Free Wonderland by Joyce Carol Oates

Book: Wonderland by Joyce Carol Oates Read Free Book Online
Authors: Joyce Carol Oates
task before him.… Jesse remembers the night his mother had Bob, how his father drove her to the Yewville Hospital and was away all night, and Jesse and Jean and Shirley stayed up, together, sitting around the radio, listening to distant stations and giggling crazily, ready to jump up and turn off the radio and the lights if their father’s car turned in the driveway. They had stayed up all night, unsupervised, night was turned into day, everything upside down, and in the morning Shirley had begun to cry, a baby herself. Jesse thinks of his mother’s stomach, that swollen stomach, the baby coiled up wetly inside.… He has never allowed himself to have this thought before, but now it flashes to him clearly, coldly.
    “Is Ma sick from the baby?” he asks.
    “She’s all right.”
    “Where is she?”
    “I said she’s all right.”
    “Is she at home?”
    “Yes. Home.”
    Jesse’s father has started the car but waits for a few seconds, his eyes roaming the street and the sidewalk as if freed from the tension inside this car. Jesse tries to see what interests him so much. Nothing? Is nothing out there? There is a strange abruptness about his father, a mechanical urgency and then a slackness, an alternating of tension and relaxation, that Jesse cannot recognize and that frightens him. No, his father has not been drinking. He can’t smell that comfortable, pleasant odor of beer or whiskey on his father’s breath, so it isn’t that. There is another odor. It is indefinable, it puts Jesse in mind of that lavatory at the high school, an acrid, impersonal, gray odor, an odor of fear.…
    Jesse’s father frowns. His entire face seems to contract. A man is passing on the sidewalk—McPherson—who once lent his father money, so Jesse has been told, and now, in overalls, he is walking toward the car with one of his grown sons. The two of them seem to be arguing about something. They don’t notice the Harte car, both of them are staring stonily at the sidewalk, arguing, and so they pass by without even glancing up.
    “Somebody’s getting bawled out,” Jesse says, trying to laugh.
    His father doesn’t reply. He has dismissed the McPhersons and shifts the car into first now, forcing the shift into place. Jesse folds his arms, sits back. The car is very cold. The windshield wipers work slowly to clear the windshield of a coating of very white flaky snow. They move like old men. On the Main Street other cars pass slowly, their windshield wipers moving without grace, back and forth stupidly inside a fanlike shape; the faces inside the cars are all familiar, nameless faces Jesse has been seeing for years in Yewville. They glance at him unseeingly.
    Jesse’s father is impatient to get started, but when a farmer’s pickup truck blocks his way he sits back, oddly patient, his bare hands firmly on the steering wheel, gripping the soiled red covering. He checks his wristwatch. Out on the street are boys from school. They are tossing snowballs at one another. Jesse hopes they won’t look his way, then hehopes they will; he is proud of being seen with his father. His father owns motorcycles, sells and trades and repairs them; his father drives a motorcycle and has won races. But the other boys don’t notice him. Traffic begins to move again and Jesse feels giddy, intoxicated by the whirling snow and the lights and the bells, the figures of Santa Claus that bob everywhere in the wind, the fat red body, the white trim of the suit, the white beard, the plump cherry-cheeked face. What does that mean, that figure? Jesse stares at it, waiting to be coaxed into smiling, into trust. The figure of Santa Claus seems to be flying through the closed-in air of the store window, with his reindeer and sleigh, bundled with presents, one hand lifted in a merry salute. Everywhere there is real snow, and everywhere powdery fake snow, glistening and perfect. It is urgent to get to Christmas morning, Jesse thinks. Everyone is hurrying in the bitter

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