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March 31, 2023

Nicole Country

Travis Dahlke


When the drive-in on the other side of our property opens in May, the Joclarksbergs next door climb up on their second story addition with a gingham picnic blanket and tune their stereo to 88.1AM to watch movies for free on their roof. They look like some Welsh commercial for life insurance up there with their blonde heads glowing in the dark. The Joclarksberg’s only ever invite the Piersons from across the street to join them because Mr. Pierson drinks wine from the Liquor Mart that sells everything in Easter hay filled crates and my dad has been missing for seven years. Every perfect summer night a fog overtakes our home. This fog is made from: Chevy exhaust, marijuana damp with mold from being hidden in a high school boy’s locker, nacho cheese, cum, vegetable oil. Underwater orchestral swells vibrate our windows, scaring my youngest sister so bad my mom has to line her bed with a pool tarp. My mother makes anonymous calls to the Department of Health and says people are getting sick from the moths that bake themselves in the open air snack bar’s Fryolator. She says people are doing drugs there. I’m going to burn that place to the fucking ground it was born on if you don’t do anything, she whispers into the ear part of the phone. 



Benjamin Haddad from down the street is gasping for breath, his mountain bike barely out from beneath his legs. Eyes Wide Shut is rated R for graphic nudity, he says. I heard it has a lifetime supply of boobs. We have to infiltrate the drive-in and see the boobs. Boobs as big as buildings. It’s as Benjamin is saying buildings that we’re already searching the basement for my dad’s old camera equipment so we can videotape the movie. We wait for dusk. We are slippery with DEET, scaling the drive-in’s fence into a dandelion forest. Benjamin tells me to look out for Captain Hook. I say that’s a myth. We follow disembodied voices into the expanse of the lot where speakers hang from each pole, crackling like roasts to the cars. Wild Wild West, Varsity Blues and Eyes Wide Shut bloom across each screen. The projector’s eye boils from the snack bar. Above Tom Cruise a mansion is hovering and the forest is so dark around him. We snag people’s warm beers like we’re ghosts that drink beers. Benjamin’s hand barely fits the camcorder’s Velcro handle. A swan-faced woman pinches her robe. You’re going to miss it, I say. But something is so wrong. There is a feeling like when my family went to Brown’s Beach and I was caught in an undertow before my uncle lifted me from the water except my uncle isn’t here now, it’s just me and Benjamin and Stanley Kubrick gesturing toward dry ice. I can see eyelashes through the masks. When I look at Benjamin, his mask is agape in a dry scream, tears streaking the sagging cheeks. A camera operator hums: You are the only true dead. Perfect wealth forever. Even as Stanley yells to cut, we’re held still. The screen swallows me whole, wiping my grease across its mouth. Tom Cruise says, and no dream is just a dream. 



I watch Benjamin Haddad burn the tape and the camcorder in a bonfire by the brook behind his house. We wait for the smoke of New York Christmas to stop following us, but it doesn’t stop. Benjamin’s family moves to a city made from what crypts are made out of. Squatters burn down his old house. There is a separate body I use for friends and weddings and hospital births. My walls become silver screens, revolving between apartments and dorms to houses and back to apartments. Every night drools with the chests of buried actresses. They loom, even in daylight, and above the black of every room, watching me try to sleep.



Benjamin’s funeral is on a morning when the air is sour with disturbed soil. I bring my kids to the service so I’ll have an excuse to leave early. I don’t make eye contact with Benjamin’s basset hound face in the photo they display. The descendants of the Joclarksbergs and the Piersons collect me in their embrace, swapping our blazer wool. They apologize, patting me on the arm. No one makes a speech. My children conceal the free mints in tissue. We stop at Wendy’s for lunch and eat burgers in a greenhouse. After we finish eating I let my oldest practice for her license on the back roads. All of us slurp from yellow cups, passing Benjamin’s old foundation. A hole that doesn’t have to support what is above it anymore. Benjamin lived there, I say. From the road I can see his mother’s washing machine wilting in the brook. The car lurches around each curve of my former town. I close my eyes until I hear a window jerk and open them to a marquee looming above the trees. A real drive-in, my daughter says. She parks before a gate hanging from its hinge. The entry sign advertises 50s Cruise Night Eery Tuesday! Flea Market on Sundays! I shuffle through straw paper cinders. My son uses his phone to take photos of dandelion swallowing up the snack bar. Garbage cans overflowing with personal trash. Exposed speaker wire. Moth traps dripping with algae. A spirit chews gravel in my ear. We all at once turn to see a classic car all wax and red finned and chrome. A freckle-splattered arm hangs out the window. Its voice says, I always think of today as windsdee. My kids seem afraid of the car. Afraid of the past. The arm with its moles and sinew and long hair says from the dark, man the memories in this place