Fast-Moving Dreams (a novel excerpt)
by Lisa McCormack
Paige doesn’t have to see in the dark truck to know the purple vein in Big Daddy’s forehead is pulsing, that his hands clench the steering wheel and his lips twitch as they prepare to unleash a barrage of shaming words. The speedometer glows white, faintly illuminating Big Daddy in his stiff new overalls. Fifty, sixty, seventy miles per hour, too fast for the clunky red pick-up that whines to keep up with Big Daddy’s rage. Paige crouches against the passenger door.
They are headed to the bus station. Big Daddy had shoved Paige in the truck and said he was putting her on the next Greyhound leaving town. Said he wanted her gone for good. Said this is tough love, which makes his chest heavy but there is no other way.
Big Daddy drives in silence at first, eyes on the road. Then the yelling starts, builds to high speed like the truck, madder and faster as Big Daddy fumes. Paige only hears part of the words. She learned long ago to put an invisible helmet over her ears, and to pretend she is invisible too.
Paige has heard most of these words before. Addict. Weren’t raised this way, piece of shit boyfriend, trash. Hurting Abby. Stealing, from me! Me! He bangs his fists on the steering wheel. Ought to call the cops, but no. You’d be back like a damn feral cat. Getting you the hell away from Abby.
Paige winces at the mention of Abby. She hadn’t gotten to say good-bye to her little girl. But surely Big Daddy won’t really make her leave. Back like a damn feral cat made her cringe too. She is his daughter, not some stray animal.
Surely, Paige thinks, this will end up like when she was a teen-ager. He drove around yelling until his throat hurt, then grounded her and refused to speak to her for months Mother had treated her like a sick, wounded creature until Big Daddy got worn out being mad and let life settle to normal.
The mean words continue now though, like a stream of consciousness. She hates Big Daddy because he doesn’t understand her. His words make her want to go away, to find a place with Danny again. Danny will get her from the bus stop if Big Daddy follows through. Big Daddy’s eyes are on the road. She plucks a strand of long brown hair from her head and presses the tip to her lips.
Paige smiles remembering how Abby thought they were real butterflies, black monarchs and orange and yellow painted ladies flying around in your stomach like on a bloody summer day in a garden.
“Stop it Paige!” Big Daddy yells and snatches the thin strand. How did he see that? Paige wonders. The butterflies wake up and flap, flap, flap in Paige’s stomach. She’d always called worries and nerves the butterflies. Mother calls them that too. Paige smiles remembering how Abby thought they were real butterflies, black monarchs and orange and yellow painted ladies flying around in your stomach like on a bloody summer day in a garden.
Big Daddy couldn’t make her leave Abby.
A wave of nausea flows through Paige and tears well. She doesn’t know what to do with Abby. Her sister, Melissa the perfect, thinks Paige is a terrible mother, but Paige loves her daughter. That’s all you need, right? But she can’t have Danny and the drugs, and be a mother, responsible and all, but Danny and the drugs always call her back. The heroin, the meth had chosen her, but no one understands.
Paige rolls down the passenger window for air to tamp the nausea and to let Big Daddy’s words dissipate into the night rather than hover around her all hot and moist in the cab. She looks out into the Knoxville sky lit with billboards, and beyond that a faint sprinkling of stars. The rain-scented mountain air helps her breathe, refreshes her face and whips her hair.
Big Daddy pulls off I-40 at North Central and eases down Magnolia to the Greyhound station. He parks the truck, which ticks to cool down as they sit in silence.
“Next bus out,” he says. Big Daddy looks straight out the windshield into the night. “Don’t care where it’s going.”
Paige wipes her runny nose with the back of her hand, opens the passenger door, picks up her backpack and sling purse from the floor and steps outside. She stares at her father, who sits in the harsh glare of the overhead cab light. His eyes look sad, but unrelenting. His lips press together in a firmness that says Paige can’t come home.
“It’s cruel to kick out your own flesh and blood,” Paige says, spitting the words. She waits for Big Daddy to say “I know. I can’t do it,” and order her back inside the truck. But instead, Big Daddy sighs and gets out of the vehicle.
"This is your own doing Paige,” he says, his voice calm now. “You’re killing me, taking years off my life.”
Goosebumps pop on Paige’s skinny arms and legs. The June night suddenly feels too cold for blue-jean shorts and a tank top.
“Daddy,” she says. Her voice cracks. “Please don’t. I can’t leave Abby. And where will I go?” Paige shivers as she talks. He’s really doing this, she thinks.
“You’ve already left Abby,” Big Daddy says. “You aren’t there for her at all. It’s the rest of us — me, your mother and Melissa who tend to Abby.” His voice is soft but firm. He rests his forehead against the steering wheel. A thick moment of silence passes before he stares back up at his daughter.
“I don’t know what to do with you Paige. A man shouldn’t have to put a private lock on his bedroom door to keep his child from stealing cash from his wallet, or rummaging through the closet for the guns. I can’t have you stealing from me, coming home high, and then disappearing for weeks without a thought for Abby. I’m sorry, honey, but you’re on your own.”
Paige squares her jaw, tightens her lips and slams shut the passenger door, trembling mad inside. Well screw him, she thinks. He never loved her. No decent father would throw his daughter on the streets. He loves Melissa, the smart one. Sorry she can’t be Melissa.
Paige walks fast and mad into the station, hating Big Daddy for crossing this line, hating Melissa. She keeps her head down. Her heart pounds. Big Daddy follows her inside, purchases a one-way ticket on the next Greyhound, headed to Denver, Colorado. Paige has never been there, but she knows it is far away. Too far to easily get back home.
Paige snatches the ticket and walks to the far end of the station, takes a seat in a blue plastic chair attached to a line of blue plastic chairs. She doesn’t look back, determined not to give Big Daddy the satisfaction. Big Daddy clunks coins in a vending machine for a Coke and sits a distance away, sipping the drink. Paige decides that when he leaves she’ll cash the ticket and take a cab to Danny’s house, or find a hotel for the night.
But Big Daddy doesn’t go anywhere. Paige has no choice but to board the bus and leave everything she knows behind.