The Places We Go

Photo by Muckler Photo
The Places We Go by Weike Wang

Mom gets in the car. Dad gets in the car. Kids get in the back, stare out onto highway signs that pass by in blurs of green, white, illegible white, stare out onto railings that break periodically to reveal a lake, another lake, a great lake, a salt lake, a crater lake. Purple mountains, Dad wants to show them, enameled plains, spacious skies, etc. Toll after toll he pays in cash, in coins dug from the depths of consoles, seat cushions, glove compartments, pockets. Dad taps the odometer. Mom taps the vents, fans herself with hands or rubs hands together. Kids wish to do nothing except annoy Dad, annoy Mom, annoy each other with words like Mom loves me more, Dad loves me more. Kids who speak English only against parents who speak English poorly, rarely, who defer to their kids at info centers, drive-thrus, ticket stations. Kids who speak all the time, have much to say, are opinionated about such things as the depth of the Grand Canyon, the height of the Niagara Falls. That’s it, they say, they sneer. Kids who blab on each other incessantly, who practice cussing when Mom isn’t looking (fuckety fuck fuck fucker’s fuck), who pick at Spam sandwiches and want KFC instead. Kids who are only ever quiet when their parents fight in loud voices, around and around the parking lot of the Hoover Dam, fight about things like lack of parking. No Hoover Dam that day. Or the next day. On to gas stations at Springfield, Cuba, another Springfield, Tulsa, Clinton, Santa Fe, Needles, where Mom waits for bathrooms, restrooms, wash closets, toilets, facilities and Dad waits for no one, finds a bush, urinates. On to rest stops in Scanton, Joliet, Des Moines, Denver, Ely, Long Beach, where kids point to Gushers, Cheetos, Pop Tarts, Lay’s potato chips in salt and vinegar and Dad says no, definitely not. Dad can’t pronounce vinegar, says winegar. Kids chuckle and are immediately slapped across the face, both faces, no favoritism here, no disrespect either. Kids learn to shut up. Which is not how kids learn, Mom says, which is not how anyone learns. Disagreement ensues, ensues, ensuing, stewing, miss one exit, miss two exits, and Dad, incredibly pissed off, floors it to eighty, ninety, a hundred and twenty. Kids, if unimpressed before, now widen their eyes, grip their seat belts, look at anything but each other. Mom, nonchalant, grips at nothing and says, kill us all, see if I care. Speeding ticket in no time. Sir, do you know how fast you were going? Dad says no, blames the gas pedal. On to more state parks, national parks, so many parks like Indiana Dunes, Starved Rock, Shark River Slough, Yosemite, Yellowstone, Acadia, mountain ranges like Sawtooth, Sierras, Appalachia, Rockies, deserts like Mojave, the Great Basin, Sonora, hills like Loess Hills, Black Hills, valleys like the Death Valley, no other valley quite like Death Valley actually. Kids stand in awe, actually smile for a picture, thumbs up. Greenery, shrubbery, salads once and a while. Weird rock formations like the Arches, the Mittens, the Totem Pole, the Mushroom, the Organ Pipe, the Thumb, the Three Sisters, the Nine Sisters, which in Mom’s opinion looks nothing like sisters or people, looks just like a pile of rocks, what’s the big deal? Only one cave—Mammoth Cave—because Dad hates caves, claustrophobic. Nights spent at Motel 6, Super 8, Econolodge, never a Holiday Inn, never an indoor pool or a spa or an arcade or a bowling alley or a paintball field where kids can shoot each other in the back, in the chest, and watch the other one writhe in pain. Mom watches television, documentaries about wild cats that fight on land, wild bears that fight in water, wild birds that fight in air—and says to kids, they’re just like you. Not like us, kids say, offended, slighted by their own mother. Dad pours over atlas until kids say they’re hungry, feed us, feed us. They are fed. Mom falls asleep, Dad falls asleep, kids refuse to sleep and instead fight over bed space, never enough space even if you went all the way to outer space, says one kid to the other one who starts kicking the other one. Kids keep fighting until Dad wakes up, shouts, and kids miraculously get along, a pair of angels. On to supermarkets like Stop and Shop, Hannaford, Kroger, Albertsons, O’Brien’s, Market Basket, Farmer’s Basket, Superking, New Deal, Dixie’s, where Mom remarks on the price of lobster, scallops, steak tips, lamb chops, where she picks up a persimmon, puts it back down. Fifty-nine cents each, ridiculous. On to the dried food aisles where Mom buys cups of ramen in flavors chicken, shrimp, beef, then canned fruit, canned beans. How do you make canned beans? No one knows. Mom dresses beans in mustard and brown sugar. Terrible. Mom dresses beans in ketchup and brown sugar. Incredible. Kids can’t believe how incredible, eat by the spoonful, mouthful, chewing very little, inducing hiccups. States like California go by slow, lots to see. States like Kansas go by fast, less to see.  Dad knows the way, the route. A supreme navigator Dad is. Can drive in rain, snow, in anything really, in the dead of night, in a hurricane. Okay perhaps not in a hurricane. But can drive in high winds, hail, sleet, fog. Can drive with eyes closed and does so for a stretch of I-95. Stop that, Mom says. It’s just an expression, kids say. On to cities like Battle Creek, city of cereal, of Coco Puffs, Coco Pebbles, Coco anything, of powdered sugar falling from the sky. City of Newport Rhode Island, city of mansions like the Breakers, the Elms, the Really Big One aka Le Grande Chateau, once owned by magnates of steel, coal, trains, furnished in gold that Mom finds distasteful, gaudy, an utter waste of good money. On to Boston, Williamsburg, Savannah, Richmond, Philadelphia, cities of history, this country’s very brief history Dad says. Pay homage to trails, bells, halls, forts, ships, ports. Pay homage to old documents up close, four faces pressed against heat sensitive glass until guards tell them to step away sir, ma’am, kids who don’t step away but continue to make faces at the Constitution, the Declaration, the Bill of Rights, exploiting their freedom of speech. On to museums that kids find so boring, droning, until they get to taxidermied elephants, giraffes, recently extinct American buffalo, long ago extinct wooly mammoth, dinosaurs. Mom sits on bench, Dad sits on bench, rub their shoulders in fatigue while kids freak out over dinosaurs. One kid puts entire head into T-rex’s mouth, gets stuck, gets un-stuck, gets into trouble, yelled at, laughed at, but doesn’t regret it, brags about it, gets yelled at again. On to cities like New York City. Look up, Mom says. Look up like a tourist. Look up at the sky, the ceiling, the Grand Central Station ceiling that is sea foam green, so strange. On to cities like Washington D.C., the monuments, the mall, the hill, the house of the President. Many presidents. Dad asks kids to list all the presidents from one to forty-two and they can’t, have no idea past Jefferson. Was there a Pork? A Cooling? A what? Dad shows disappointment by asking if their minds are sieves. No, kids say, not sieves, just forgetful. On to cities like Las Vegas where Dad loses his money, his wallet, his temper, in that order. Twenty on red, fifty, a hundred-fifty, in that order. No kids or windows or clocks. Comes back to motel red-faced, poor, unsure of how he got back to motel in the first place, and Mom, awakened, throws a water glass at his head but misses terribly, terrible aim Mom has, and kids, awakened, step on glass by accident, cutting feet. On to other accidents like car accidents that are bound to happen, that are so named the T-bone, the rear ender, the blind spot didn’t spot, the red light runner, the door ding, the shopping cart, the hit and run, the other hit and run, the-going-uphill-the-wrong-way-and-hitting-another-car-head-on. Smoke everywhere, glass everywhere, and someone’s shouting are you fine? Are you fine? Kids are fine. Dad is fine. Mom is not fine, heaving, heaving. Mom sent to hospital with Dad by her side, kids by her side then sent outside because no hand holding or weeping or talking above a whisper allowed. Because Mom needs rest. Kids also need rest but don’t want it, but can’t help it, fall asleep in separate chairs. Dad refuses rest, refuses rest, refuses to answer kids who ask questions like where’s the bathroom, what’s the time, is Mom awake, is Mom okay. Dad’s watching the monitor. Dad’s not here. End of that day, another day, maybe a third day. On to where Mom wants to go, where do you want to go, Dad asks, spreading atlas across her lap. Mom now fully conscious, now okay, not great but okay. Mom peruses atlas, peruses maps of such detail that she must squint to read, can’t ultimately read, pushes atlas away and says, take me to an ocean. Which ocean? The largest ocean. The Pacific Ocean she means and Dad gets them there. Now here, Mom walks barefoot along the shore, Dad walks barefoot along the shore, and kids, still kids, run themselves into the water, experience vastness, experience coldness, run back.


Weike Wang earned her MFA in fiction from Boston University. She also holds degrees (B.S. and M.S) from Harvard University. Her fiction has been published in Smokelong Quarterly, Redivider, Alaska Quarterly Review, Glimmer Train, and Ploughshares. She currently lives in New York. Her debut novel CHEMISTRY is forthcoming with Knopf. She has a dog named Biscuit.