Here are some vignettes I’ve been working on for a while, the most recent drafts. They are separate, but work as a group.
“In the Kitchen at Dusk”
Van Morrison’s “Brown Eyed Girl” and my mother, her long black hair and the scent of cherry-almond Jergens. She dances, her hair a beat behind her swaying, and her falsetto following Van as he la-la-las. Her breath will smell like beer when I get close enough, I’m still a good two feet shorter than she is at this point; that disparity along with everything else will change in the coming years. For now, me, my brother, and my sisters are moving around the kitchen with bare feet, barely understanding what making love means. Mom – dancing and understanding all too well. Dad is in the backyard doing things he did back then: Building the red swing set that sits behind me in so many pictures, taking our Rottweiler Elsa out, grilling steaks that have been marinating over night. The windows and the back door are open; everywhere it smells like cooking. It’s that part of the day when everyone in a subdivision is home, when the heat of the Virginia summer has retreated and the breeze is welcome and cherished. Later, my sister and I will have a disagreement, I will probably cry, and my mom will swoop in, calling me baby the same way she will when I’m well into my twenties. After dinner, my sisters, brother and I will fall asleep in some combination of the floor, the sofa, and the loveseat, though in the morning we will wake up in our own beds without memory of being placed there. There are other things I will forget. I will not remember the time between living with my dad and not. I will not remember if there were tears, confusion, though I will assume that there were. But before all of that, we dance in the kitchen whether we know the words or the rhythm or the reason.
Mom is asleep on the couch. Gino coughs cigarettes out of his lungs and moves my mother’s legs off of his lap onto the floor so she is lying asleep with her feet in a sitting position. Her mouth is open, her bottom lip loose. She does not hear Gino ask me to get him an orange. Even at six I understand, reaching into the bottom drawer of our fridge, that this is my father’s orange. If he were not out to sea, he might be peeling this very orange for me right now, alternating between popping entire wedges into his mouth and giving me a piece to bite and feel the juice run down my chin.
“Answering Blocked Phone Calls at Midnight”
I consider keeping her on the phone forever, think about falling asleep with her breath on the other end. I could listen while she cooked – practically smell the onions, garlic, ginger – or as she disciplined other people’s children, the only job she ever held long enough to become an expert.
I have many mothers: The mother who laughed with her head thrown back and mouth open. The mother who sent us to get switches for her to whip us with. The mother who danced, declared every song on the radio her jam, turning the volume dial as high as it would go. There is the mother my sister and I found asleep on a tire outside of our house, an empty bottle of vodka in her hand, the saliva dripping from her lips her only movement. The mother who sometimes cried for reasons I am afraid to understand. The mother with eyes bloodshot for no reason, bracelets that jangled, nails tracing stories on my back as I fell asleep. Sleeping on the floor of our tin house with no power, only candles, there is the mother who made the boils on my brother and sister’s skin seem temporary and harmless. The mother who calls all of us baby and does not discriminate amongst us. The mother who taught us not to discriminate amongst ourselves.
We’re both crying now, promising each other and ourselves that someday money will not be an obstacle. She says, “Mel, I pray every night.” “Every night,” she tells me, and neither of us question why they have not been answered yet. She ends the conversation telling me not to be sad, and though she is calling from half a world away, the sound of her swallowing over and over is the clearest sound.