We were driving north, two hours in, when we started playing a game. The one where you have to go through the alphabet based on letters found on highway signs, license plates, billboards. I was winning. My letter was P, father was on E, mother was on M, brother was on H. It was a desolate stretch, nothing but thickets of bushes and power lines. Suddenly a board entered the frame, white background, with text that was handwritten and faded.
I sat up and squinted my eyes. We were all staring, trying our hardest to distinguish the lines and arches. Suddenly PRUNES materialised and I yelled ‘P for Prunes’ and father yelled ‘E for Prunes’ and we hit something, tumbled four times down a ditch, looped around a pole. Father was in mud a few yards away, mother was in glass. My seatbelt held me in the air, otherwise I might have fallen right on brother. Brother and I looked at each other and knew.
It’s been a few years. Psychiatrists have called it different things. Brother and I ride bikes around the neighborhood. Brother pulls a wagon behind his bike, the kind you normally put a child in. We use it for groceries. The buses take us most places in the city, but it takes twice as long to get there. I’m late a lot. We mostly walk places. I’ve gone through five pairs of sneakers this year.
Sometimes mothers of children at school will pull up next to us in their big, expensive machines and offer us a ride. We politely decline. They insist until someone in the backseat, maybe a classmate of mine, maybe a classmate of brother’s, whispers a reminder or a rumor that causes the mother to give us a pained look before slowly pulling away, the street rocks crunching under their rubber tires. I search their license plates for a Q.
Lauren Schmidt is an MFA candidate in the creative writing program at CalArts. She lives in Los Angeles with her partner and their fish, Versace.