By noon, sloppy ice dollops of rain smacked the windshield like bugs. Great gusts of wind shoved the Celica but it bounced back and held its ground. The roads were empty. Tatum’s car buzzed along under the black blanket of sky. Weather-wise, it appeared that the going might get tough so Tatum pulled off the highway at an exit that promised a Genuine Cowboy Town so she could take a break before a potential stretch of white-knuckling it.
But the sign had lied. Beyond the Sinclair dinosaur at the exit was a short main drag. The road was dirt and the sidewalks were wood and raised off the street, boardwalk-style. Beyond the stores’ front doors (some painted to look like swinging ones) were pharmacies, beauty salons, hardware and feed shops. The whole place looked closed and deserted, but it was just an ordinary town, quiet, behind a cowboy veneer. Tatum reached the end of the main drag which ended abruptly in a field. She pulled into the last parking slot on the block and got out to stretch.
“Guess I better hitch up the car,” she said, pretending to tie it like a horse, trying to get into the spirit of things.
They stepped up onto the boardwalk. The dime store had an ancient children’s ride in front of it. An elephant, a pony, and a fish were dressed in circus regalia, saddled and ready to spin in a small circle.
“How do you think a fish made it into the circus?” Tatum asked Rachael.
The silence that followed was promising. Rachael didn’t answer, but Tatum thought she was considering the question. Acknowledging absurdity is one of the first steps towards healing.
“Want to take a spin?” she offered Rachael.
Rachael looked at Tatum and rolled her eyes.
Tatum didn’t care. She wanted to see its action, hear what little ditty it might play. She dug in her pocket for change. A dime slipped from her hand as she dropped the change into the slot. As she bent to retrieve it, she thought of Paris. He always bothered to pick up stray change from a sidewalk. It wasn’t because he was cheap. It was because he was unwilling to ignore its value.
The ride cranked into action. Surprisingly, the ditty was a circus-y version of “Both Sides Now.” Tatum would’ve put her money on “When the Saints Go Marching In.”
“Rock on,” Tatum said, watching it turn.
Rachael refused to be charmed. She walked away past the ride to the edge of the raised boardwalk. She looked out onto a knapweed infested field, dead and broken, in the November chill.
Tatum stared at the back of Rachael’s head as the elephant, fish, and pony paraded in circles. She was still thinking of Paris and found herself seeing the image of Rachael before her through Paris’ eyes: a child’s silhouette framed on three sides by the wooden walk, the awning above, and the side of the building. The coat open and askew on her shoulders. The kiddie ride in the foreground. The dead field in the distance. But Tatum knew that Paris would see her in the frame, too. He would look at the person looking, see Tatum seeing Rachael. And, if he ever wanted to, he would be able to see Rachael seeing Tatum, too.
A sudden discomfort brought Tatum’s hand to her neck. She rubbed at it, unconsciously. Paris would see her through Rachael’s eyes. Through the family eye.
Families can reduce us, sum a person up in reference to a single bad day in grade school, or excellent grades in math. The athlete. The smart one. The sensitive one (spoken with a sneer). And, of course, the black sheep. It was bad enough having the family idea of her living in her own head, Tatum thought, but at least there, it could remain secret.