomorrow?

I sat on the edge of the bed, closed my eyes and let it whisper away.

A lullaby of white and black flames promising nothing, and everything.

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