For short story month, we’re offering up a free story from one of Invisible’s short fiction collections. Up today is “Home” from Sydney Warner Brooman’s The Pump (coming fall 2021!).
We were in the cramped-ass Mercury Villager going eighty an hour on Highway Ten from the Falls back to The Pump and my mother was trying to convince me to go to conversion therapy.
She said she knew a guy—not like a robed-up, pew-obsessed raisin of a dude who shoves Jesus crackers into the mouths of little boys—but, like, a normal guy, like he even grew up in Orangeville and our old neighbour knew him and she only knows legit guys, so, like, he must be legit. He just talks to people, not like a freaking shrink or anything like that. You just talk and you can, like, tell him all the shit you’re afraid to tell me—like if Mr. Wallace from the Y put his hand in your panties or something when you were, like, five—and you can talk about it so you can get better. You can even wear a beanie until your hair grows back. Your hair was so pretty when it was long, Joanne.
It didn’t feel shitty or anything not even a little bit, not even, like, at all. I was fine. I let her do her spiel while Kim Mitchell played on the radio and I nodded and agreed to grow out my hair. I told her it was because I liked it long too, but really I just thought it would be hot if I had a long-ass ponytail my girlfriend Marty could pull on while we were in bed.
We drove for thirty minutes and out of the Greenbelt until surprise: the hunk of metal on wheels broke the fuck down. Mom kept the radio volume all the way up while she called CAA. I doubted they could hear her even a little bit. Kim Mitchell was really killing it, like, really working magic with his fucked-up rockin’ vocal cords. I imagined a massive-ass jumbo jet falling from the sky and destroying our car like in the movie Knowing with Nick Cage.
I slammed open the sliding door and went to sit on the gravel shoulder. Mom yelled at me to get back in the car before I got hit by a transport truck and died. I yelled back that if I got hit by a transport truck maybe only the dyke part of me would die.
Marty talked about death a lot. She said the more you talked shit about something the less it mattered. When we first started dating, we left her little brother’s funeral early to sit in the parking lot of Mr. Desperate’s and wrote each other’s obituaries.
We read them out loud for the other to hear. I went first.
Marty Miller was always… unsure… but… she’s really dead now, folks, she’s gone. She’s, like, really certainly dead, dead dead dead and honestly, God bless her. She’s not having an open casket because she—she wanted to be ashes? So you can, like, go see them… the ashes… in the lake or whatever. That’s what she would want. Which is depressing as fuck, but she was just a person. She wasn’t, like, a poet or artist or anything so that’s what she gets. So yeah, um, thank you for coming.
I thought it sucked but Marty cried and said it was the best thing she’d ever heard about herself.
Marty wrote my obituary on a napkin and told me to read it when I was alone later that night:
In loving memory of an old self. They told everyone they were allergic to pond water. They ate play dough because of that one Robert Munsch book. They refused to go into the Bay because of the butterfly-shaped spotlights covering the tile floor. They swallowed the first baby tooth they lost—they got the quarter anyway. They were often photographed wearing checkered yellow overalls. They leave behind the following: a collection of broken rubber bands; the notion that mismatched socks are good luck; a time capsule, opened the day after it was buried; an unwavering trust in adults; female pronouns.
Their presence will sit on playground slides; initials in sidewalks; the old rainbow streamer Skip-It in their mother’s garage.
Mom sat in the passenger seat and said that CAA would come in an hour. I ate the warm Joe Louis from my pocket. She shouted over the radio and all I heard was something about rot. She turned the radio off.
Have you given it any thought?
Well, have you?
WELL, not really.
She said I should take my time to decide, since it was private and wasn’t covered by insurance. It would probably cost her, like, a ton. She took out her phone and said she’d made a list in her notes app of things she thought might be making me think I was gay and that I wasn’t a girl—they do this kind of thing in therapy. I read that on Yahoo!. It’s like Freud’s repression, that kind of stuff.
In order, they were:
- Your elementary school friend’s babysitter who had kind of big breasts, and sometimes wore low-cut clothes and ripped jeans.
- The time when I didn’t know what to get you for Christmas so I went to Sunrise and they recommended So Jealous by those girls Tiki and Sara and for a while it was the only CD you put in that damned player.
- The thing with your dad. You know.
- I let you watch a lot of Sailor Moon.
It was fine because I didn’t even laugh or, like, anything. I just told her she was probably right and that Freud was right and that I really wish I wasn’t so tempted by the Sailor Scouts.
An hour passed. Mom said that I was gonna get dirty if I kept sitting in the gravel. I pretended I couldn’t hear her.
After another half hour, I said I could call Marty to come pick us up.
Your friend Marty?
My friend Marty.
And what do Marty’s parents do?
I sighed and called her anyway.
Marty parked her stepdad’s mint green truck behind us on the shoulder. She was wearing black leggings and my jean jacket with the patch I’d sewn on the sleeve that read Death to gender. She introduced herself to my mom and shook her hand all official-like, as if my mom totally didn’t want us to burn in hell. We all shoved into the truck. I tried to Google Map the closest chop shop while Marty answered my mom’s fucked-up questions.
Is Marty short for Martha?
Uh, no. It’s actually just Marty.
That’s a boy’s name you know. Do your parents know that Marty is a boy’s name?
They like Michael J. Fox a lot. It’s Marty like Marty McFly, like from Back to the Future?
Oh—well, I’ve never seen that. It’s still a boy’s name, you know.
We drove to a truck-stop diner called the Sixth Wheel and sipped on burnt coffee while a tow truck finally recovered the Villager. Marty and I sat opposite my mother like we were at an interview or some shit. Mom asked Marty about the upcoming municipal elections. Jacob Jameson’s been around for a couple cycles now and he’s just been doing just fine, she said. Why change what’s been doing fine?
He raised our water bills, Marty said, and none of us can even take a shower.
My mother scoffed. What do the Millennials expect him to do—give everything out for free?
Money doesn’t fall from the sky, honey.
Water literally falls from the sky.
Let’s talk about something else, I interrupted.
Okay, Marty said, turning toward my mother. Jo tells me that you hate gay people?
My mother made a face.
I don’t ha—that’s such a—I don’t hate anybody. I’m not homophobic.
So you’re fine with the fact that I’m a raging homosexual.
Dear, you can do whatever you want with your life.
Because I’m not your kid.
I’m sorry, sweetie, do you have kids? Are you a mother? Have you carried the seed of life within your heart and then nursed it at your bosom?
I literally could not think of something more nauseating.
Marty got up and excused herself to the washroom. She took one look at the line in front of the women’s stalls and walked right into the men’s. Mom looked sick.
Did she just—did she—
Please just chill out, Mom.
I swished the coffee around my gums like mouthwash. My mother cleared her throat.
What are you thinking? About the therapy?
That’s all you have to say about it? Nothing really?
I guess so.
You guess so.
Can this wait until we’re home?
You’re overthinking it. You overthink everything—that’s why you’re so confused all the time. It would be nice for you to get out of town for a bit.
Marty and I had been talking a few days before about leaving on our own trip but, like, the kind of trip where you get the fuck out and never ever come back. Marty had suggested we go to Toronto because of how cultured it was. They even have a gay village and everything, she’d said.
I asked her why all the gay people only stayed in one part of the city and she assured me that it wasn’t, like, by law or anything. It was cool and hip like San Francisco. She said that she already had money from her pioneer village gig to put a deposit on a basement apartment. I’d never really left The Pump except to go to Beaverton to visit Grandad and his wife, who Mom said I wasn’t allowed to call Grandma under any circumstances or so help her God she’d send me to live with Uncle Rick downtown. Uncle Rick could’ve helped us find a place, no doubt, because he knew the city like he drew it up himself, but he also asked where’s my hug a little too often, and then there was that thing with him playing doctor. Not that I remembered, anyway. Not like it mattered.
When Marty had asked about leaving, I hadn’t really known whether to say yes or no or that I wasn’t sure. I felt like I was attached to The Pump by a shitty extension cord, and if I tried to drift too far away, the universe would set me the fuck straight and zap the life out of me.
Marty came back and insisted she pay for the coffee . My mother pulled money out of her purse so fast that the bills almost ripped. We all went out into the parking, where the mechanics had left the Villager.
Before Marty left to get into her truck, she grabbed the back of my head and kissed me like I was fresh fruit. Like, she really went for it, she really took a full bite out of me. She drove off without a word.
My mother didn’t talk the whole ride back to The Pump. She gripped the steering wheel like we were dangling off a cliff and if she loosened her grip we’d be insta-corpses, which honestly wouldn’t have been a bad way to bookend our shitshow of a day.
Marty and I met up at the salt dome beside the cop shop later that night. I brought extra socks, because last time we made the trek, half the forest trail off Maple Street flooded and green water soaked through my Giant Tiger knock-off Uggs and Marty’s Docs. We scrubbed our feet raw with Magic Erasers that night. We didn’t want any extra toes or other shit.
People stopped using The Pump’s two salt domes before Marty and I were born. The Mayor left all the barbed wire fences and shit up, but we could sneak onto the property if we curled up the bottom of the fence and got flat on our stomachs and army crawled under. The trees stopped after the fence, and we frolicked through a soccer field’s worth of woodchips till we got to the dome itself.
Inside, wet rafters rotted against the curved wooden walls. When the dome was operational, there would’ve been a big ass pile of salt in the centre for us to climb and then toboggan down on garbage can lids and shit, but now the remaining salt just covered the floor in a thin layer. One time, Marty went home without rinsing her boots off in the lake first and her family’s cocker spaniel licked them nonstop.
She’d learned from that night, though. Now, she left her Docs in the woodchips and walked through the dome in the striped green Cops are pigs socks she bought online. I left my sneakers on. Marty yelled Suck my pussy as loud as she could. The dome answered back in a fading echo. Pussy. Pussy. Pussy.
We filled a dental dam with salt and tied it at the top with a hair elastic and used it as a hacky sack. Then we lay on the ground and made salt angels. Marty added a backpack to her angel with her finger and poked little holes where her Green Party pins would be. I gave my angel eyes, but then thought that was stupid and wiped them away. I’d already seen enough for the both the angel and me.
I’m a witch, Marty said.
She sat up and did criss-cross apple sauce like you do in kindergarten.
Oh, I said. How did you find out? You didn’t pay for Ancestery.com right? That shit’s a rip-off.
No, Marty said. I didn’t have to find out. I just decided I am one. Just now.
Oh, I said again. That’s kind of hot.
We should do a hex tonight, she said. On Jacob Jameson.
Sure, I said. I don’t have any data left on my phone though. You’ll have to Google it on yours.
No, Marty said. No Googling. We can make our own. First we’ll draw a circle in the salt—
Don’t you need a circle of salt, though?
And then we’ll sing our ABC’s backwards, in unison, then we’ll make love in the circle, then we’ll only drink Coke Zero for a whole month.
That sounds complicated.
Justice is complicated, Jo.
I shrugged. I didn’t know anything about magic anyway.
We only got as far as drawing the circle, because Marty brought out the two-litre bottle of Coke Zero and vodka she’d brought in her backpack and we got too sloshed to do the ABC’s. Marty’s laugh raised three hundred octaves when she drank vodka, which always made me laugh and her laugh and me laugh and her laugh until we couldn’t breathe.
We were laughing like that all loud and contagious until Marty took a swig, sighed, and said that I should call Child Protective Services on my mother.
What? I asked. Why? She just runs her mouth.
She wants you to pray the gay away, Marty said. And she won’t use your pronouns. That’s literally abuse.
Bullshit, I said. She doesn’t smack me around.
I’m not saying that, she said. But it’s still fucked up, Jo.
I didn’t understand where Marty was coming from. Even though my mother was Queen of all the fucked-up loud-mouth-fake-ass Southern Ontario Belle Bitches, it was obvious she wasn’t trash. You had to be food-stamp poor and beat the living shit out of your kids to be considered trash in The Pump. Like Ed Sampson, who painted his kids purple and blue right up until the Rash got one and the beavers got the other. Ed Sampson was trash. Or Taylor Levesque, whose mom always sat beside my mom at Sunday service. Taylor’s pretty boyfriend got the shit kicked out of him every other day, it looked like, but Mrs. Levesque said that Linda Miller said that Eliza Kilber said that Winifred Michaels said that Marie Bordeaux paid her duplex deposit in cash, one of those places in the new subdivision on Lawson where the sidewalks are chalk white, so they don’t qualify as trash.
She’s not a bad mom, I said. She—she doesn’t understand, like… she’s, um—she’s not bad. She’s not.
You probably only think that because you have Stockholm Syndrome.
You’re being a bitch.
Marty threw her hands up.
Fucking fine, then, she said. I’m sorry. I’m sorry as fuck that I love you and that loving you makes me a fucking piece of shit and that your ass-lips, Republican, granny-pussy mom is dousing your queer fire and you like it and that she voted for a lying piece of shit-corn who’d rather jail his own kid than clean our fucking water. I’m sorry you’d rather drop out and get a job at Eggs & Things part-time and let your second cousin knock you up and raise your fucked up cousin-babies and throw them into conversion therapy and never fucking leave this shithole of a town.
I said nothing.
Fuck, Jo, I’m sorry, she said. I’m as bad as your mom now. Worse. You can break up with me if you want. I’ll understand. I will.
I wanted to ask Marty what the fuck the problem was with wanting to live in the town you were born in. I wanted to ask her why working at Eggs & Things and having babies made you a shitty person. Normal was talking gossip about your neighbours at the cash while you bought microwave dinners, letting your Tory mother tell you to grow your hair out, pretending to pray when you were really just resting your eyes, and losing your mind when the township finally put a Timmies on Main and it was predictable and it was safe and it was fine. Maybe I wasn’t supposed to do better than fine. Maybe that was okay.
It’s alright, I said. I forgive you.
I grabbed the Orange Crush bottle and took a swig. I wondered if my mother’s God knew how much of a liar I was.
Marty found an attic apartment in a duplex in the Annex a month later. I helped her pack her favourite shirts and pins and her great-grandfather’s penny collection in a green canvas army bag that was taller than she was. We took the tacks out of the old movie tickets on her bulletin board and packed them in cardboard boxes with her school pictures and Polly Pockets and every piece of beach glass she had ever found. We piled everything in her entryway, then sat on her kitchen floor and ate icing from the container with spoons.
Mrs. Miller sat in a forest green La-Z-Boy in the living room and nursed a glass of warm orange juice with pulp. She stared at the wallpaper.
I’m taking Max’s Scout sash, Marty said loud enough for her mother to hear.
She got no reply.
Mom, I’m taking the sash with me, Marty repeated. Max’s. I’m taking it. To Toronto.
Mrs. Miller sipped her juice.
Marty snorted. Whatever—fuck talking, I guess.
Marty walked into her mother’s bedroom and emerged with a folded green sash.
I went home for dinner so Marty could spend her final moments in her childhood bedroom alone to think those fucked-up alone people thoughts that everybody has but nobody talks about. I told my mother I was meeting Marty at the Greyhound stop on Main at nine pm so I could see her off safely.
Mom was nervously chatty. She moved her scalloped potatoes around her plate but never took a bite.
Does Martha have renter’s insurance yet? she asked. She’ll need that, you know. Kids are always forgetting things like that.
It’s Marty, Mom. Mar-tee.
How’s her credit? If she doesn’t have good credit she’ll get kicked out and she’ll have to move to one of those neighborhoods that smells like a Goodwill store.
Does she have a park nearby? She’ll go bananas if she doesn’t have a patch of green somewhere to escape to. Do you remember when we used to go on walks down by the marshes? Do you remember how you used to run around in the mud and tell me that the beavers were talking to you?
For the love of God, Mom, just shut the fuck up.
Silence. Mom’s gaze went down to her lap.
Do you… do you have good memories? Mom asked. From when you were small? You do, don’t you? Like our walks, right? You remember the walks?
It struck me that my mom only knew how to be the mother I needed back then and that she had literally no idea how to be the mother I needed now.
I looked at her and she looked like me.
I’m not going to the therapy, I said.
She sat still for a moment, then nodded.
We could go for a walk after dinner, she said. If you wanted to do that. Like how we used to. It’s late. The beavers should be sleeping by now.
I can’t, I said. I have to meet Marty. At nine, remember?
She looked at me a little too long. Maybe she knew that I was leaving. Maybe she didn’t. I’ve never asked her. I doubt I ever will.
Yes, she said. Yes, I remember.
That was our last conversation.
Marty and I chose the back seats on the Greyhound, right above the wheels. She leaned her head against my shoulder and fell asleep before we even left the stop. She clutched her backpack like a teddy bear.
The driver shut off the aisle lights and we drove down the length of Main. I saw a black van parked with its hazards on while we were stopped at a red light on Christie Road, and I expected my mother to wave from the window as if she had followed me to say goodbye. But when I looked again, it wasn’t a Mercury Villager at all.
The light turned green and we continued onto the highway on-ramp. I turned a few times in my seat to see the hazards of the almost-Villager flashing on and off at the road’s edge. The farther we drove, the softer the blinking light became. Eventually, it was just an orange dot in a sea of dark, like a lighthouse beacon cutting through a storm. Like we were on a ship leaving home.
Like this story? Want to read more? You’re in luck! You can preorder the full book using the button below.Preorder The Pump