Well you know your father, Mary May says to her son from behind the wheel.
It’s 1991 so the boy, Noah, sits in the front passenger seat. Back when that was still okay. He hears but the thing is he doesn’t know his father. Not really. A day and half every fourth or fifth weekend goes fast.
The car is one of those crappy four-cylinder Mustangs from the eighties. Smaller and weaker than the real Mustangs.
He’s just not reliable. Mary May keeps her eyes on the road as she speaks.
George Strait is singing “You Know Me Better Than That” on the radio.
Noah looks at the plastic knobs and levers on the dash, the blue-to-red graphic telling cold to hot air, the green analog digits on the clock and radio. He wishes one of those knobs or levers is a turbo boost button. One that would boost their speed to warp drive. Carry them to another world.
Noah can’t decide on his dad. His mom sure knows him better than Noah. She is smart. She clued Noah in on all kinds of stuff.
Why plants need water and light—to make plant food. Why the dog needs water but not juice—because he can’t handle people food. Why he has to go to school in another town than his sister—because Mom just can’t handle her attitude even though she loves her children the same. Why Noah and his sister have the same daddy even though their mom hasn’t lived with their daddy since a few years before Noah was born—because people have needs and an IUD isn’t one hundred percent. Why she drinks so much—because she works too hard. Why she can’t come to the school at lunch with a personal pan pizza from Pizza Hut like AJ’s mom does—because we’re not made of money and I work too hard. Why she tells Noah hard stuff to hear like this—because moms should always want to be honest with their children even when it’s tough to hear or will haunt their psyche for years. Why she hits so hard so often—because sometimes Noah is just the most difficult child on Earth and why didn’t she stop at one kid, or have any at all because she works too hard. Why Noah flies into fits of rage he can’t control until his arms are tired sometimes—because he’s a little hotheaded is all and it’s fine.
And if she’s so honest and smart and tough on bad kids, only seems right that she’d tell the truth about Noah’s dad. Like why she kicked Uncle Tommy out of the house once for using the N-word at the dinner table, screamed at him and looked like she wanted to smack him the way she did Noah—because she doesn’t want that kind of language in front of her child. She wants the best for him, Noah decides.
I know, I know he is, Noah says in a voice beyond his years but the kid in him takes over and he hits the blue A/C button hoping it sends them into warp speed.
Quicker than the blast of air can scream out of the vents Mary May pushes the button off and then in habit backhands Noah across the mouth and face. She says nothing and keeps driving, accelerating beyond the speed limit as if the turbo button has worked.
Tears well up in Noah’s eyes as the sting sets in and the road ahead becomes blurry.