Rejection Letters

Sutton County Drive

They left San Antonio at four in the morning. Their mother had given no explanation for waking the boys up, dressing them, and loading them into the back of their station wagon. The younger boy, Paddy, couldn’t wake up. He stumbled around sucking his thumb and clinging to the stuffed rabbit that he slept with. Charley, the big brother, was old enough to know you don’t get up in the middle of the night and drive away.

“Momma, where are we going?”

“Your grandmother’s. If we leave now, we’ll be there by lunch!” She stuffed her clothes into a suitcase. “She’ll be so happy to see us!”

Charley stood in the doorway of her bedroom. He watched her, tried to suss out meaning from her face.

Two hours later, the sun rose behind them as they cruised along the empty interstate. “Mommy.” Paddy was rocking back and forth. “Mommy, I have to go.”

Their mother didn’t say a word. Charley spoke up. “Momma. Pat needs to pee.” “Ok,” she said. “Ok.”

Charley watched his brother, saw him strain against his seatbelt. “Momma, he needs to go now.”

“Please mommy,” Paddy was squinting his eyes with effort.

“OK,” their mother replied again. “We’ll be in Sonora in twenty minutes.” “I don’t think he can wait.”

She drove. Charley looked for a bottle or cup. Before he could find one Paddy started crying. A wet spot developed in the front of his jeans and all over the back seat where he sat.

Charley moved closer to his door. “Momma, Paddy peed!” “What? Paddy?”

Paddy sat still, head down, crying.

She pulled the car over. They were sitting there, just below the top of a hill, in silence.

When she turned around, tears were running down her face. “Dammit! Dammit, Paddy! Why didn’t you hold it?”

Charley shot back in defense of his brother. “It’s not his fault! He told you he had to go! I told you! Why are we out here! I want to go home!”

He could see her knuckles flexing as she held the wheel, looking straight ahead. A minute passed. Then, with grace and swiftness, she was out the door, walking around to his side. She opened it. “Come.’ Her voice was sweet, no longer cutting. It was smooth and beautiful, the way he imagined milk and honey tasted.

He got out with her and she held his hand. She led him to a barbed wire fence ten yards from the asphalt. The fence was old, the posts disintegrating. She took hold of it, careful of the barbs, and leaned forward.

“Charles,” she said. “What do you see out there?” “Where, momma?”

“Out there,” she threw her chin forward to indicate. “Everywhere.”

“I don’t know, momma.” He wasn’t sure if this was a well laid trap, whether the anger of the car was lurking behind her soft words.

“Alright, son, I’ll tell you.” She stood up straight. “Everything out there, everything we see when we cross that ridge. All of it. It isn’t ours.”

She draped her arm over his shoulder and pulled him closer. “It isn’t ours, son. And none of it ever will be.”

***

Travis Cravey is a maintenance man in Southeastern Pennsylvania. He’ll show you all his stories if you ask.

image: Meagan Johanson

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