A Car Nation

There’s a Shell gas station exactly between my mother’s house and my father’s. The first neon S has burned out, so it’s a hell Station.

I walk from one passenger seat to the other, trying not to inhale too deeply the gasoline fumes or the smells from the rotating taquito stand inside or the adult sadness leaking from an empty bottle of Mad Dog crushed like crystal on the pavement, the plastic of it all melting.


Dad gives me a carnation. I imagine he plucked it out of a bride’s bouquet, and I’m sorry if she misses it, but it’s mine now.

The carnation is either pink or yellow or red or white or green or an apology or a promise or nothing at all, more trash.


Mom has a blue cotton dress covered in flowers, wild ones that have no name. She wears it when we go see a movie after I break my leg.

“You want to see a movie?”

“We just got out of one.”

“Would you like to see another?”

We see four movies that day. I drink four cherry Cokes and bubble over with love, sugar, smallness. No pain, only screens and lives we can pretend are ours for eighty minutes plus previews.


I should not have been crying so hard when I climbed into my mother’s car. I should not have opened that door crying, but I can’t remember what color the carnation is or why my parents can’t get out of the driver’s seats or why we have to meet at hell Station in the first place. 

I’ve tried so hard to remember the point of it all that my mind bled milk. I cannot remember being born. I cannot remember my mother looking into my baby blue or green or sorry eyes saying, it’s just you and me now, baby, we’re alone in this world.

When she tells me this story, I think, speak for yourself, before I wish that our skin would melt together. So that she never has to feel alone, we can melt together like plastic in the sun.


“You want to live with your father?” she yells. “Go. You don’t mean shit to me either.”

I can’t look away from the carnation limp over my little legs—pale and shaking and yet unbroken. I cannot look up to see if her face is honest or hurt or real or a flower.

I cannot see if she did it on purpose.

I cannot look up to see the car swerve out of its lane, into a meadow of little yellows, blues, guard rail, shrapnel, bugs.

So many bugs in that meadow!

They crawl in through the shattered passenger window, and I watch them dart in zigzags up my leg that’s bent at the wrong angle but doesn’t yet hurt.

Though at seven years old, I’ve never broken anything before, I remember having that knowing like a premonition that soon it will hurt very badly.

The plastic of us all, melting.

Mara Erdman is a fictionist and poet from the mountains of Western North Carolina. She received the Sullivan Writing Scholar award for excellence in both playwriting and fiction from the Stetson University Honors Program and received her MFA from Queens University of Charlotte, where she served as head fiction editor of Qu Magazine. Her work has been described as “a leak of overwhelm at the human condition”—the wondrous systems of the natural world, the collective of human history, the archetypal and the excruciatingly personal. Her current writing fixates on how to be in relationship with a natural world that demands our attention, a project she will be developing at Bread Loaf’s Environmental Writers Conference this summer.