Let Him Go On, Mama

The trailer always held us, as I’ve seen cats hold mice, still living, inside the arched space of their mouths. But it was frail, shook in any strong wind, smelled of burnt fuses. The summer that I finished high school, there was what my dad likes to call a “Big Storm,” and right before it hit he suggested we drive over to the Cellar to wait out the weather. The Cellar was an unlicensed bar in the basement of his buddy’s house, its walls a murk of fake wood paneling, pinups, and neon beer signs.

“We’ll be safer that way,” was his argument.

Mama looked at him across the counters, which were covered all over with bowls of fruit stewing in their juices, plums and strawberries ready for canning, and she said to him, “Wayne, I can’t believe you wanna bring your wife and daughter into some dingy bar to wait out the storm.”

And my dad said, “Don’t be a party pooper, Darlene,” only because he already knew he’d lost, and Mama threw a halved strawberry at him. It landed in the hollow of his neck, clung there for an instant and slid down through the collar of his shirt. He dug it out while Mama told him once and for all that if she was gonna die in this storm, she would die in her own home, and that even if the world was ending, she wouldn’t take shelter in “that shithole.”

Dad looked at the strawberry in his palm as if he thought it was the source of all her defiance, and just then a hearty gust of wind came up and made all the plates and pictures and things on the far wall rattle. Something breakable fell over and smashed to bits, and the dog barked three quick notes of warning, but my mother just kept planting those strawberries into jars, as if granting them a refuge she wouldn’t allow herself.

Watching her that way, deaf to all noises of destruction, I felt safe. But that may have been the last time.

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