I’m standing on the sidewalk in front of Mrs. Snay’s house. I’ve just finished cutting her grass. My shirt is soaked in sweat. I’m waiting for my mother to come pick me up. Her car should be coming down Fisher Street any minute. This is years before my dad dies so she still has that shitty green Ford wagon that burns oil and smokes for ten minutes every time she starts it. Later, with the insurance money, she buys a Pacer that she keeps until she dies and leaves it to my sister who drives it for two more years before it burns up on the highway while she’s driving to Lawrence to buy cocaine and when the police get there they arrest her for driving under the influence, her third strike, and she spends four years in state prison where she reads Audre Lourde and comes out clean and clear and with the help of a social worker goes right into college, gets a degree in Women’s Studies and then a job teaching underprivileged kids in a poor school district in Houston where she meets her partner Lucy. They’re finally able to marry in 2015 and I go down to Houston for the wedding and find out that my old friend Paul lives just a little way out, in Galveston, and he wants me to come over and sit on his deck that looks out over the Gulf and when I’m sitting there I’m reminded for some reason of the time my mother dropped me off at soccer practice and wanted to kiss me goodbye and I said, Mom, please, not in front of my friends. I got out of the Pacer and she sat there in the parking lot for a few minutes and then drove away. I start crying right there with the water lapping below the deck and Paul says, It’s the Gulf, man, she’s so pretty at this time of day, it’s not the first time she’s made somebody cry. Then my mother is driving down Fisher and the exhaust haze fills up the street behind her and all the rest is way far in the future and none of us suspects what’s coming.
For one thing, the chandelier is too low. Imagine trying to walk your way around those baubles twenty or thirty times a day, cocking your head to one side or the other, all that energy wasted for what? Who would live like that? Everything in the house is in disarray but nothing more so than the chandelier with it’s crystal tears and rings and wires. There are dishes in the sink and cloths scattered over the floor and drawers open and contents spilled out across the floor, batteries, scissors, that postcard from the vacation to Puerto Rico where you fell on the sidewalk and ran crying to the thin woman under the awning who helped you find your parents. You were how old then? Five? You cried when you stood on the balcony and watched the ocean stretching back home, your fingers holding fast to the railing as your parents packed the suitcases. You vowed never to leave no matter the consequences, but you did. You left that day, the plane humming on the tarmac hot on the soles of your sandals. You never returned and so broke your vow, the first of many. Maybe that’s why it upsets you so now, the postcard torn from the drawer and lying on the old green carpet under the crooked chandelier, it’s light bent over the room like some old hunched crone calling your name. You said you’d come back, the crone says. We waited for you, all of us. We had dinner prepared. We had the grill ready. The children are singing still.