I’m in the backseat. My mom is driving. My brother is sitting passenger. Scientists have discovered another planet in the solar system, says the radio. The new planet has an oblong orbit. My mom increases the volume.
Fields and cows pass by. We are going to visit my dad at the low-security prison camp. My dad says to call it a camp. I am camping, he says. He has four years left.
The radio says the new planet is half the size of Pluto, then goes to a piano sonata. My mom decreases the volume. She says to my brother, Stacy wants to go to Japan and Thailand.
Stacy is my brother’s girlfriend.
My brother nods and makes a little noise.
She really likes Thailand, says my mom.
I look at my brother. He is 24. I am 17. My mom is 50-something. My brother shrugs.
It’s cloudy, but the sun is still out somewhere. The fields are fenced and green. There are a few gas stations and some other stores.
It’s a two-hour-drive to the prison camp.
My mom sighs, glances back, changes lanes.
I have to use the bathroom, I say. Let’s stop at that McDonald’s, okay?
We will be at McDonald’s in 9 minutes, says my mom.
The clock says 1:11.
1:20, I think.
We turn off the highway. On the exit ramp the car jerks suddenly to the left.
What are you doing? I say.
I look at my mom in the rearview mirror. Her face is a little blank.
What was that? I say.
I don’t know why it did that, says my mom.
My brother is looking outside. I wonder what he’s thinking about.
Where’s McDonald’s, I say.
We’re almost at McDonalds, says my mom.
My brother wakes.
I think, Oh, he was sleeping.
He says something about the radio. I don’t hear what he says. My mom says, Hmm?
My brother makes a noise and looks out his window. I imagine he’s just had a nice dream.
The clock says 1:29. Didn’t you say 9 minutes? I say.
Why is it taking so long? says my mom.
We wonder about this.
At McDonalds I quickly go in. I use the bathroom. I go back in the car. What’s that guy doing? I say.
There is a man with funny hair pushing a thing like a unicycle across the sidewalk.
My mom laughs. I look at my brother. He is grinning.
My mom says, He’s measuring the sidewalk.
We watch the strange man go the length of the side of McDonald’s, to the back, where there is a fence and a giant trash thing.
We leave McDonald's. I want coffee, my brother says after a while.
My mom begins to object then says that we have to hurry. We can’t keep stopping, she says, it’s almost two.
We turn into a gas station.
What time does dad have until he has to go back, says my brother. I mean when do the visiting hours end? My brother has a few days off from work. It’s spring break so he flew back to Florida so we could all visit dad together.
Until five, says my mom, so we need to hurry. She parks. She turns, looks at me. Do you want anything? she says.
I shake my head no. Are you sure? she says. Yeah, I say.
My brother goes in the gas station.
My mom is still looking at me. Your brother says he needs coffee to keep his eyes open, she says.
I nod. I glance out her window. It’s tinted and dark. I can feel that my mom is still looking at me.
What if we gave the dogs coffee? she says. She pauses. They’d never be able to close their eyes, she says and grins.
I smile. I look at her a moment, then out the front windshield at the gas station.
My brother comes back with coffee. They have wild pig hunter magazine, he says. It’s called Boar Hunter or something. There’s only one copy.
I laugh a little. I imagine someone reading that magazine, then killing eighteen wild pigs.
There’s only one? says my mom.
There is one copy at the counter, says my brother. It’s called Wild Boar Hunter or something.
We pass another field with cows on it. Look how close they are to the street, says my mom.
I try to look. My brother’s seat is in the way. I glimpse in the backseat window a white blur that is probably a cow. I sit back.
Go study cow psychology, says my mom.
I’m going to college next year. I don’t know what to study. I imagine sitting in on a cow psychology lecture. The professor tells the class that cows are more complex, psychologically, than humans.
Okay, I say.
My brother laughs a little. It’s 1:52. Women, says the radio. Listen, says the radio, if I’m angry at my wife I don’t care. I’ll still do her. I separate the snatch from the person.
My mom lowers the volume of the radio. She turns to my brother. Would you like to vacation in the mountains? she says. Would you like to live in a cabin for a few days?
Okay, says my brother.
Okay? says my mom.
My brother does a kind of shrug.
I see a few cows outside. Black ones and brown ones. It’s still cloudy out. It might rain later.
Remember we went to North Carolina? says my mom. She looks at me in the rearview mirror. Wasn’t that good? she says.
Yeah, I say.
I remember it was foggy, with a thick forest everywhere. It was about six or seven years ago. My mom, my dad, me.
You would never go anywhere with us back then, my mom says to my brother. My brother laughs a little. My mom smiles. We look at each other a moment in the rearview mirror, then she looks back at the street.
I have no problems with minorities, says the radio. My best friend is Hawaiian.
I half listen, half look outside. I don’t really think about anything. I try to read this book I’ve brought. But I can’t concentrate.
Black people say ‘get’ as ‘git,’ says my mom.
What? I say.
Black people say ‘get’ as ‘git,’ says my mom.
We turn onto a smaller street. Ahead of us is a large truck with chemical cylinder things. It looks dangerous.
You’re too close, I say. It’s dangerous.
My mom slows, lets the truck go ahead. She turns and looks at me. She is grinning. How’s this? she says.
Okay, I say. I smile.
At 2:05 we get to the prison camp. My mom parks the car. I have a stomachache. I lie down in the backseat.
My stomach hurts, I say.
My mom and brother exit the car.
You shouldn’t have read in the car, says my mom. She looks at me through her open door.
I groan. I sit up and step onto the parking lot.
I didn’t read anything, I say
The sky is gray. It’s humid and warm out. I look at myself in the reflection of the window. I don’t really like what I see. I feel dizzy.
Across some fields are the medium-security and high-security prison camps.
They keep all the prison camps here because of convenience, I think.
My mom hands me a Ziploc bag of purple grapes. I eat some. They are cool and they taste good.
My brother is ahead in the parking lot. He is looking back at me and my mom. I throw some grapes at him. He opens his mouth. I aim for it. I lob into the air a really big grape. It comes down, hits my brother’s teeth, falls to the parking lot.
My mom and I walk to my brother.
The grape on the ground has a gash through it. It’s halved. We stand over it. We laugh at it. Its flesh is light green and wet. I look at my brother. He is grinning.
I eat some more grapes. I give my brother the bag.
My mom and I walk ahead. From behind my brother throws grapes at me. One hits my neck. A bunch more miss and roll out in front, over the parking lot.