Dad considered the use of seat belts to be an insult to his driving.
“Now, if your mother was at the wheel,” he’d say, flicking the butt of a Camel off his thumb. “I could see if your mother was at the wheel,” he’d say, a little slower and more nostalgic that time, because our mom was dead, and she had died in a car accident while he was driving. “If I see you boys even touch that strap,” he’d say. We’d inch our hands slowly back down to our sides. “That’s what I thought,” he’d whisper.
Mom took out a life insurance policy before she died. “See that homeless man?” she’d asked, driving us to gymnastics. “You can stop worrying about your dad ending up like that. You don’t have to think about your dad and worry every single time you see a crazy homeless man on a corner,” she said.
Jeremy had started crying then.
Jeremy and I are twins but not the creepy kind. And we have red hair but, and you are just going to have to trust me on this, not the upsetting kind. We’re identical and I think Jeremy looks a lot younger, but Dad said we came out side by side, both of us at the exact same time, whistling Dixie. When Jeremy asked if he was serious, Dad smacked him on the forehead and told him no one wanted to hear which one of us was forty-five goddamn seconds older than the other.
Jeremy and I are gymnasts but not the unsettling sort of redheaded, twin, teen male gymnasts. People don’t appreciate how gymnastics prepares you for sports like football, even if you never play those other sports, because you never wanted to anyway. Gymnastics teaches you how your body moves through space, how it can be thrown, how it collides.
After Mom died, Dad started spending all of his time in the garage, smoking and working on his Corvette C6. Jeremy and I asked just about every other day if we could ride in it, but Dad said that the last thing anyone wanted to see was a couple of freckled reds riding in the back of America’s premier performance car. “This thing’s an icon,” he’d say. We aren’t exactly covered in freckles. I mean we are, but not the sick kind, not the kind that give people the willies, definitely not the kind that creep mothers out, not when they’re on their own kids. Jeremy’s are like that, actually, especially the big red raised ones on his back and shoulders. When he is doing flares on the pommel horse, the sight of them makes me want to just strangle the life right out him. Mom and I used to joke about that sometimes. Not really. But I wish we had.
Sometimes at night I sneak out into the garage and look at Dad’s car, its smooth round curves and headlamps like big glass eyes. Sometimes I lie on the hood and imagine the engine under me, waiting to go fast, to jump and hum, to leave this house in its dust. Jeremy can always tell when I leave my bed. He follows me out there, stands in the doorway staring at me, the sick light from the hallway squeezing out through the crooks of his arms, his dingy white underwear sagging.
Jeremy ruins everything.
We were all in the wagon when she died. We were on our way to a meet, wearing our singlets and stirrup pants. We looked pretty good. Jeremy was picking at this thing on the top of his hand, this purple mole-looking thing with a mottled head and a hair sticking out of it. I saw Mom watching him do it in the rearview. He just wouldn’t stop, not even when it started to bleed a little. Dad didn’t notice—he was smoking and talking about the great time he was making, how if we’d just hurry up and lose as soon we got there we could all be home and in our pajamas by eight. I could tell Mom didn’t think anyone was watching when she grabbed the wheel and pulled it toward her.
There were no belts to hold us, no straps to absorb the punch. The way we must have all come together, the seats like springboards; we, grabbing metal like still rings. Dad was just lucky, I guess. But Mom had made sure we would know how our bodies moved through space. She knew we’d know how to collide.
Jill Summers writes short stories, puppet shows, and once, a play. Her fiction has been featured on NPR and published in Monkeybicycle, DeComp, Knee-Jerk, Ninth Letter, Annalemma, The2ndHand, and Make Magazine, among others. She teaches in the First-Year Writing Program at Columbia College Chicago. Her website is dottysummers.com.
Illustrations by Meghan Murphy