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On Stand By

by Cassidy Barker about a year ago in literature
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Change is Coming

Usually I’m in a cell phone lot. Rows and columns of cars neatly surround me, and it’s almost comforting. I sketch these cars and the things I see in the lot. Sometimes there’s other people. A lot of them are there waiting impatiently. I like to draw their faces, capture the annoyance in the crease between their eyebrows, the bottoms of the whites of their upward-rolled eyes. At first I struggled with making the clean lines that these perfectly parked cars make, considering there’s no ruler here. I only have a fresh number two pencil that never requires sharpening, and stacks of blank, white paper.

I don’t know where I am when I’m not in the lot. I only know that sometimes I’m not here. I don’t feel anything in these times, only know I was gone once I’m back in the lot. My stomach gets queasy whenever I try to think of where I go, when I go, and when I’m going to be gone for good. The cell phone lot may be dull, but it’s comforting, and I know it.

I’ve always hated change. The only changes around me now are the faces which come and go. They don’t bother me much; like the old man I see through four windows two cars to my left. He looks to the left and right and he’ll occasionally give a good smack to the dash board. He’s ready to go. The last woman before him was a nervous wreck. She was smacking gum in the minivan directly across from me and constantly scratching the back of her head. A horse came for her, I think. She never noticed me either.

I have a good profile going of the man to my left when the ground starts to shake. I set down my pencil and wait to see what will approach. A young man, whose steps should not have caused a miniature earthquake, walks confidently to the old man’s car and opens the door for him. I watch the young man pull a crumpled piece of paper from his pocket, show it to the older guy, and hold out his arm to catch the older man as he falls from the car in a fit of tears. They look like happy ones, I think. Anyway, soon they are gone and I am alone in the lot again. Mostly, alone. If I get out of the car, which I sometimes like to do but not often, I can walk amongst the rows and columns which go on forever and I’ll find some more faces behind dirty, or fogged, or cracked windshields. I’m never actually alone, but I’m always alone.

I recline in my seat and stare at the ceiling I know so well. If prompted, I could describe in great detail every single stain or spot where a thread is coming loose. I know this car. I also know one day it will be my turn to be escorted away. I don’t know where I’ll have to go, but the thought of it makes me absolutely sick inside. I don’t know what will come for me either. I would rather just stay here forever, simply waiting. I don’t mind the wait. I think I’ve been here longer than anyone, most stay for about 20 to 40 thousand of my deep breaths. The clock in my car has been broken since I got here, constantly flashing 36:03 which doesn’t make any sense anyway. So, I keep track of time in the amount of breaths I breathe.

I’m laying back in the cracked leather seat staring at the red stain on the back right corner of this Toyota 4Runner which has been my home for so long. I’ve always assumed it was from a pizza box crashing forward when the car stopped short, and then the box spewed its guts all over the car from the impact with the back of the passenger seat. Someone cleaned the car pretty well, but they missed that spot. Anyway, I’m laying back and concentrating on that stain, trying to distract my thoughts that are constantly angled toward worrying about what comes next and when it will come. Outside of drawing, this is how I spend my time, usually with my finger rubbing the crude, jagged line on the back of my head. This practice is just as natural to me as a thumb finding solace behind a child’s front teeth. As I run my finger across the bumpy topography of my skull, the car shakes. “What the hell?” My voice escapes my mouth in a hoarse whisper.

I sit up, sure it’s a mistake. It happens again, more violently this time, and I whip my head around to see that the other cars haven’t even flinched. I peer out the window and there’s a child standing there, looking at me. “No!” I whisper harshly. The kid looks familiar, too. She smiles, but it isn’t comforting. As her smile turns up, the constant day light of this place turns down into something approaching dusk. She points at something in the horizon. I squint, confused, and see nothing. She starts jumping up and down excitedly, giggling, arm still perpendicular to her body and pointing. I start to see something in the distance. The whole ground shakes this time. A mass is moving forward, moving toward me, coming for me. I see the sails first. They might have been white at some point but now they are an aged yellow. A ship is making its way towards me. It is far, but not far enough. I’m not ready. It’s close enough now that I can see the cannons on the side of the ship. It looks like something out of 'The Pirates of the Caribbean,' not the Black Pearl but close. I remember this child. I babysat her, got in a lot of trouble for letting her watch that movie when she was seven. Katie.

Katie died in a car accident when she was eight. “No,” my eyes are welling with tears. “Katie, I’m not ready. I’m not coming with you!” I yell through the window, refusing to roll it down even a crack to accept her outstretched hand. “I’m not ready! I want to stay here!” I’m sobbing now and slamming my head into the seat in a fit. And then everything goes white.

Someone is holding my hand. There’s a beeping that sounds a million miles away. The room is bright, but no longer the blinding white. I’m awake. I squint around the room, looking for the possibly pizza sauce stain and start to cry. I miss my car, but I know that ship is waiting for me on the horizon. It will always be waiting, coming closer all the while.


About the author

Cassidy Barker

Cassidy Barker is a graduate of the University of Georgia living in the Atlanta area. Barker has one book published, Spoon Licker, and is at work on a second.

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