by Pia Z. Ehrhardt
Once you start telling the truth it's
hard to quit. You look around and reasons are everywhere.
It's like a new appliance, truth-telling, a can opener
that's so good you barely have to turn it.
On the phone my sister asks me why I
don't come out and see her in San Francisco. She thinks
I need a break. Instead of saying I'm busy with work
and family I tell her I hate the people in San Francisco,
don't see what's so great about steep hills, what's
so great about wearing a sweater, and the fog is cold.
I make her cry.
On the phone with my mother I ask her
why she had an affair thirty-three years ago when
she was pregnant with my sister. She says, how do
you know? Dad, I say. When I first found out, I just
pictured her as someone else's mom, screwing with
a big belly, but now I'd like to know why. She says,
none of your damn business, and what difference does
it make now? I'm not sure. Maybe stuff changes for
the better when you bump it.
Our father died in January. He had a
heart attack in the kitchen and coded in the hall
of the hospital. I was in the house borrowing a crock
pot when he fell. I rode in the ambulance and watched
the EMT's work. He was conscious and talked non-stop,
told them his medical history, told the driver not
to take the Interstate. I got car sick, not being
able to look out the window and grab a horizon line.
My dad was rambling about my mom. He said he should've
forgiven her, and I said I'd tell her for him, but
he said, no, because he still didn't.
I call my mother back and ask her again,
and she says, all right, she had an affair because
my father was screwing a neighbor, and being pregnant
she didn't have to worry about getting pregnant. I
ask if she's sure, and she pushes back, wants to know
when I'm going to stop being daddy's girl. Fair question.
I'd like to know myself.
I call my sister back and tell her I'm
jealous of her house, her polished wood floors, because
I live on skinny carpet in an apartment and I'm pissed
she got ahead of me on money when I was always the
best at things, except for getting in trouble. She
still gets in trouble. Guys stalk her, obscene phone
calls come in from phone booths, there'll be a woman
at work who calls late at night to talk about their
boss, but really wants my sister to be her lover.
And my sister knows this, and encourages it, so that
she can feel what it's like to not return the feelings,
because my sister can't do this with me. She loves
so easy. I wish I did.
I call my mother and ask if this was
her only affair, and she says she didn't love anyone
after my father, but my mother likes to say half of
what she knows. She must be reading my mind, because
she says, no, she never slept with another man. Why
not? I ask, but it sounds like a dare, and she hangs
My sister calls and tells me to zip
it about the truth because I'm digging up trouble
that's under control, and civilized people don't speak
whatever comes into their heads. I don't agree with
that, and I say so. Truth is a leveler, but everyone
has to play, or this one's naked and that one's dressed
for snow. She says the truth hurts, and I answer,
exactly, and she says, bitch.
I imagine my sister in my mom's stomach,
and that guy's dick in my mother. I call my sister
and tell her this, ask if she thinks about this, too,
and I can hear her pull back, like I've flicked her
in the eyeball. What are you doing? she says, but
it's all plea and no question. I don't know.
The truth may hurt, but it's no surprise,
it's just a printed receipt.
Maybe I'll ask my husband to keep our
son for a few days and go to San Francisco.
My mother and sister have never asked,
but I get them on three-way-dial and tell them about
the ambulance ride, how dad talked and made add-ons
to his will. There was no paper to write it down.
My memory's terrible. I only remember stuff I never
use. How to measure a hypotenuse. The capital of Kentucky.
The words to Nights In White Satin. They
played this at my sister's wedding, and it seemed
so dumb then.
I didn't care if he forgave my mom.
I took a pen from the tech's pocket and wrote what
my dad was saying on my arm. He told me what to do
with his car and the safety deposit box at the bank,
about papers on his desk. I didn't ask him if he loved
me, although I would have if I'd been telling the
truth then, because that's why I jumped in the ambulance.
I wanted to know. He said I should be nicer to my
sister. I said, what do you mean? He said, you play
her like a drum, cut that shit out. I tell her this
on the phone. I have to. I didn't tell him: I love
you, please, don't die.
About the Author
Pia lives in New Orleans. Her stories
can be found in Mississippi Review, Gingko Tree Review,
Monkey Bicycle, Pindeldyboz and Bridge Magazine. Or
on her handy little website: www.piaze.com.
She's working on a novel called "In The Driveway."