Letting Life Lead
Her hands were hooked in her belt, as though she could prevent them wanting to roam. They’d probably roam right to the cashier’s throat. Momma’s rings cut off circulation in her fist when her fingers curled under.
“Momma,” I whispered, tentative like Kwai Chang Caine on rice paper. She shot back a hard-lipped look. The outlet store walls offered no hope.
The cashier riffled through the colored papers in her hand. “Not sure I can use these.”
My forest-green tights were slipping down again. I shifted feet; sweat soaked my shirt. My coat, heavy for the weather and too small, choked. The zipper stuck.
“Wasn’t a problem last month.” Momma snorted, her glare almost melting the other woman’s plastic badge. “I got the right stuff.”
The registers dinged. Cold whooshed from the door, cooled my face, and shot up my skirt. I bit my lip. I’d make it if we left now. I scanned the line. An cigar-smelling old-timer smiled and a tall woman behind him grumbled, “Come on!”
Staring at the factory store’s high ceilings made me woozy. I lost the rhythm of my go-go-dance.
“Snotty bitch,” Momma huffed under her breath. She snatched back the papers and grabbed my arm, pulling until my desperate muscles had to move forward. “This shit… Every. Damn. Time.”
“Ma’am!” the cashier called over the abandoned food and toiletries.
Hot rivulets slithered down my tights and soaked my scuffed saddle shoes, puddling on the concrete. I sighed relieved at the same time my eyes welled. Wet footprints stalked us to the exit: Hey, look, the fifth-grader peed herself!
I swallowed back the blubbering, but my eyes and nose dripped anyway. We’d borrowed Grandpa’s orange car. It wasn’t hard to find in the packed lot.
“Shit,” Momma sighed when she saw — or smelled — the problem. The newspapers she put on the front seat crinkled under my bottom. I held my breath as she drove to the Sunbread Outlet Bakery for the off-date bread. The yells didn’t come. I sunk my neck into my coat. Home lectures were serious business.
Momma gripped the steering wheel, her knuckles tight. The vein in her neck pulsed and her bangles jangled on her wrist. “Wait here,” she said, slamming the heavy door hard enough to rock the suspension.
Fresh malasadas and gufong wafted trough the cracked window. Mrs. Nunes’ rear stoop faced the backside of the bakery and she sometimes sold the sugared dough from her kitchen window. I slumped in the seat, hiding from passersby.
I jumped when Momma plunked a paper bag on the back floor, plopped in, and started the engine. Her eyes were red and the cool mist in the air had flattened her barrel curls.
At home, my cold tights squidged in my shoes. We had to go through the front side of the florist to get to our above apartment because the back door was nailed shut. The owner and landlady burst through the glass shop doors in a wash of pink and yellow and yoohooed at us.
“I’ll have the rent tomorrow, Mrs. Livramento.” Momma held the paper sack tighter and stepped in front of me.
“No, no!” She smiled, her perfectly arranged gray hair was stiff against the gusts. “You’re not late, hon.”
Momma shoved the grocery bag and keys at me, shooing me up the stairs as Mrs. Livramento handed off two huge Corning Ware dishes.
I let myself in and heel-walked to the tub.
Mrs. Livramento fed us. A lot. We’d never had leftovers until we moved over the shop. Momma always smiled her gratitude, but whenever she served the pastas and roasts and veggies and little pies her forehead tightened. She’d cut through casseroles too hard and ate standing up.
On Momma’s birthday, Mrs. Livramento picked a pretty, little rosemary plant from her greenhouse and dressed it up with orange peonies in water tubes. She’d locked herself in the bathroom and turned on the battery radio after the lavender-scented old lady left .
I’d never heard her cry like that.
After bathing, I soaked my clothes then peeked out the kitchen window where the rosemary thrived. The back of Momma’s head bobbed and shook side to side. Mrs. Livramento patted her hand. They hugged.
I unpacked the groceries: Bread to freeze, two malasadas, and cheese curls. The cheetah one that cost twenty-two bottle returns. I hugged Chester.
Momma shut the door, hesitated, and took a malasada. She kissed my head. “Don’t make a mess.”
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Author of suspense novels Search For Maylee, Aggravated Momentum, The Stix, and New Age Lamians. As well as the short story collection Time Wasters and (co-author of) The Suspenseful Collection. Columnist for The Conscious Talk Magazine.
...and devoted cat enthusiast.
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