by Kathleen Siddell
Jessie stops at a red light. Even with the windows down, she can feel beads of sweat gather at her hairline, building momentum. The blue Ford Fiesta in front of her is tagged with a bumper sticker that reads, “Jesus saves.” Jessie’s dad had wanted to name her Jesus, but her mother said no. “We’re not Hispanic and this baby is a girl. I’m sure of it.” They compromised on Jesse. When she was 10, Jessie added the “i” to her name. Her friend Nikki used to draw little hearts to dot the “i”s in her name, and no one had ever mistaken Nikki for a boy.
Jessie is 20 miles from home but the smell of McDonald’s French fries is the same around here as it is near home and the Target out here looks exactly the same. Maybe this is why her dad never leaves the house. Everything’s the same everywhere you go.
She figures she has enough gas to go at least 100 more miles. She has $20 in her pocket, which might get her even farther—but then what? Her dad will eventually notice his pickup is gone. Probably before he notices that Jessie is gone.
She follows the Ford Fiesta into the 7-11 at the next intersection. The Ford pulls in to get gas. Jessie goes inside to buy a Coke. Her mother never used to let her drink Coke. But now that her mother is gone, it doesn’t really matter. This thought makes Jessie feel bad enough to put the Coke back. She buys an Arizona iced tea instead.
“She’ll always be with you.” That’s what everyone kept saying after the funeral. When Jessie asked her dad later if he thought her mother could see her from heaven, he said, “Forever and always.” Since then, Jessie has felt like she is on camera. Did her mom see Harry Wilson call her a dyke? Did her mom see Jessie cry after she got home and looked up the word dyke? Did she see Jessie look in the mirror, desperately hoping her breasts would grow and desperately hoping they wouldn’t? Did she see the way her dad stopped noticing her altogether?
The man driving the Ford stood with his hand on the gas pump while his son stood next to him, watching the number of gallons tick up. A girl rested her head on the open backseat window and laughed with them. Jessie used to pretend she had brothers and sisters. Her mother used to pray for more kids. But her father used to say Jessie was enough. Sometimes Jessie thought he said this as a show of gratitude. But since her mother had died, she’d wondered if what he’d really meant was that she was a burden.
Jessie got back into her dad’s pickup and waited while the father and son finished with the gas. She watched them in her mirror as they started to pull away. And then she followed them. As they pulled back onto the main road, the girl in the back seat held her hand out the window, trying to catch the wind.
The Ford turned left. Then Jessie turned left, making sure not to follow too closely. She told herself she just wanted to see where they were going or where they lived. How did other people live? There must be something better.
“Take me somewhere better than this, Mama.”
The Ford turned right. Jessie didn’t. She pressed her foot on the gas and kept driving.
Image: The Ford Fiesta AT by Ranjan via Flickr