“Dammit Howard, you’re swerving all over the damn road,” my grandmother says. We’re in my grandparents’ Lincoln Town Car on our way to my aunt’s country house. My mother’s sitting with me in the backseat.
My grandfather snaps, “You wanna drive, Minnie?”
Randy Travis is playing on the radio, “Forever and Ever, Amen.” The car smells of stale tobacco and my mother’s perfume; cigarette burns cover blue fabric upholstery. It’s sweltering inside—the air conditioner is “peculiar,” my grandmother says.
“Now look here, Scooter.” My grandmother turns to me. “You behave for your aunt. She’s got company with her. I don’t want you hollerin’ and runnin’ around the house, you hear?”
I nod before she finishes. My grandmother wipes sweat off of her face with a Kleenex she keeps in her bra.
I’m always excited for trips to my aunt’s country house. It means smelling antiques and driving Jim Taylor’s golf cart and dressing up in my aunt’s fur coats and visiting The Front Porch, a restaurant with all-you-can-eat fried chicken.
I spin in my seat and kneel to look through the rear window. My uncle and his strange long-term never-married woman-friend follow in a blue car. My mother turns with me, to watch them argue. They always argue. My mother and I laugh.
“Y’all straighten up back there,” my grandmother yells.
“We’re straightenin’, Mama,” my mother says and helps settle me back in.
I’m straightening my cuff links in the back of a black Lincoln Town Car. My grandparents vanish from their seats, still fussing. Cigarette-scarred fabric transforms into new leather, Randy Travis fades into jazz music, my mother dissolves into a glossy wooden armrest and two bottles of Evian mineral water.
Outside my car door stands a driver in a crisp black suit and matching hat. He smiles and closes me in. It’s freezing inside.
I’m on my way to an art gallery opening in Chelsea, where for the low price of $15,000, you, too, can become the owner of a one square-foot block of solid color on canvas.
“How are you today?” my driver asks.
“I’m well, thank you.”
I lean against my chilly window and refill the front seats with my grandparents and smile at their fussing. I’m suddenly excited about the country house. I feel my mother rubbing my knee.
“How’s the temperature?”
I want my driver to fuss at me for no reason, to tell me to behave in case I had the notion not to. I turn around in my seat and look through the rear window, awaiting my grandmother’s reprimand.
“A beautiful view from every angle,” my driver says.
My vision focuses on an autumn park.
“Yeah.” I turn back into my seat.
We pull up in front of an inconspicuous walk-up and catch the eye of a doorman who starts on his way to open my car door. I open it on my own. He apologizes as I walk toward the building, as if I were disappointed he hadn’t been quicker.
The gallery opening is a whispers-only event, enclosed in a single gloomy room with white walls and no furnishings; here the glitterati marvel at the artist’s œuvre. Gorgeous teenage girls and GQ-worthy men walk around with trays of what smells like food but looks like décor. A surprisingly older server—she must be in her mid-twenties—dips into my circle of friends and presents a silver platter.
“Pardon,” she says, “Saumon, fromage blanc, canapé.”
My friends “mmmm” in unison and each grabs a piece.
“That’s fish, cheese, and celery to us country folk,” I say and wave the woman away. My friends laugh. I roll my eyes.
Around the gallery I spot a couple in their forties squinting at a small piece of art.
I’m cynical imagining their conversation:
“But don’t you feel Jimmy would prefer a weekend in St. Martin for his fifth birthday?” asks the woman with a fake Thatcheresque accent.
“We’ll do both,” her husband says. “We simply must have this painting in Jimmy’s bathroom—you know, the bathroom that no one ever uses; he’ll love it the moment he sees it.” And then the couple giggles and toasts. Meanwhile I think about running around my grandmother’s backyard in a dirty cape made from a pillowcase. I feel sorry for Jimmy.
“I gotta go,” I say to my group and down half a glass of champagne.
“Where are you going?” asks a friend as she checks her nails.
“I am going to find a Kentucky Fried Chicken.”