At pizza/dinner tonight, we played a game in which each of us had to make a vow. Mine was to start every day with a smile this week. Addao vowed not to make vows about strange things, after realizing that a vow not to vow was a lose-lose situation. Jessica, diving into a pile of salad, vowed never to go so long without eating.
We stuffed ourselves silly (me with over-priced but delicious GF pizza) then we made our way home. From the back of the house, I heard Addao calling, “Mom!” and in a flash, I found myself back in time, maybe 45 years backwards into a shotgun bungalow in Jennings.
I hover in the kitchen doorway. My mother has her hands in suds, her back to me, staring out the window. I can’t see the season in my memory; I am mainly aware of my mother’s shoulders, hunched and huddled. Feelings of powerlessness and helplessness rise in me as I recall standing, silent. She had no idea that I watched her. I could not speak.
My little brother, eleven or so at the time, called from the basement. Mom! Mom! She did not answer. He shouted more loudly, MOM! MOM! I could feel his urgency; I’ve no idea — not then, not now — what he needed. My mother remained silent until the third call: MOM!!! MOM!!! MOM!!!!
Then she spoke — still facing the window, hands still plunged in the dishwater, shoulders still taut. In the tiniest of voices, barely above a whisper, she said, “What?” Stephen called again and again, Mom whispered, “What?” On his fifth call he seem to reach a frenzy but still she did not raise her voice nor move: “What?” and I gasped, Mother! and she jumped, reeled around, her hands sending a shower of soapy water across the room, slapping me in the face cold, wet, greasy.
We stared at each other. Moments passed, then I heard the sound of my brother running up the stairs. He charged through the basement door and skidded to a halt at the sight of our stand-off. Mom, he finally demanded. Didn’t you hear me calling?
Mother’s eyes never left mine as she said, “I answered; didn’t you hear me?”
I turned and walked out of the kitchen. I did not betray her; nor did I take my brother’s side. I went out onto the porch. I cannot remember — was it raining? Winter? I do not know. I sat on the porch and thought about my mother but I reached no conclusions. After a while, I went back into the house and closed the door.