Benjamin Scott: Fiction: August 2022

Southern Legitimacy Statement: I was born in Dallas to a father from Hopkins County, Texas and a mother from Ashley County, Arkansas. I come from a long and proud line of dairy farmers, oil drillers, coal miners, and truck drivers.

Travis, The First

Inside it’s cold. It rained hard and sideways the whole drive downtown and now we are at the door in dripping clothes. My khakis are polka dotted wet and the waist is too small, and the legs are too short. My navy button-up is even darker with water. It is a hand-me-down and hangs wide over my belt. The water and cool air make my skin tight. Why is the A/C on in the winter?

This building looks like a church, but it isn’t. There’s no classroom for the kids and every room looks like the sanctuary. The whole place is full with a long line like a snake. I don’t like it here. I want to find somewhere empty and alone to read. Every room just has more line. There are a couple old people around, most of the line is young. The girls are pretty with light makeup, but a little comes off every time they use a Kleenex. Boys look cool in leather jackets with patches. A few have sunglasses. I don’t know what they’re protecting their eyes from inside at night.

We’re finally in the big room at the end of the hall. It is tall and everything is made of wood and smells like Christmas. There are a few more grown ups here, in another line along the back wall. Mom steps forward and walks to the line, pulling my hand and my brother’s. Her friend from work is there and Mom grabs her, and they hug for a long time. Dad steps around us and shakes the hand of mom’s friend’s husband. We are all silent.

There is a box in the back also made of wood. It is painted the color of sour cherries and has a lid lined with silk. When I take a couple steps, I see a nose sticking out of the open box. Then a forehead. At first, I thought it was wooden, too. A face carved forever young like Pinocchio. 

I lean a little closer and I recognize Travis, the middle son of my mom’s friend. I remember him from the long summer days Mom would bring me along when they talked and traded work papers. Sitting in the small house with no air conditioning listen to them talk about things I didn’t understand. It was never fun in that faraway town. But the days Mom came at after noon and before dinner, Travis would be there. He would spread across the couch like butter in a tank top. He liked to joke with me about girls in my class and tell stories about how teenagers party. The days that Mom and her friend were too busy to care, he would scoop me from the living room and take me outside to his car, a bright red Mustang. He bought it used when he got his driver’s permit and spent the next two years fixing it. I didn’t understand half of the things he said to me, and even less of what he was doing, but he always explained each step anyway. Every piece of the engine had a specific name and purpose, and he knew all of them. Some days, he would throw me in the passenger seat, and he would drive as fast as he could out of the neighborhood. We would cruise through the town for hours, and it felt like he was worried to slow down because the wind would catch him. I always felt so alive in that car. 

He is still and sleeping. His lips look like wax candy and his hair is fanned out like fire. All the air is still so each person’s sniffles echo. The ceiling is high and triangular, every sound is trapped here. Dad grabs one white hand and Mom pushes bangs from his closed eyes. I don’t understand, why are they bothering him? I look up and my brother is crying. I am not. Travis is sleeping and its rude for everyone to be crying so loud.

Mom pulls my hand, and we walk back to the door. I look over my shoulder before we step out into the rain. Travis is still laying. I hope they tell him I came.