Alexa, How Far to Destin?

Green is the color of the icing on my brother, Jeffy’s chocolate cake. It’s also the color of his entire face now after he let it drop into the middle of the jungle scene on his cake.

“Awww, shit,” my dad says. “Jeffy, man. Why’d you have to go and do that?” 

“Jeffy is 6,” I tell my dad. “He doesn’t know shit about why he does what he does.” I’m no genius, but I know that.

“Can you please go ask your Mom to come in here?” my dad says.

“Get her yourself,” I say, not looking at him.

She’s “taking a break” out on the front porch meditating or praying. She alternates between calling it meditating and praying. Her pastor, a real numnut, says meditating and yoga is for Pagans, but she likes yoga secretly. She prays for a miracle. Jeffy’s difficult and she left four months ago after a screaming match with my dad. She was gone for three weeks. An eternity. I don’t know where the hell she went. I just know Jeffy picked his eyebrows hairs out one by one and when she came back, it took Jeffy a few days to look at her. I don’t talk much to anyone in my family except for Jeffy, because he doesn’t say one thing and do another like my parents who say they love each other and yet, they act like two separate halves of an avocado.

The lady at Ingles created Jeffy’s cake for me. I drew a picture for her to use. She was impressed by my skills. She was just being nice, but I did feel my face heat up when she complimented my drawing. I am hungry for compliments, I guess. I’ll take it from a lady with a hair net and prominent gums or a boy with shoulder-length brown hair who asks to see my drawings. He looks impressed and I wonder if he’ll ask me to a movie. Yesterday he asked me a question just as the bus squeaked to a stop in front of the house two doors down from mine. But not about going to a movie. He wants a nude. I say maybe and get off the bus as soon as I can. I’d been dreading this question. I’d heard about it but figured boys didn’t think my body would be something to see.

Our mom likes to call in the power of the holy spirit when things get rough. She thinks God is in her back pocket and that he killed Jesus to make us deserve God’s love. Fuck that. Who would be dumb enough to believe that bullshit? Maybe Jesus died because he made people feel uncomfortable because he said everyone deserves to be loved. That is literally the only thing I agree with.

Jeffy wants to live in the jungle and own a pig farm. I don’t know why. I am not keen on bugs or sticky heat, but I told him I’d visit him. I’d visit him no matter where he goes on this planet. Or any other? he asks me. Yes, I say, though I’m also not keen on talking about outer space or whether there’s life on other planets or whether UFO’s are real. Life on this planet confuses me enough. Jeffy says Mars is his second favorite place besides the jungle.

Green is the color of Jeffy’s favorite dinosaur shirt. My mom tries to remember to wash it every day. If she forgets which is a lot, I distract him. My Jeffy distraction routine consists of pop tarts and playing barefooted in the yard. I let him ride on me. He sprinkles pop tarts in my hair. I can feel the crumbs down my back.

One of Jeffy’s party guest cries, one picks his nose, one crosses her arms and scowls at Jeffy, and the other one raises his eyebrows at his parents as if to say, See, what I mean? This is why I didn’t want to come in the first place. I know what other kids think about Jeffy. I’ve eaten lunch with him on bring a family member day at his school and the other kids sat far away from us even though big sisters are supposed to be a ticket to being cool. Maybe that means more about me.

I hold up the cake knife and tell all the kids to chill.  I cut the edges off and make six little pieces for each kid while my dad stands next to me with his hands on his hips like an old aunt, monitoring but not really helping. The edge pieces are sky blue with a couple of birds flying, because Jeffy told me that birds are a big important part of the jungle. I look up at the friends and back at the number of birds. I know how six-year-old brains work even the smartest ones. “Not everyone gets a piece of bird, all right? So just swipe that thought right out of your brains,” I say. I look up at Jeffy whose eyes are blinking in a thick way because of the icing. “Except for the birthday boy,” I say, smiling at Jeffy.

One of the two girl-friends, stands up and puts her hands on her hips and says, “Why should he get a bird? He wrecked da cake wif his face.”

I am impressed by her use of wreck, but still she annoys the shit out of me with her long blond hair and ability to articulate herself.  Jeffy can never say that type of thing. People are always misunderstanding him. “The birthday boy gets to wreck the cake and still get all the good stuff,” I say, handing out the pieces, placing the biggest piece with the bright yellow bird flying in the middle in front of Jeffy. I make sure the blond girl gets the wreckest piece of all. I don’t even know if that’s a word.

Green is the color of the grass in front of the air conditioning unit in the side yard. It’s cool and soft and sometimes I take Jeffy there when he’s sad or stuck on an idea. We take our shoes off and pretend to be explorers and when the unit kicks on, we know it’s ready to climb on top and blast off somewhere. I don’t have to be too elaborate for Jeffy to be satisfied. I’ve only hit him once when he bit me for no reason or at least no reason I could ascertain. I only slapped his butt but a couple of times and then I squeezed him hard and said I was sorry.

“It’s not fair,” the blond girl says, looking down at her piece. “My cake is squished.” Her tiny voice breaks as she says this and part of me feels guilty, but Jeffy is my priority and the blond girl will have lots of good pieces of cake in her life except for the fact that she’s a girl and girls are second class citizen, especially black girls. After hundreds or thousands of years of life on the planet, we still can’t get it right. I told my history teacher that people suck. He started to argue and then he just nodded and the boy behind me whispered, “You suck.”

“Life’s not fair,” I say, grabbing a chunk of cake from where Jeffy had planted his face. I stuff it in my mouth. The Ingles lady was not lying. That cake was moist as any I’d ever tasted.

The blond girl slides her plate away, sniffs, and wipes her nose with the back of her hand. I can see a little smear of blood on her hand. Her mother bends down and gathers her hair back into a ponytail, then lets it drop down her back. “Oh honey. It’s ok. It still tastes good. Do you have a tissue?” the blond girl’s Mother asks my dad.

My dad narrows his eyes at me, then shifts his glance and softens his face as he says to the mother, “Of course, I’ll get her a tissue.”

As he passes me, he jerks my arm to come with him to the kitchen. I jerk back, because I decide where my body goes. He whisper-yells into my ear once we round the corner into the avocado green kitchen. “Go check on your mother. I don’t like your attitude toward our guests. Jeffy face planted into the cake. I’d be upset too. It’s understandable.”

“She’s got all the privileges, Dad. Jeffy doesn’t have a fucking chance.”

“That’s not for you to rectify. Right here. Right now. You can’t save the world, Connie. You’re 15. Your life will keep you busy enough.”

I walk away.

Green is the color of my dad’s breath. Army green. Ghost buster green. Stale and cigarette lungs green. A sprinkle of mold on the edge of bread green.

My mother is smoking her weekly wits-end smoke. She’s not praying or meditating. Or maybe she is while she smokes. Who am I to say? A bottle of beer is next to her. I sit next to her and take a gulp. “Why are you hiding out here when Jeffy is having his birthday party?”

“Why don’t you ever talk to me?” she asks.

“Oh, not this right now. I do talk to you. I’m just tired of the bullshit.”

“What bullshit, Connie? I’m just living my life. I’m just trying to do the best I can.” She takes a long drag of her cigarette and then flicks it into the yard. “I came back, didn’t I? I promise I won’t leave again. Everybody screws up sometimes.”

I chug the rest of her beer before she can grab it from me. “Dad needs you in there. Jeffy face planted into his cake and I’m apparently acting like a bitch to the spoiled kids in there.”

“I can’t bear to go in there with the good parents. I don’t know how to help Jeffy. He’s always mad. Everything has to be just so with him.”

“Just fucking show up for once. Just go in there and do anything. Anything at all.  Duck Duck Goose for all I care.”

My mom got up and raised her hand above me like she was going to hit me, then she leaned down and kissed me real hard on my cheek. “Can’t you watch your language?” she said, huffing to a stand. “For once.”

A bird sang in the tree growing too close to our house. She has her babies to think about. Birds don’t sing for our pleasure. They sing to survive and protect. I’ve always liked that little tidbit of knowledge ever since I went on a field trip to the Botanical Gardens in the fifth grade and the guy in the bird room said that. Don’t think they’re singing for you kids. It’s not like your own private concert. They got work to do. He winked, but I knew he was pissed at us stupid kids and the world.

My mom slams the door and I say a damn prayer for me to not be so angry and mean. And her not to give up. For her and Dad to love each other again. Maybe if we were like other families who go to the beach or something. Maybe I’ll tell my parents they can go away and figure out why they chose each other in the first place, we’d be ok. Green is the color of the man on the beer label. I throw it on the ground and smash it to pieces and go back inside.

Inside the blond girl is having a full-fledge nosebleed. Jeffy is hovering around her, his face still full of icing which is now hardening so that he looks like he’s wearing a radioactive facial mask. My father cleans up the mess of plates. My mother sits on the carpet and announces a game of duck duck goose in a voice that it is higher than her normal voice. I sit next to her along with the four other kids who don’t have a bloody nose. They pile up right next to me in a straight line, not exactly getting the concept of Duck Duck Goose.  I lean my head on my mother’s shoulder like I did when I was 12 and she took me to Nashville to eat at the Spaghetti Factory and see Katy Perry in concert.

“You’ll be ok,” I hear Jeffy say to the blond girl in his robotic way. Then he sits next to my mom on the floor. Jeffy slides his hand in between the crook of her knee. Green is the color of my mother’s eyes. The green marble that looks like a swirling universe.

When it’s my turn to run around, I pick the blond girl and she runs around, still holding her tissue up to her nose. I let her touch me. She squeals as if she’s won the whole day. I sit in the mush-pot of our ill-formed circle. I think about whether I’ll send a nude to Craig, the boy on the bus. I want to ask my mom if sending a nude is always a bad idea, but I’ve learned she can’t handle simple questions. She can’t discuss things with me like I’m a reasonable human. She gets mad before I’ve done anything bad. I want her to answer the question I’m not saying out loud: Who will love me? Jeffy scrambles onto my lap and I hold him tight, the way he likes. I cry into his shirt until he turns around and backs his head away from me. I laugh to trick him.  “Connie, what’s funny and sad?” The kid can’t be tricked.

“Your green face, buddy.”

He leaps up and pulls me out of the mush pot. “Connie’s turn,” he yells. Miraculously nobody argues with the birthday boy. I walk around and around like I did when I was a little girl trying to annoy the other kids by taking too long to make my choice. I finally land a hand on my mom’s shoulder. She chases me until we both trip and fall on the ground and nearly smash the whole gang of kids and now I really am laughing especially when my dad, the old aunt, comes to find out what all the commotion is about.

I look up at him. “Dad, you would make a good old aunt.”

My mom laughs and says, “Oh my god, he so would.” She gets up and squeezes his face together with both of her hands and kisses his forehead. They are the exact same height. He closes his eyes and breaths her in, I can tell.

Green is the color of my mother’s secrete yoga mat she keeps in her closet. Green is the color of my Language Arts three ring binder on which I wrote, fuck you, world, two months ago with a silver paint pen. Green is the color of the tree outside my window. In the fall and spring when I leave my window open, I can hear the leaves blow and it makes me forget that I’m miserable. It makes me forget that nothing special will ever happen.

“We should go to the beach,” I say just as my mom let’s go of my dad’s face. All the little party friends and good parents leave. As the door closes on the last guest and we all look around at the mess, I hold my breath. I am waiting for the beach answer. I’d camp. And I’d take Jeffy to hunt for shells so my parents could find out why they got together in the place. I’ve heard that’s the key. I’d sleep on the fucking ground if I had to. I wouldn’t care. I’d send a hundred nudes and go to church with my mom and hear the numnut preacher, if my parents would just pack Jeffy and me up and drive to the ocean. Teach us how to be happy for once.

My mom says, “Alexa, how far to Destin Beach?” She got Alexa for her birthday and it’s her favorite thing now except when Jeffy asks it things like Alexa, Do aliens kill people or just tickle their privates?  

Alexa answers, seven hours and fifteen minutes.

I cover my ears as I walk outside to the porch while they talk. I take Jeffy with me. I don’t like to hear potential bad news. I don’t even like to ask a store clerk where a product is for fear they don’t have it. I’d rather walk up and down the isles a hundred times and leave with the hope that it’s actually there, and I’ll find it another day. I sit on the porch and listen to the neighbor’s murmuring voices. I listen to the birds some more. I tell Jeffy about their songs of survival.

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