about the author

Jules Archer lives in Arizona. She likes to smell old books and drink red wine. Her chapbook, All the Ghosts We’ve Always Had, is out from Thirty West Publishing.

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Far Away from Everywhere

Jules Archer

The billboard says the end is near. Dad believes it. He takes us to the bank. Withdraws all the money we have. Life savings drained. College fund gone. He’s out of a job, and then we’re out of hot water. We sell everything. Dog, drapes, dishes. We sell our house too. I say goodbye to every wall. To the silky rosebud wallpaper. Mica and I climb our tree house one last time, and I don’t even mind the splinters. I wish they’d stick around a little longer.

After that, Mom piles the cash into a briefcase. Old, battered one she found at the Salvation Army. She says it feels cooler that way. She looks cool too. Big, fancy sunglasses on her face. Her dark wig piled in a swirling bun. Spy-like. She better look cool because the cancer does not matter now.

Dad takes the cash to Jonas. Jonas predicts fire and brimstone. We’ve known him for years. Followed him from our church to his. Lately, he’s become news. A big deal. Mom likes to clutch at his robes. Kiss his glittery rings. For someone who claims to be poor, he sure smells a lot like money. Jonas counts the cash, embraces Dad. Now we have a campervan.

Our campervan joins the caravan. A throng of Jonas’s followers journeying across the country to spread the good word. At least that’s what the press release says. California to Arizona to Texas. Like Johnny Cash, we’ve been everywhere, but everywhere doesn’t matter because we’re going nowhere. On busy Main Street street corners, me and Sissy Bowers hand out doom-and-gloom pamphlets. The end of the world is coming! Sell everything! Be free!

Our campervan rattles like a tin can in a wind storm. It’s cookie-cutter, the inside cramped. Dinettes. Plaid curtains. A pump sink and a stove. A removable table that can be turned into a bed, or a shield. I hate it. I’m cold all the time. I miss school. I miss Jeremy McBride. He’d try to kiss me under the bleachers, and I’d sock his arm until it bruised. The one friend I’ve made here, Sissy, all she does is stare at the sky and mutter about how she’d kill for some kombucha. She wants her old life back too. I miss hot water. Water that comes from a sink and not a bucket. It’s an adventure, Mom tells us. Until September sixth, Dad laughs, elbowing her bony rib. Mom’s expression is placid. Mica buries her face in her pillow, crying.

The sixth of September turns to the seventh, and we are still here. But not Mrs. Coxon. She hanged herself with a shoelace because there was no fire in the sky. And yet, Jonas still has a job. No one pulls the billboards. More go up. A new date is announced. Only a year is given. I calculate the time on my fingers, sticky with almond butter. In four years, I’ll be eighteen. I used to think that was the perfect age to start running, but I know better now. The anger in my body buzzes like bees. They want to escape, to pour out of my mouth all at once.

I need milk, Daddy, Mica says. Her cheeks are sunken. She looks hungry, so I give her my thin sandwich. Two scrappy pieces of bread with a meager slather of jelly. She chomps into it and soon, her spelling workbook is stained with cherries. Dad says: I don’t want to talk about milk. I want to talk about the weather. Look at those clouds. They are mushrooms of doom. It’s three years away, Harold, Mom says with a peaceful smile. She’s pulling out strands of her remaining hair and making a tic-tac-toe grid on the dinette table. Deathbed board games are all her rage. Want to play? she asks me. How can you smile? I ask her. I grip a marker in my right hand. I can see it in her eyes. She’ll be dead in a year. How can you not?

I go in search of milk for Mica. I don’t understand these people. The way they buy it. They believe but in a scary way. In an or-else way. Desperate eyes like hungry dogs for a bone that isn’t being thrown. When the cops come to remind us about the overnight camping rules, my father lies as good as Jonas, and they leave without us. They leave us with Mom and Dad. I want a home again, but I want a home without these people. I imagine me and Mica somewhere better. In a bedroom with flowered wallpaper and soft lights and blankets without holes. My sister has all the milk she wants. And me, maybe I have a bathtub with hot water.

In Oklahoma, we have Sunday service on the prairie. Our caravan circles like covered wagons. Tallgrass sways in the breeze. The sky is gray like Dad’s tooth. Mom skips because she’s too sick to sit on milk crates and buckets. I skip out too. Down by the river, I run into Sissy. She’s three campervans over. Hers always smells like sausage, her Dad out front at the grill, waving a kielbasa on a stick, yelling like Oprah, come and get a piece! And you, come and get a piece too!

We say hey, then we climb the stacked logs near the bank. Beavers, Sissy says and points. I pretend I’m back in my tree house, and when I’ve reached the highest peak, which isn’t very high at all, I angle my head back toward the swaying tallgrass. Over the wind, I hear Jonas’s voice as loud as a bullhorn: We are at the end! There is no existence for an unsaved soul! I inspect my palms for splinters. They’re idiots, I say. Does anyone really believe this billboard bullshit?

Let them believe, Sissy says. And lights a match.

Tomorrow, Grandma picks us up from the shelter. Me and Mica are headed to her cookie-cutter house in Phoenix. Best of all, it’s hot there. It will be hot.

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