I STILL HAVE DREAMS IN WHICH I CANNOT SCREAM
I plan to tour the country and have packed toothpaste, wool socks, a flashlight. Women plead, be careful. Men say, take a gun. There are two of us, I say. We have mace. No, men say, a gun.
I’m ready for school, first grade. My mom is dressed for work. At the door, we see a hand sweep the dashboard of the van. My dad. But my dad left a half hour ago. Then his face fills the scene, not my dad. Nose smashed beneath a woman’s stocking. Smudged out face. Horror face. Our four hands pushing against his two furious hands.
I’m touring the country because I want to see the cities, and the parks. I want to eat too many donuts in Portland and hike up to meet mountain goats in Montana. I want to drive across the continental divide four times in Colorado. In Utah, I want to get my tent gritty with red dirt. We sleep out many nights. Warm nights in busy campgrounds and cold nights when every place is just about to close. We do not take a gun. Our house is made of mesh.
I’m only five so I fit in the triangle of space behind a forced-open door. He has pinned me there, dragged my mom down the hall. I cannot hear anything but thudding and closeness. I feel the weight of air in my ears. My screams are a hiss.
We have no money. We cannot be careful if careful is sleeping every night in a Hampton, instead of on a stranger’s couch. We meet two guys traveling like us, but on bikes. It’s great they say, we stop and sleep wherever. I tell them it is not the same for two women, and these young men from Southern California cannot understand. Listen, I say, you don’t have as many holes to penetrate. And one of them is tall. I point that out. They laugh. Take off their shoes and dance in bare feet. Watching them, I think, maybe I’m wrong. There are still people who want their money, and snakes.
Even at home with the deadbolt on, when I wake at night, I am afraid. You’re safe, my girlfriend says, go back to sleep. I love her, though I know she is wrong.
It’s eight months we are gone and not often I am scared. Once, in a campground near Sonoma, I go to the showers and there’s a man in a blue truck parked outside. He’s putting on clean socks. I do not like his eyes. I lock myself in a stall and won’t undress until I hear him leave. Later, his truck is circling the sites. On his second go round, he stops and asks, what’s it cost to stay the night? He is looking, not listening. Despite myself, I wish for the gun. I’d do it, I think. I hate the feel of it, heavy and cold in my palm. I’d shoot him just for looking.
Rachel Mangini's fiction has been published in JMWW and Smokelong Quarterly. She could tell you camping in Sonoma Valley costs forty-eight bucks a night, but it is posted right there on the sign.