Road Map

by Angela Hickman

i pretty much grew up on the road.
my daddy taught me to read using roadsigns
and then showed me how to understand a map,
so that he could just concentrate
on the car in front of him. i was the only
navigator under the age of seven around,
he’d say. i was one of a kind.

we never really settled anywhere.
daddy used to talk about a house
and gardens and stuff, but i think
he made it all up, so i’d feel like i was from
somewhere. he never knew that i didn’t
care about any of that. first rule of a navigator:
it isn’t where you’re coming from,
but where you’re going, and what
exit will take you there.

i went to my first bar at age two,
or at least that’s the first one i can remember.
people think it’s wrong for a kid to
be with men when they’re drinking, but
i never minded. i collected beer mats
and sometimes the bar tender would
play cards with me: go fish, crazy eights,
sometimes if i was lucky my daddy would
continue his poker lesson and we’d gamble peanuts.

daddy liked being in the bars. he always said
that the soul of a town could be seen in its drunks.
he also liked the beer. he said that you could give depression
a sense of sophistication if you didn’t show it off
in front of the same men every night, so we kept driving,
finding new men to impress with our sad eyes.

every week we’d call mom. i’d never met her,
but daddy said she used to be real pretty. sometimes
i could hear the pretty in her voice, on the days she knew me.
on her bad days though, the nurse would just say
things like, “aw hunny, you just missed your momma, she’s
in the shower,” or “now darlin’ you’ll have to call us back,
she’s resting now.” i always knew what they weren’t saying, but
they were trying so hard to be nice about it, i didn’t
want them to think they were doing a bad job, so
i just kept quiet and to myself.

daddy sent them a cheque every month.
he always looked so sad when he mailed it,
like maybe he thought he should’ve sent a note
with it, but it was too late.
when he looked like that
i’d just take his hand and give it a squeeze.
he tried so hard to keep himself upright—for me—
and i wanted him to know that i’d noticed.

after the post box we’d just get back in the truck
and he’d hand me the map. i always got to choose
where we went since it was up to me to see that
we got there, or that’s what my daddy told me.
and so i’d look at the thick lines and the thin lines
and pick somewhere that sounded like it had good beer.

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