Riding Home

Because even today, nothing soothes me like vocal harmonies.


This week, your memoir prompt assignment is to think of a sound or a smell the reminds you of something from your past and write a post about that memory.  Don’t forget to incorporate the sound/smell of your choosing!

Riding Home

I pressed my cheek against the glass as I stared out the window, watching silhouettes of leafless trees streak by. They were monster hands, spiky and twisted, and even though I was six – too old to still be afraid of shadows in the dark – I secretly knew they snatched at us, hoping to trap our car in their gnarled fingers. Hoping to eat us alive.

And maybe, I thought, mama and daddy knew about the tree monsters too. Maybe that was why daddy’s knuckles turned white gripping the steering wheel; why mama’s foot tapped the floorboard.

I squeezed my eyes shut. The heater filled the space with the scent of warmth in the winter – the comfortable and safe smell that always welcomed me inside from the cold like my mama’s arms. I breathed it in, wanting to get as close to the heat as possible. I slipped off my shoes and put my feet on the vent in the console, wiggling my toes against the slats. I sighed, and melted further down into the back seat.

Mama and daddy were quiet now, their furious whispers hushed when they remembered I was there, but the weight of things unsaid still hung thick in the air – an almost tangible presence; a silence that was heavy with the sounds of the heater and each passing car.

They forgot about me sometimes, but I didn’t really mind. If I was very quiet, I could almost disappear. I paid attention. I knew things they didn’t think I knew.

Daddy was angry. So was mama. We felt broken.

We turned, and my head bounced against the door. I opened my eyes and looked up, this time seeing over the trees. Millions of tiny stars dotted the sky; constellations of lights painting pictures against the black night. I stretched to see more.

Ursa major. Ursa minor. Draco. Orion. I turned the words my granddaddy taught me over, tumbling them like stones until the ideas became smooth and familiar. His voice in my head saying, “Now lookie here, Katydid. See how those stars make a dragon?” He would point, tracing invisible lines in the sky.

I put my finger to the window, cold from the outside air, and tried to trace the same lines between the stars like a connect-the-dots puzzle. Big bear. Little bear. Dragon. Hunter. I smiled as I found the shapes.

The car rolled to a stop and a red light shone in the window. Daddy sighed and said a bad word. It popped the silence like a pin to a balloon.

You shouldn’t say that, I thought. It’s a sin to say bad words.

But I didn’t say anything. Instead, I started to sing, softly at first as I tested my voice in the heavy air. The hymn pushed through my lips, wanting to come out.

…I see the stars, I hear the rolling thunder,

Thy power throughout the universe displayed…

At the first line of the chorus, mama started singing too. But her notes were different from mine.

“Don’t sing what I’m singing,” She said. “Listen to yourself and sing. Try it again.”

I started singing again. This time, at the chorus, daddy sang too, his deep voice below mine. I closed my eyes and tried with all my might to hear myself.

When we came to the last note of the song, the harmony filled the car pushing out every last bit of the thick silence.

“Sing something else,” Mama told me.

So I did, wriggling to the middle of my seat and leaning forward between my parents into the music that we created – just our voices and the hum of the heater.

They sent me to bed when we got home. Their muffled argument seeped in under the bedroom door. Outside my window was my own tree monster – the one that knocked the house at night trying to get in. But that night when I closed my eyes and listened very hard, I could still hear the harmony we made. It filled me, as it had filled the car, and wrapped me snugly in a six-year-old’s certainty that nothing broken could sound so good.



Thanks for reading! Concrit welcome and appreciated!