Scoundrel Time

Post-Election, With the Mothers in the Zombie Parking Lot

They have not arrived. You are waiting for them. The parking lot is dark and it is November, so your arms feel hard and fragile in the cold. It is nine o’clock, and you are all gathering here to send your children off on a field trip. The bus is going to drive hours and hours through the night, bringing the children to a national park. Some of the parents are nervous; it is their first time sending their children away on a trip. The children are ten years old. It is three days after the presidential election. The sky is black and starless and feels weighted, in the way it does with grief. But this is a new, startling form of grief. The cars rumble into the dark parking lot one by one, making a crunching sound as they roll across the asphalt. The cars are big enough to kill a dozen people with one false turn. The clear pale brightness from the headlights swings across the dark emptiness of the parking lot, everyone standing here, made brilliant for a moment in the headlights, then their faces imperceptible, dim.

You have not seen these parents since the election. You wait for the other mothers to get out of their cars. The cars roll in, one after another, the cars stopping, no one opening their doors at first, perhaps they are afraid to, or just cold, because it is November and now you can see your breath in the air. You wait. You wonder how each mother will look. You wonder if their faces will blind you, or if you will crumble when they step off the bus, or if they will even be unable to look you in the eyes because they are suddenly surprised and ashamed, you wonder if you will crumble at the sight of them. Or better, if they will crumble at the sight of you. You want people you found perfectly nice before to crumble to nothing. You wonder what part of their brain allows them to look away from him, from all of it, from everything he says, what precise part of their brain is missing, for it has to be missing. You don’t know how they are able to hear any of what he says, how they marked his name on the ballot. The asphalt feels fragile, like paper.

There is the sound of a crow, in the darkness, cawing.

None of these mothers talked about him before the election. No one put bumper stickers on their cars. Everyone here was very quiet about it. But you know who voted for whom from reports from children, who listened for everything.

These are good mothers. You think of all of the ordinary activities you have done with these mothers over the years. All the playgrounds you have visited with them as the children ran around, all the hallways you sat in as you waited for dance classes to end, all the teachers you complained about, all the girls sleeping over at one house or another, the caramelness between mothers, the warmth connecting them as they tried to figure out how to be good mothers.

The car doors start to open. Their children jump out first, just visible in the darkness, carrying their rolled up sleeping bags to pack on the bus. The children are eager to get of out here, to an adventure; their innocence makes them seem candied. Then the mothers step out, slamming the car doors. The headlights from the cars beam bright swaths of light that make it hard, at first, to see the faces.

You are very still, watching. The moon is a hard bright nickel in the sky.

The mothers begin to speak. Their voices ring in the chill air.

How are you?

Are they ready?

She couldn’t sleep last night.

So excited.

How many granola bars did you bring?

Did you bring raincoats?

The night is silvery with mist. A couple of mothers walk toward you, smiling. Their footsteps crunch on the asphalt. It is not a new sound, though every sound now feels new and weighted. One wears a red velour sweatshirt she often wore before the election. Another wears a puffy jacket and is rubbing her hands together in the cold. This is the first thing that unnerves you; they walk through the world as though it is still the world. Their innocence makes you want to look away. Their feet touch the ground, their faces become clear as they get closer. You look at them in disbelief. Then they are standing beside you.

Is she excited for the trip?

Yes, you say.

I didn’t know what to pack.

Do you think they’ll be cold?

I packed extra socks so they won’t be cold.

Do you think they’ll sleep? I don’t think I’ll sleep!

We can ask the teacher to make them call us.

Do you think they have Benadryl in the first aid kit? I brought Benadryl for the first-aid kit. 

They stand in the darkness, the children climbing onto the bus. The mothers are afraid, but for the wrong thing. They stand together. You see their breath furl into the air. You see one unzip her child’s backpack to check that the water bottle is inside. You see another rummage through her purse to find one more granola bar for her child. You watch them talk, waiting for something that will tell you why they did what they did. You watch their eyes and their faces and they are just eyes and faces.

They resemble the mothers they had been, and laugh and touch one another gently on the arm, and they voted for him.

They look exactly the same.

That is why you cannot forgive them.


Link to original photograph: