Near 500 words: Motherhood

“I didn’t do it, Mommy,” seven-year-old Winnie said, looking up at her mother with those pitiful green eyes.

Pooch, the white mutt, leaned his head against Winnie’s.

Sandy stared down at her daughter. “What am I going to do with you? You need to come to Jesus, young lady.” Her hands were on her waist. She had that mother look that was anger. More than that, it was frustration.

Winnie reached around Pooch’s ear and scratched it gently.

“If you didn’t do it, who did?”

Winnie had an answer, but she wasn’t sure her mother would believe her. She gathered up her courage and said, “It’s a ghost.”

“A ghost? C’mon, Winnifred Ambrosia Mason. What are you talking about?”

“Mommy, it’s a ghost,” Winnie insisted as Pooch licked her ear.

Sandy wheeled around and went off into the kitchen. She poured a cup of coffee. Then she sat down at the kitchen table.

Winnie was quiet. That wasn’t good news.

Sandy yelled into the other room, “Go to your room before I kill you. If you don’t, I swear I will.”

She heard Winnie and Pooch head into her room.

Sandy drank her cup of coffee, then another, then another. Finally, she picked up the phone. “Bess, can you come over? Please.”

Bess was Sandy’s sister. She knew how to put the fear of God in a child. She had done it with her own three.

Fifteen minutes and Bess came through the front door. “Anybody home?” she called.

“I’m in here,” Sandy yelled back.

Bess walked past Sandy and went into the small cubicle that was the kitchen. “You drank all the coffee.”

Sandy was in no mood for Bess’ sass. No mood at all. “If I had a bottle of scotch, I would drink that too.”

Bess brought Sandy a new cup of coffee. “Here. Drink this.”

“No wonder Mom drank.”

Bess sat down across from her sister. “Okay, what has Winnie done now?”

“She says it’s a ghost.”

“A ghost?” Bess laughed. “That’s a new one. My kids never said anything about a ghost. Where did she get that idea?”

Sandy shook her head. “God only knows.” She sipped her coffee.

“You think she’s right.”

“Honest to God, no.”

“She’s a good kid.” Bess said, then took another drink from the cup. “Mostly.”

“It’s the mostly part I’m worried about.”

“So what are we going to do?”

“We?” Sandy said, then went silent.

Her sister reached over and squeezed her hand.

Sandy squeezed back. “One thing is for sure. I am not giving her to her father.”

“You want me to take her with me? Keep her for a couple of weeks.”

“No. This is something I have to do.”

Bess went home and Sandy continued to sit at the table. Finally, she made a decision. She got up and walked to Winnie’s room. The room was straightened and everything was in its place. Winnie was on the floor. Pooch lay across her lap. She went to get up.

“Stay where you are,” Sandy said softly, then took a seat on the floor beside Winnie. She ran her fingers through Winnie’s hair. “Look. If you say it was a ghost, it was a ghost. As long as I have no evidence, I am going to think you’re telling the truth. Okay?”

“Yes, Mommy,” Winnie said, leaning her head against her mother.

“Unfortunately you don’t have a sister to blame things on the way I did.” Then she leaned over and kissed her daughter on the head.

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Uncle Bardie’s Movie of the Week: Celie

Once a week on Monday, Uncle Bardie shares a movie with his Readers he gives a big two thumbs up. It will simply be a short excerpt or a trailer. From time to time, a reflection on the movie will appear below the video. So pop some popcorn and give yourself a treat. This week’s movie celebrates Black History Month. It is “The Color Purple” (1985):

Celie is a poor black girl. Celie is pregnant with her daddy’s baby. Celie’s daddy takes her baby girl child when she is born. Celie is sold to a black farmer. Celie goes to live with a farmer. The farmer has three children by another wife. The house the farmer lives in is the messiest house you ever did see. Celie cleans it from top to bottom till it is spick and it is span. Celie’s younger sister comes to live with Celie to escape her daddy’s lust for her. The farmer lusts after the sister too. Celie’s sister will not give into the farmer’s demands. The farmer chases her off the farm. Celie and her sister don’t want to part. The farmer forces the sister to go away. Celie and her sister are separated. Will they ever see each other again?

This is the life of a poor black girl in the South. This is the story of a poor black girl surviving. This is the story of that poor black girl becoming a woman. This is the story of how love overcomes all things.

Mother, The Gift That Keeps On Giving

We, my two sisters and I, buried Mother yesterday. At least, what was left of her. Last night we shed our tears and got her out of our system. It wasn’t that hard since Mother had run roughshod around our lives from the day we were born.

There were so many things that drove us nuts about Mother. She had a neat fetish. After we left home, she would show up at our houses when we were not there. We never gave her the key. No matter the lock, she picked it. She could have given safe crackers lessons.

By the time we came home, the house would be cleaned spotless and everything put away. She loved playing hide-and-go-seek with our belongings.She never put things where they belonged. When asked where she put something we especially loved, she would not tell. “You didn’t need that old thing,” she answered. If there was something she didn’t like, out it went. I am still looking for that blue dress I bought at Neiman Marcus and wore to my college graduation. That’s been twenty years ago and I loved that dress.

It got to the point when we moved, we didn’t tell her where. Somehow she managed to find us. I once asked how. “I just stick my index finger in the air and it tells me where you’ve moved.”

At the end of each year, she’d show up at one of our homes and announce, “I am your Christmas gift this year.” Then she went about rearranging our decorations. She would insist on making Christmas dinner. But she would make the awfullest tasting stuff. I once asked her what was in it. “It’s my secret recipe,” she said.

There wasn’t a logical rotation to those Christmas visits. The same sister might get Mother five years in a row, then she would go on to her next victim. I mean, daughter. It might be eight or nine years before that sister saw her for the holidays again. Or it might be two.

That is just the stuff I can talk about. There were other things she did that none of us dare talk about. How Dad stuck with her for as long as he did we could never figure out.

Shortly after Alice and Marge left this morning, the FedEx man delivered an unexpected cardboard box to me. It was twenty-four inches by twenty-four inches by six feet long. Attached to it was an unsigned note. “Your mother wanted you to have this.”

This was not good. Mother was eccentric. And there was no telling what was in that box. At least it didn’t smell.

I picked it up. The Box was surprisingly light. I shoved it into the hall closet. It wanted to put up a fight but I shut the door before it could protest much.

I took out my cell and punched in Alice’s number. Before I finished punching, I stopped myself. Maybe I had better not. Mother might not have given her anything. Mother was like that. From time to time, she would give one daughter something but not the other two. It was just another way for he to get under our nails.

So I decided to keep the Box a secret. No reason to rile things up. Especially when I wasn’t about to open the darn thing anyway.

With the Box safely tucked away, I went about my rest-of-the-day doing rest-of-the-day things. But Mother was not the kind of woman who would let a person get her off their mind. God help me but I had tried enough times. Just as I was about to bed myself down for the night, I got this call. “Did you open the package?” said a voice.

“No, I didn’t,” I gave the Voice. “And I don’t intend to.”

“But you have to.”

“Do not.”

“Do to.”

“Now hold on,” I said, just about shouting.

Then the Voice, “I would advise you to open the Box. Otherwise.” The Voice hung up.

“Otherwise WHAT?” The buzzing of a dead phone line was the phone’s answer. Mother always made me want to throw something. Even dead, she was doing it to me.

That night I went to bed earlier than normal. Sometime later a large crashing sound came from the hall closet. I turned over and covered my ears with a pillow. The sound grew louder and louder. I pulled myself out of bed, wiped the sleep from my eyes, slipped my feet into a pair of slippers and tottered toward the closet, bumping into the bedroom doorframe. I steadied myself, switched on the hall light and continued.

Inside the closet, there was a heck of a ruckus. I looked at the door and shouted, “Will you just stop it.”

It didn’t stop the noise.

“I’m warning you.”

The noise kept getting louder. To shut it up, I said, “Okay, you win. If you stop it, I will open the door.”

The noise stopped and the house went quiet. Very quiet.

I stood in front of the door in my night gown and didn’t move for several minutes. Shaking, my hand turned the knob and pulled. Out fell the Box, crashing onto the hall floor, falling open when it hit the carpet. A broom jumped out of it and into my hand.

“What?”

I got no answer. The broom rotated in the air and swept me onto its long red handle. With me on its back, it headed for the front door. Just as we were about to hit the door, it swung open. We flew out into the night, made a right and headed toward the large, bright full moon. I closed my eyes and held on for dear life, afraid that I would fall at any moment. Each time I opened my eyes to peek, the landscape below changed from city streets to green pastures and country roads and onward over a large lake. Finally the broom slowed as it flew through a dark forest. Strange beastly sounds emitted from the forest. Even the breeze sweeping across my face moaned.

The broom came to a complete stop and drop me onto the ground. I recovered my feet and stood. Before me was a black stone, glowing in the dark, providing enough light for me to see two other figures. They were Alice and Marge. Even in the dim light, I recognized them. Like me, they wore a night gown and slippers.

We ran to each other and hugged, partially to quench our fear, partially glad that we were not alone. The brooms at our back stood at attention.

It was then that a soft cackle came from deep inside the stone. We three stepped back, wanting no part of what we heard. A soft red light rose out of the stone. The cackle louder and louder. An apparition like a fog ascended.

Looking down on us, it said, “Well, if it isn’t my three daughters. Lucy, the youngest, the spoiled one. Marge, the middle girl, always pouting about this or that. The not-very-smart Alice, the oldest. Do you not recognize your mother?”

We nodded yes.

“You may be wondering why I brought you here. I have a mission for you, and I want it done immediately. You are to get my slippers back, you hear?”

“B-b-but how?” we daughters all spoke at once.

“You can figure that out for yourselves. The brooms will help you.”

I spoke up. “What if we refuse?”

“Refuse. Never.” A lightning bolt shot from the fog and almost hit us.

“I want my ruby red slippers. You understand?” Then she was gone.

Recovering, I said, “Guess you know what that means.”

No, the other two shook their heads.

“We have to go to Kansas.”

Short Story Wednesday: Fine and Dandi

Short Story Prompt: “Everyday Use” by Alice Walker.

Two sisters.

One, the oldest, as pretty as a model, blonde hair, blue eyes, a killer of a smile, a waist that never puts on weight. She was the smart one, and the one who never talked ‘cause she was shy. Her thing was music. She ate, drank, slept music. She played a kick-butt cello. Her name was Anna Belle. Everybody called her Fine.

Her sister, two years younger, was Mary Belle, but she was known as Dandi. She was the popular one, a little bit on the chunky side and long, stringy hair, a washed-out blonde. She had no particular bent for any of the arts. She liked people and people liked her. She had such an infectious laugh. And she could tell a joke that would have the listener rolling on the floor.

Fine and Dandi were inseparable. As the two grew up, no one could remember them having a disagreement. If a guy wanted to date Dandi, he had to find a friend for Fine. The guys didn’t mind. After all, she was the attractive one. But her attitude toward them made them conclude she was stuck up. She just didn’t reciprocate their affection while Dandi did. So there came a time when Dandi no longer was asked out. The guy couldn’t find a date for Fine.

Fine waited to go off to college until Dandi graduated. During the two-year interval between high school and college, she gave cello lessons to bring in some money to pay for the rent her mother charged. “It’s time you paid your way,” she told her daughter. “Can’t stay around here and twiddle your thumbs.”

Dandi managed to get through high school with a B average with her sister’s help. But it was just barely a B. Then she and her sister took off to college. They had a dorm room together. They went to the same classes. Decided they would become teachers. They both liked kids.

Soon they had their degrees and were interning at one of the local elementary schools. Both waitressed at the same restaurant and made enough in tips to keep a roof over their heads. They moved several hundred miles away from the college and found jobs as teachers at the same elementary school. They found a two-story house and renovated it over the next three years.

When the sisters went home for Christmas, their parents noticed the two were looking more and more like each other. Fine had long, stringy hair, a washed out blonde. She gave up the cello. Now she played guitar. Dandi lost weight and now strummed a guitar. Both had become shy but they had Dandi’s infectious laugh.

Then there was something else. When Fine left a room, Dandi worried that she wouldn’t return. When Dandi went off to the store to pick up some groceries, Fine kept looking out the window. It was as if each expected something bad to happen to her sister.

Sure they had always been close, but this was ridiculous. At least, that was what the parents said to each other. “We’ve got to do something,” their mother said to their father as they laid in bed, worrying. “But what?” their father wanted to know. He’d always been a man in control, except when it came to his daughters. So the parents conspired. The parents decided that the closeness was unnatural. It reminded them of people in a cult. What they needed to do was an intervention.

The holidays came to an end and the girls returned to their life in the town three towns away from their parents’ home. Their mother went on the internet and found exactly what she was looking for. It was a Saturday when the de-programmer showed up on her porch. The mother invited him in, told him what she had in mind.

“You sure you want to do this?” he asked the parents. “Once we start on this road, there is no turning back.” He told several stories of what happened when parents backed down after the process began. It wasn’t pretty. “This is what we want,” both parents agreed.

The next Friday night two men sat in a van across from the sister’s house. They watched. Saturday passed and both the girls stayed indoors. And the same for Sunday. On Monday evening they came home from work and began their usual vegetarian dinner. While Dandi cooked in the kitchen, Fine set the table.

The doorbell rang. “I’ll get it,” Fine called out to her sister, happiness in her voice.

She opened the door. A man in a dark blue suit threw a hood over her head. She screamed but it was too late. The two men had her in their van and they were down the road.

Behind the van, Dandi in the sisters’ red mustang was a block away and gaining. On the seat beside her lay the .38 the girls kept in the house for protection. Just as she came up behind the van, it started to rain. She almost touched the van’s bumper. Crying, she tried to think of what to do. Then it came to her. She pulled around to the side of the van and slammed into it. The rain was pouring. She pushed harder against the van with her car. The van hit a telephone pole. Dandi stopped her car and jumped out and ran over to the van.

The driver opened the van door. He looked stunned. The other man was slumped over in his seat, unconscious.

“Get out.” He crawled out of the vehicle. “Now where’s my sister.” He pointed at the back of the van. Dandi stuck her gun into his gut and said, “Open the back door.” He unlocked the door.

Fine was on the floor, tied up. “Untie her,” Dandi urged. The man did as he was told. Fine crawled out of the van.

“Now turn around.”

The man did as he was told. Dandi said, “Hands behind you.” The man’s large hands went behind his body. “Get into the van and lay face down.” He did as he was told. Dandi handed the gun to her sister, then tied his feet and hands together with his belt. She slammed the door, went to the driver’s seat and took the keys and threw them over into a nearby yard. Down the street came a police car with a flashing light.

Fine and Dandi got into their car and slowly drove away. Dandi left the lights off the car and drove away. The police did not follow.

Their car disappeared into the night. That was the last anyone saw them. Ever.

In ancient Greece, there was a story of two brothers, Castor and Pollux. When Castor died, Pollux prayed to Zeus, the king of the gods, to let his twin share his divinity, so that they would never be separated. Zeus agreed and they were made into the constellation Gemini. Perhaps the next time you look up to the heavens with your telescope and see Gemini, you will think of Fine and Dandi. I know I do.

Next Wednesday’s Short Story Prompt: “Everything That Rises Must Converge” by Flannery O’Connor.