Fiction: Object Permanence by Sabrina Hicks

My sister Daisy got a half-heart tattoo on her wrist, said the other half was with one of those dirt bike boys outside the 7-11, who’d moved on to petty crime and short stints in jail. Someone she thinks is worth a visit today. I picture Daisy behind the glass partition in her new yellow lace top, tapping her chewed nails against her teeth while I sun myself in the old Pontiac convertible Mom left us.

I’d stopped reading the book I’d found on the dash, and had tipped my seat way back so I could no longer see the chain link fence of the penitentiary or the coiled razor wire. All I see is big sky with a stitch of white from a plane going somewhere I imagine a lot of green, or a white sand beach with a sway of trees. A place that erases everything.

When she comes back, she slings her purse to the floor by my feet.

“Took you long enough,” I say, though I enjoyed being alone with the sky.

“He’s a piece of shit,” Daisy says.

I want to ask which one, but they’re all the same version of our deadbeat father. I want to tell her I love her, but we haven’t said those words since Mom died a year ago and now the unspoken feel too much of what holds us together.

“Cee Cee!” she snaps, gesturing for me to sit up.

I launch my seat upright until my view is an assault of serrated metal wrapped around acres of dead grass and blocks of concrete buildings.

“He begged me to come,” she yells over the engine, adjusting the rearview mirror. “Said he had some really big news and the big news is he needs money for a lawyer.”

I stare at the side of her: hair combed long and straight, face painted. She looks like our mother and it strikes me that she’s the same age as Mom was when she had Daisy—twenty years old, five years old than me and now my legal guardian. On nights I can’t sleep, she lets me call her Mama, maybe even strokes my hair, tells me things she’d heard Mom say when we were little, starting over someplace new. Sweet dreams til sunbeams find you, Cee Cee.

“Have you ever heard of object permanence?” I ask. She’s on the desert road, nothing but cacti and this scar of blacktop leading away from the prison that contains the father of that seed inside Daisy, forming, taking shape into someone I try to imagine, but cannot.

“No,” she says, and I can tell she is deciding whether to cry or get mad.

“Babies don’t have it, but we do. It’s when you understand something is there even when you can’t see it.”

She eyes the book in my lap. It’s the one she left in the car, the one about pregnancy and what to expect, as if the anxiety of what’s to come can be tolerated if only the mother knows the unknowable. Daisy’s knuckles grow white around the wheel, angry tears run down her face, and the wind is hitting us so our hair is everywhere, turning our view into a mosaic of cacti and road.

“Why are you reading that book?”

“Nothing else to do while I was waiting.”

I’m hoping she stays mad, but she’s crying and softening and that’s worse. I look down at the book, see the mother in a rocking chair, cradling her pregnant belly and think, Mom would know what to do. She’d know and this world took her right when we needed her the most. A lump in her breast, a biopsy, a late stage diagnosis, a year of casseroles, pies, appointments, fundraisers, debt. Then nothing but a house with her ghost in every room.

“When you play Peek-a-boo with a baby, they don’t know where you go when you cover your face with your hands. Imagine that,” I say over the wind. “Imagine the only thing that exists is what we see in front of us right here, right now.” I gesture to the long stretch of road, our horizon ending with the mountains ahead, washed out under a low winter sun. “Like whatever is happening on the other side, in that valley, is not happening. Maybe it doesn’t even exist until we get there.”

Daisy pulls over on the lone highway and our hair falls into knotted piles. There is a thin layer of dust on our faces. I rub the grit away, pull the strands of hair out of my mouth to ask her what she’s doing.

“Once we get over those mountains, things change, Cee Cee, and I don’t know what to do,” Daisy says.

“You didn’t tell him, did you?”

She shakes her head no, runs her fingers through her hair, then stares down at her flat stomach.

I extend my hand and give hers a squeeze. “Once we get over those mountains, there will be no right answer and there will be no wrong answer. And you’ll know what to do because we’ll do it together, whatever it is.”

Daisy buries her head into my shoulder and I stroke her hair, saying things I know our mother would say, that sometimes the only answers we have are the imperfect ones. She pulls away and digs around in the cup holder, takes out a pen and puts it to the inside of my wrist, drawing the other half of her tattooed heart. When the ink is bold, we line them up to match and she smiles at me in a way that holds no memory of our mother dying, of Daisy working two jobs to pay our rent, of boys who hurt her. She’s just Daisy. And the road ahead will be nothing but air rushing past, mountains in front of us, a memory left behind, and me next to her.

Sabrina Hicks lives in Arizona with her family. Her work has appeared in Five South Journal, Pidgeonholes, Trampset, Monkeybicycle, Reckon Review, Split Lip, Milk Candy Review, with stories included in Best Small Fictions 2021 and Wigleaf’s Top 50 (2020 and 2021). More of her work can be found at sabrinahicks.com.

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