Faded Oranges

"How we got away, I'll never know."

It was what Sam had said with a bitter smile, and then a grimace, as we raced out of town in Dad's old truck. Then, I couldn't believe it. I had thought, "How could Mum have done such a thing?"

In our childhood memories, our mother always smelled of orange oil and car grease. It was her smell, the quirky results of her favourite body lotion and long hours at the car-parts garage down the road. She was always there for us; with her crazily permed brown hair, her unassuming smiles and the big, flowery apron she wore just to look more like a mother. We used to joke about that. She got us young, and was too experienced to be a good mother, so sometimes life was pretty hectic and miserable.

But I knew that Mum, Dad, Sam and I were a happy family – we definitely loved each other more than the cold, creamy chocolate milkshakes Dad gleefully treated us to when he thought he wouldn't bruise the scant family income too badly. I remember all the times we crowded into the dingy little ice cream parlour around the corner and took turns slurping at that tall glass of pure bliss…Sam and I would fight over the cherry, rub patterns into the icy condensation on the sides of the glass, and finger-paint masterpieces with the water on the tabletop. It was real fun dripping some down Dad's back! He would always pretend not to notice us creeping behind him, then sit up ramrod straight at the first touch of the cold wetness, and come charging hysterically around the stool at us! Yes, despite our less-than-proper upbringing, our parents had managed to give us a lovely childhood.

But everything changed when Dad died.

We were still quite young, so we didn't really understand. However, we knew that Dad had left us, and gone to receive his just reward for being so constantly oblivious to the warnings against smoking. The last few days of his life were all dirty white hospital walls, blank, official faces and countless pitying, sugary times of, "be good boys and go home, okay? We'll take good care of Daddy here."

But of course they didn't.

Before he died, we still had not fully realized the enormity of the situation. Reality only hit us hard when we discovered that everything in our peaceful childhood had lost its luster and sparkle. Mum changed. The bottle of body lotion in the bathroom sat unused, her cheery aura of citrus tang falling apart like the cracked halves of a shell. There was a numbness in her eyes which never quite left, and her smiles and sticky kisses disappeared. Even the house and neighbourhood looked grimier, colder.

Mum started smoking a few years after Dad's death. Maybe she had begun smoking a long time ago, but it was the first time she smoked in front of us. We were shocked. She suddenly looked so much grayer, her skin, her eyes, her hair – somehow more colourless. It was then that we truly realized our childhood had left us, the sweet worn sunshine of yesterday gone forever.

It worsened steadily as the days passed. When we were not looking, God had done a despicable thing, and tension hung heavy, sticky in the air. I could almost feel the air crackle as I passed through the silent house. I grew to hate the unfamiliar place "home" had become.

Then one day, Sam broke. We were in bed, and I was almost asleep when Sam elbowed me in the darkness, shaking me out of my grogginess, and whispered, "John! Let's leave tomorrow! It's getting unbearable in here." Dumbfounded, I stared at him, not believing his words. The urgency in his eyes was palpable, and my throat constricted painfully. He turned away and swiped at his eyes, muttering angrily, then subsided into silence.

We lay there and thought. The night was still around us, like a soft cocoon. After a while, I raised my head from my damp pillow, and found my voice. I remember feeling surprised at how calm I sounded.

"Sure. Why not?" But deep inside, I hung on to that tiny sliver of childish dream, hoping with all my heart that Mum would find out and stop us. Then we could be happy again.

Dawn broke, and Sam and I stole silently out of the room. Everything was going perfectly, horribly well. We reached the living room. Mum was sitting in her armchair, blowing lazy puffs of smoke that hung jagged in the air.

"You boys running away?" she drawled, gazing at us through slyly speculating eyes. There was a pause. "Well, too bad then. I'll have no one else to help with the chores."

At those words, I felt as though I had been punched in the stomach, all the breath clawed out of me in a single, horrible swoop. I stared at her through glazed eyes as the fragile panes I had put around my world shattered, a black wave of shock, desperation and hurt that I had always kept deep within spilling out. Her words refused to register in my mind. Then Sam wrenched at my arm, and I stumbled blindly after him. We hurried to the pickup and Sam started the engine.

That was when he glanced at me with that shaky smile. "Mum's changed, huh. Can't believe she just let us go like that." And with sardonic bitterness, he uttered those words, "How we got away…I'll never know."

A/N: Hmm. I get the feeling that I should expand and continue this. It currently seems too compressed. Thoughts?