The night wind lashes against the double wide trailer sitting in defiance on a slight hill overlooking a quiet bit of highway. There are no neighbors in sight, no landmarks except for a willow tree so far bent over it is practically circular. The small sliding windows on each of the four sides of the trailer provide the only illumination in a vat of intense blue darkness.
Inside the trailer, rabbit-eared television blares static interlaced with red political commentary. Through the narrow accordion door of the bathroom, Lori can hear her mother snort, laugh and spew liquid at an off-colored racial crack, though Lori is not sure the full extent of the quip truly landed in her mother’s whiskey-soaked brain.
Lori splashes water on her face at the cracked honey-colored sink. She pats her face dry with a brown spotted towel, evaluating her appearance in the desilvering medicine cabinet mirror.
It has been a difficult two weeks, wrapping up the day shift and trying to adjust to a nocturnal schedule. Her eyes are ringed with red. Her darkened eye sockets look nearly skeletal in the harsh Halloween shadows cast from the bare bulb above the mirror. Her greasy bangs hang heavy over her eyes, her stomach and head feel like she just got off a roller coaster. She takes a deep breath to keep the various throbs at bay for as long as possible. She has to focus, because tonight is her first real night shift.
“Lori? What er ya doin? Commere!”
Lori can barely decipher a language from the slurs, let alone words. She quickly pulls her hair back into a low ponytail, straightens the shoulders of her blue smock, and exits the bathroom.
The studio audience claps as the face of an overweight badly tailored pundit fills the tiny TV. Lori’s mother is splayed across a fuzzy yellow loveseat, scrawny legs partially concealed by grey sweatpants ripped off at the knees. Her green tank top is three sizes too big, stretched with age and sweat and hanging off her emaciated frame. A cigarette twirls smoke from her left hand and she holds a forty ounce malt liquor bottle between her legs with the right.
“That’s right, Kipp, you tell those immigrant bastards what’s what.”
Lori rolls her eyes. Ladies and gentlemen, Liberty LaCrue.
Liberty sucks at her cigarette, then spots Lori out of the corner of her eye.
“This man is a genius.” Her head sways and her eyes droop between half-open half-closed. “Lori come watch this with me. They’re not gonna teach you this in that school of yours.”
Lori refrains from explaining to her mother all the ways that statement is irrelevant. Liberty swings her legs to the ground and rolls her head away from the TV, finally noticing that Lori is dressed for work.
“What is that?” Liberty gestures with her cigarette in Lori’s direction, indicating Lori’s smocked outfit. “Where do you think you’re going?”
“It’s my uniform, Mama. I got switched to the night shift. I told you about it two weeks ago. And last week.” Lori sighs. “And yesterday.”
Liberty squinches up her eyes and constricts her mouth like she’s been sucking on a lemon, fighting to think through the haze.
“Mmmm…no. No, no…no. I don’t remember you ever saying anything like that.”
“Mom, I have to go. I’m on the schedule.”
“Well I don’t know how you’re going to get there.”
“I’ll take the truck.”
Liberty’s eyes pop open. “Like hell you will. That’s MY car!”
“Well it’s not like you’re gonna use it tonight. You’re…not working until Monday.” For the sake of her argument, Lori decides not to point out the more obvious and immediate deterrent to her mother’s ability to operate heavy machinery.
“Who do you think you are, kid?” Liberty staggers to her feet, liquor bottle swinging from her curled fingers. She sways from side to side, eyes lolling and unable to focus on any one thing for very long.
Lori feels a cold prickle behind her ears and between her shoulder blades. This is not good.
Not good, but essential.
Her mother takes a step in Lori’s direction.
“I am your mother.”
Lori slides a foot to her right, inching down the wall towards the door. In her head she calculates the distance between her and her mother (two feet), herself and the door (five feet), and how fast a sober sixteen year old can move in comparison to a wasted woman in her thirties.
“As long as you are in my house, you will honor your mother!” Liberty snatches at Lori’s sleeve, but Lori manages to rip free. Her heart leaps into action as she tears down the narrow corridor and practically yanks the fiberglass door off its hinges. A half-second later, the door trembles with the impact of a half full forty-ounce bottle hurled from a distance. The bottle doesn’t break, but it somehow manages to splash yeasty-smelling malt liquor all down the back of Lori’s smock.
“Get out!” Her mother’s raspy bark echoes in Lori’s head as she stumbles down the metal steps and through the blasting wind towards the bus stop. “Don’t come back until you learn some goddamn respect!”
Her body is shaking from the narrowly escaped physical harm, and every nerve ending tingles. She is alert. She is vigilante.
She is ready for work.