There Was That Time

Chelsea Harris

There was that time I got out of my car at a red light and hopped in somebody else’s. He was a dad and his kid was strapped into the back and shame on him for not locking his doors. He took me to the lighthouse because I said that if he didn’t, I’d find out who his wife was and tell her we were having an affair. Once I opened the door, his tires ripped through the gravel like they were shredding paper, just taillights framed in dust and fog and the things that hide. The lighthouse was stamped into the blue of the sky like an art project his kid would have made. I could have sworn I saw a man out there, on the rocks, his arms raised up to the sun. And I could have sworn he was singing.

There was that time my mom called me while I was in the waiting room of an abortion clinic and said I NEED YOU TO GET HOME RIGHT NOW BECAUSE YOUR BROTHER IS CONTEMPLATING SETTING HIMSELF ON FIRE. I tried to reschedule the appointment, but they said they were booked. They said either I get this baby out of me right now or I don’t. They said maybe I could find another clinic. They said they could recommend a few. When I got home my brother was standing in the tub and there was a gallon-of-milk jug full of gasoline on top of one of my mother’s towels embroidered with ferns and he said I’M GOING TO DO IT AND YOU CAN’T STOP ME. My mother was screaming downstairs, her hands in her hair, saying over and over nononononononono. He had a grill lighter and he held it out in front of him and flicked the switch. A flame emerged from the tip and I thought of the way my boyfriend’s penis emerged from his foreskin. He started singing the national anthem as he brought the flame closer to his chest, and my mother ran up the stairs with a mop bucket full of water like that was all she needed to save him.

There was that time I spent a weekend at my Papa’s and he taught me how to drive stick. After I crashed his car into the garage door he told me I was going to have to work to pay him back for the damages. He made me spend all day Sunday picking up the walnuts that had fallen from the black walnut trees around his property. When I asked him if he wanted me to keep them, he told me that black walnut trees are primarily used for their timber, not their fruit, and that I could throw them over the banking. I watched them tumble down the brush, some of them finding their way into crevices, hiding among twigs and mulch, scraps of bread and eggshells, others rolling past, rolling down, all the way down to the river’s edge, pushing themselves into the water to try and become a part of something else.

There was that time I worked as Laundromat attendant at a place called Loads of Fun. It was my job to greet the customers and help them separate their lights from their darks, and if they opted to pay an extra dollar a load, I would fold everything for them. Stacks of stark white undies and fresh socks littered in tiny cotton pills, silk blouses and work jeans with holes in the knees. I liked to put the nicest-looking garments in between the worn ones. It was a way of getting to know their future. I wished I had a way to get to know mine. I wondered what would happen if I curled myself up and squeezed my body into a dryer, asked someone to turn it on. I wondered if they would, and if they did, I wondered at what point they would decide to turn it off.

Chelsea Harris received her MFA from Columbia College Chicago. Her work has appeared, or is forthcoming, in Cleaver Magazine, Habitat Magazine, The Fem, pamplemousse, Quaint Magazine, and Hair Trigger. She co-runs a zine and reading series in Chicago called The Antarctican and is the event coordinator for Fifth Wednesday Journal.