Aunt Theresa has given us a can of gasoline, so we could go for a drive with our new used car.
The upholstery inside has oil stains and cigarette holes as wide as my pinkie. It smells like a woman who has spent her whole afternoon in a day bar, chain smoking and drinking cheap vodka while being felt up by the man across her, even drunker than her.
My husband and I are going out for a picnic. My favourite spot is in the woods near the monastery, a place I’ve known since I was a little girl. But we have to leave the tarmac and drive on a path of dry earth for the last section of the road. This rusting heap of metal we call a car squeaks and moans while the dust rises around us like we’re in a sandstorm.
“Is this normal?” I ask.
“Yes,” says Stephen. “The car’s just fine.”
“I can’t believe that we paid more for this piece of crap than for a new one.”
“What were you going to do?”
Nothing. The average Romanian waits for a new car for up to eight years. But after the defection of my brother-in-law, we have been demoted from the rank of ‘comrade’ to the one of ‘persona non grata’. We would have never stood a chance to get our hands on a new Dacia.
“I’m sorry you had to sell your stamps,” I say.
“I’m sorrier for your earrings.”
“Don’t worry about it. Aunt Theresa will give them back to me. Somehow.”
No matter how green the foliage is, on the ground of the forest are always dead leaves. A permanent reminder of the fall. I spread our blanket on top of them, near the dirty creek I fell in at least a dozen of times when I was little. My mother always brought a spare set of clothing for me.
“What is it?” Stephen asks.
“I forgot my mother at home.”
Stephen rolls his eyes.
“We’re fine. We don’t have to go. I pulled her out of the bowl and placed her in the perfume bottle. I just forgot her on the kitchen counter.”
“Fabulous. The kitchen counter.”
“Don’t worry. The secret service people don’t have any reasons to search our house this weekend. They paid us a visit two weeks ago. And even if they do — they won’t find her. You can’t see through the bottle, I found a metal container for her.”
He starts folding the blanket.
“Alina, really, when will you start behaving like a grown-up? You always manage to pull something like this.”
“You know what? I never should have told you.”
I’m schlepping the heavy straw basket from the trunk, hoping that Stephen will change his mind.
“You honestly think that I wouldn’t notice? And besides, we’re talking about your mother here, Alina, for God’s sake!”
Yes. My mother. My mother who dug out our dirty little secret by going through my things while I was not at home. My mother who was blackmailing us into staying put and swallowing all the crap the government made us eat. My mother who had it coming.
So yes, when Stephen invokes God and my mother in the same sentence, I shrug. Stephen drags the picnic basket back into the car.
“You know, I’d like to do something that doesn’t involve my mother for the first time this month,” I say.
Stephen shakes his head.
“Did you leave her there on purpose? After what you’ve done to her?”
On the little mound on the other bank of the creek, three poppies have sprouted from the compost. I’d like to crush their petals between my lips.
“Do you really think she would have enjoyed the picnic? Should we have set her free so she could have scurried off? Only to be eaten tonight by a fox?”, I muse.
“You’re unbelievable. Let’s go.”
I sit on the bed of leaves. The earth is cool, but my blood is boiling.
“Alina! Let’s go. The poor woman-“
“Yes. The poor woman. That’s not what you called her until I took care of the problem. I took care of the problem, because you were busy calling her names. Busy not staining your white hands. Your failed architect hands.”
“Alina, this is not the time-“
Stephen steps into the car and starts the engine. He knows that I won’t let him wait forever. We only have a canister of gasoline and if we run of fuel, we have to get home on foot.
I get up and before I get into the car, I jump on the other bank and pick a poppy, though I now that it will wilt in the car.
On our way back home, I insert my finger into one of the cigarette burns on the upholstery and tug lightly, so that my husband wouldn’t hear the fabric ripping.
Sophie van Llewyn is an Assistant Editor with Bartleby Snopes. Her prose has been published by or forthcoming in Flash Frontier, The Molotov Cocktail, Hermeneutic Chaos Journal, Halo, Spelk, Unbroken Journal, among others. She is currently polishing her novella-in-flash.