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  • Before Long
  • Jacob Newberry (bio)

What I remember from the drive is that the sun was shining like a bronze star descending in the horizon. My mother was looking out the window while my brother drove too fast, and everything was like Monet: just the outline of shapes I recognized, more beautiful in motion than when still. There was the impression of a field and the impression of brown cattle, and the star in the distance consumed by the small hills.

My brother’s window was down, and the van was moving very fast, and so he had to shout. I’m not going to fucking do this every week. My mother stayed still, looking out her window while the wind picked up her hair and made it dance. I know you can hear me, he said. This is, what, the tenth time? For Christ’s sake. She was breathing slowly, and I knew her eyes were closed. But I wouldn’t tell my brother this. He was still shouting. I’m never doing this again. Do you hear me? Never. He kept his eyes on the road. You can die next time for all I care. He kept driving, and there wasn’t much farther to go.

I wanted him to turn the tape player on, for us to have a soundtrack while her breathing slowed. The first time it happened he put on the Diana Ross tape because he was scared and he still loved her then. She was quiet that first time, too, but he didn’t shout. Mom, he said. Just try to stay awake. He put his arm on hers and tried to shake her lightly. He was afraid. I was in the backseat, because he wouldn’t leave me home alone. I didn’t know what was happening, only I knew he was afraid, but soon Diana Ross came on and he looked at me in the rear-view mirror and tried to smile. He said: Sing, Danny. Mom always loves it when you sing. She and I would listen to Diana when she drove me to school in the mornings. She was slumped in the passenger seat, her mouth open, and I knew all the words to “Where Did Our Love Go,” while my brother drove fast through the countryside. You can sing louder than that, can’t you? He kept asking me in a funny way, like he was trying to make me laugh but knew I wouldn’t. It was night.

I wanted him to turn the Diana Ross tape on, but he was too upset. He had stopped shouting, and we were almost there. By now I think he knew our mother wasn’t awake anymore, and so there was [End Page 54] no point in shouting. A few of the other times it had happened he’d apologized to me, but this time he didn’t. I knew the drill. He drove up to the emergency room, and I ran in to tell them. He waited in the car, angry and exhausted. She was leaning against the window now, and I knew he wouldn’t get out of the car when they came and brought her in. I’d go in with her like always, though, and before long he’d come in and find me.

And so when they came to the passenger door I was in the entryway hearing them say the same things I’d heard before. Ma’am, the paramedic said, we’re going to have to open the car door and bring you inside. She wasn’t awake and was leaning against the window, so if they opened it she would fall to the ground. That’s what happened the last time. It had only been a week, and so she had the bruise on her right cheek from where it happened. I don’t know if it was the same paramedics this time, but they anticipated her falling and managed to catch her. Then they put her in a wheelchair. The first man was careful when he lifted her legs to the footrests, I think because he knew I was watching him. They...


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pp. 54-56
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