Dylan’s forehead rests against the backseat window. His lips move in pattern–whispers over the thumps of the road–in chorus to whatever he’s blasting through those silly, two-hundred-dollar headphones that make him look like he should be holding glow sticks, taxiing planes at O’hare. He’d begged Jill to buy the goofy things and I’d laughed when she’s asked me to go in half. Of course she broke in the end, something we’d fought about for months.
Another glance at my kids. Both are detached in their own ways. At twelve and fifteen, this is as close as it gets to spending time together anymore. Lily is curled up like a cat, eyes down in her book, while Dylan, after sulking because I wouldn’t buy him a Monster energy drink, attempts to follow the lyrics of what I seriously doubt is a real song.
“Big chains and dress fancy, yeah.”
I smirk. What the sun hasn’t done to his brain the mumble rap will finish off. I grip the wheel, remind myself of what I listened to at his age. Anthrax and Public Enemy, my own father shaking his head, talking about John and Paul, fulfilling the great American pastime of clinging to the past. I pass two trucks and settle back into the flow of things, wondering what the kids will tell Jill about our little beach trip.
It wasn’t great but it wasn’t a total bust. I’d splurged on the ocean front room. The weather had been perfect. Lily enjoyed the seafood. Dylan, well, I still can’t believe he brought his Xbox to the beach. I start to let it go, point out the giant peanut coming up, the one we’d passed on the way down. Then Dylan starts rapping again.
“I’m a millionaire but I don’t know how to read.”
Mirror be damned, my head swivels to find the backseat. “Wait, what? What did you say?”
Lily pops up from her book. She snaps at the windshield for me to pay attention. It’s such a Jill-like gesture I momentarily forget what I’ve just heard.
Dylan shrugs. “What?”
A van clings to our bumper. Probably because I’ve forgotten how to drive. I hit the gas. “What you’re singing. About not being able to read. That wasn’t a real, lyric, right?”
Another shrug. Dylan can Morse Code in shrugs. Long ones short ones, dashed with eye rolls and sighs. Lily actually sets her book down, finding a suitable plot in her brother’s misery. For a moment I feel a swell of love for my daughter, the one who loves podcasts more than music.
Dylan slides one head phone off his ear. “Huh?”
“What are you listening to?” I sound so much like my father I have to check my bald spot.
“It’s Lil Pump.”
“Little Pump. Is that,” I eye the road, see my father in the mirror. “Is that seriously one of his lyrics, the not being able to read? I think you’re misunderstanding him.”
“They misunderestimate me,” Lily says, shushing her S’s in her Bushism. Her debate team likes to watch YouTube clips of former presidents. From FDR to JFK, although her W is more of a Jodie Foster and all sorts of adorable. Dylan sets his headphones back in place. I should let it go, call it a draw. But I can’t. I blame the damn headphones. I blame Jill. And besides, Public Enemy never bragged about being illiterate.
“Let me get this straight. This rapper,” I say, risking our lives with finger quotes. “Is bragging about not being able to read.?”
“Yeah, it’s funny.”
“He also objectifies women, Dad.”
Dylan kicks Lily. “Ow.”
“D, come on.”
He huffs, sets his headphones on. Lily rolls her eyes. We pass the giant peanut.
“Big chains, dress fancy.”
I tune it to NPR, hit the gas and get down the road. Just like my father would have done.