Time in a Bottle resulted from a set writing prompt: a family drama, no more than 500 words, containing Summer, heat, road, dog, sadness.
“How long till we get there?” Jessie asked for the third time.
We sweated as heat filled Grand-pa’s hand-me-down station wagon, too cheap for air-conditioning. Or a radio that worked.
I sat up front next to Mom, Jessie and Kal behind, cramped by luggage ’cos MJ wanted to ride with the dog in the back. The two of them sat looking out the tailgate window. MJ imitated a truck horn in reply to another eighteen wheeler as it passed us. A faded sticker on the back of the semi declared ‘Nixon ’72.’
Jessie told MJ to shut up.
Mom told her not to speak to her brother like that.
MJ went back to making little growls and barks the dog didn’t understand.
“If Dad were driving we’d be there by now.”
Mom clenched the steering wheel, eyes fixed on the road.
“Well your father isn’t here.”
Kal let out a long sigh, the ear-piece on Dad’s little AM radio not loud enough to block us all out. Mom let him have the radio back for the trip, after the incident at school with the beer and cigarettes.
Jessie bitched about everything since Mom took away her makeup and called her denim shorts ‘indecent.’
“I don’t care what the other girls are wearing,” Mom said, setting off a whole lot of yelling and door slamming from both of them.
MJ took Dad’s leaving real bad; decided life as a dog was easier. He refused to go to Summer Camp, screamed the house down saying they didn’t allow dogs.
Right before school ended, Dad moved to the West coast with his new girlfriend. ‘The College Floozy’ Mom called her. Dad promised MJ he’d come visit at Christmas. We didn’t believe him.
Kal wanted to go live with them.
“We’ll see,” Dad said. We didn’t believe that either.
None of us really wanted to spend Summer with Grandma and Grandpa. Somehow we had to get through five weeks of Grandma railing against Dad no matter what the conversation. Not that we’d get much conversation. More likely Grandpa reading out something from the papers about the deficit, or unemployment or China; Grandma finding a way to blame Dad for those, too.
Five weeks of stories about the Depression and the war, and which of their elderly neighbors died over the Winter. Five weeks of Jessie, bored because she couldn’t take her records and wouldn’t make friends, and Kal brooding because he wanted to be any place but where he was. And me with a three-mile walk into that no-horse town, to a library that didn’t have any books. At least, nothing published after 1958.
Mom struggled the most. She blamed herself for Dad leaving, because everyone but Grandma blamed her. I’d hear her on the phone to Grandma sometimes, too angry to cry out the sadness.
“Well, how long?” Jessie asked again.
Kal let out another long sigh. MJ in back just growled.
Right then, Summer felt like a lifetime.