Knocked on Heavens door
Holding broken hearts
Upon my upturned palm
“I’d like a return please”
He was only 17.
Original published in Emry’s Journal via Medium
The slap of the screen door as it closes behind Babe causes her to start. Dammit if she hasn’t asked Earl a thousand times to fix it. What good is a tool box, she mutters, if you never use the tools?
She drags a broken chair out from under the awning of the mobile home, lining it up with a spray of sunlight on the ground. Groaning and panting as she bends at the hip, she collapses into the seat. It cracks slightly, but holds firm enough for her slight frame. She runs her nicotine stained hands through her unwashed hair then smells her fingers as if they might hold a clue. Dangling from her dry cracked lips is an unlit Marlboro, her last one. She hesitates to light it. She sighs at the thought of waiting. The urge to fill her lungs is strong. She can do it. Has before.
The only makeup she bothers with is rouge, a shade lighter than her dyed-red hair and applied as if she is scheduled to perform for Ringling Brothers later that afternoon. She wears only a robe, thin and patterned with faded daisies and adorned with oversized pockets and aluminum snaps. Her dollar store reading glasses hang between her slack breasts, folded and tucked in at the top snap. She’ll need them later to read the numbers, for now they’ll just collect the sweat already starting to bead.
Squinting, she raises her chin to the sun, making sure she is in just the right spot before releasing a heavy sigh that quickly turns into a hacking cough, reminding the dog in the yard to her presence. It’s a breezy 78 degrees. In the distance, she eyes a truck kicking up dust as it passes the Henson’s double wide and putters towards her single. She crosses, un-crosses and then crosses her legs. They are unshaven and sprinkled with scabbed over flea bites.
Ignore the fact that she wears only one slipper, as it serves no purpose anyway. It is filthy and worn. So much that the rubber on the heel is gone, revealing a sheer piece of pink terry cloth, or is it peach? Perhaps once. The mutt stole the other one moments after her butt hit the seat of the chair. He’s taken it to his favorite spot under the leafy oak where grass is only a memory. He chews it viciously, knowing it won’t fill his empty belly. Hope keeps him gnawing.
As the sun passes overhead, she moans and shifts her weight in the cracked plastic Adirondack, revealing sweat marks on her back and between her legs. She takes a slow pull from her warm beer and and waits anxiously for the lottery numbers to be announced on the AM Radio set up on a rusty card table behind her. She found the treasure in the garbage bin outside Len’s party store last fall and was elated at the discovery. The table, not the radio, that was grandad’s. It was the one thing he left her.
The radio announcer is talking about the jackpot. Biggest in Florida’s history. He’s urging listeners to call in. “What are you going to do with all that money? Call in and tell me by dialing 1–800–242-Z955.” If she had a phone she just might, then again, probably not. She shifts again and unconsciously rubs the pocket that conceals her two-dollar fortune.
The mailman pulls up to the box at the end of the drive and shoves in the mail. He departs without so much as a wave. In his wake, he leaves nothing but a dust cloud that makes it way straight for her. She contemplates getting up to retrieve the overdue notices she knows he left but her favorite song comes on, “Jolene” by Dolly Parton. As she begins to sing along, the dog’s ears perk up. He whines and relocates to his dog house in the back of the yard, although it’s more of a lean-to. The slipper continues to be his companion.
It’s her 63rd birthday.
Considering she has six kids and is on her third marriage she’s certain today has to be her lucky day. Rent on the mobile home is past due. Franny’s second baby is expected any day. Earl Jr. needs bail money, again, and her very last smoke dangles from her dry cracked lips, anxious to be kissed by fire.
Companion to the print journal est. 1984, Greenville, SC
Seven or eight pumps ought to do it. Wait, ‘go to ten’ my conscious whispers, it’s an armadillo after all. The bastards armor must be taken into consideration. It’s the middle of June and it is hotter than the latest celebrity sex scandal. The counterfeit white wicker chair I am sitting on is damp from the day’s record humidity and the resulting condensation has seeped right through to my ass but I can’t move, won’t move. There’s a rustle in the brush just beyond our black aluminum fence. Fences in Florida are a must, especially if you back to a swamp like we do. Keeps the critters out, well at least the ones that could snatch up a Pekingese. Again, I hear something move, snapping twigs. It’s him. I can smell him. Wait, no, nevermind, that’s me. First summer here I learned right quick that like it or not I was going to sweat, a lot. Thankfully, I perspire like a prepubescent 6th grader, so it’s tolerable. The rustle returns. My eyes, strained as the last few moments of the day begin to chase away the sun. I can’t see anything, the tall grass sways, requesting my attention. My upper lip is beaded with unattractive sudor. I wipe my sweaty palms dry against the front of my army green Salt Life t-shirt. The logo is beginning to wear thin I notice, I adjust my firearm.
The hubby is out of town. I pride myself in doing things like this when he’s gone. Tackling “manly” jobs in his absence gives me a sense of independence I guess. I once rearranged all the furniture in our house.. Eight rooms, it was no easy task but I had help from the cats. They proudly jumped on every piece of furniture I attempted to move, adding the extra ten pounds per cat to the hundred-pound couch. I have fixed cars, a leaking toilet, re-grouted showers, laid mulch and painted whole rooms, so I can certainly rid my yard of an one precarious armadillo.
Did you know Walmart still sells BB guns? Yep. Thirty dollars for two boxes of pellets and the gun. No background check required. Thought about purchasing the snazzy camo carrying case but when I read the price of 14.99, I decided to pass. Besides, if its camouflaged I might not be able to find it when I need it. Yes, that was an attempt at a joke but let’s face it, Jeff Foxworthy I am not.
To think, just a few years ago, I was a midwestern girl hunting for deals at Ann Taylor Loft at Laurel Park Mall. Now, I am a southern gal lying in wait for an armadillo in my Callahan, Florida backyard. Both types of hunting require patience, neither require a permit.
The shuffle is within inches of the fence now. Without preface, Al Pacino’s voice from Scarface slips into the silent part of my brain reserved for moments like these where dramatic scenes unfold of how I want things to go instead of the clumsy, chaotic way they probably will go. I observe the little bastard slide under the fence and head directly to the woodpile. I reckon he dug out that spot on his previous visit the night before when I sprayed him with the hose, which obviously, was ineffective.
The BB gun is pressed solid between my shoulder and jawline, moist from the heavy air. Finger on the trigger, I have visual of the intruder. Behind me, pushed against the window is my cat, she also has eyes on target. The frustration she feels about the glass separating her from her victim has her pacing the windowsill like a caged tiger. It occurs to me how much I admire her as she acts as my wingman. I feel a sudden pang of guilt for allowing my daughter to name her Waffles. Clearly, a name like Raven or Mystique would have been more suitable.
Currently the plan is to hold fire until he starts digging. If he’s occupied, I won’t be rushed. Wait, what’s this? He’s brought a friend? Dusk has evaporated into night and despite the light of the full moon I am suddenly feeling anxious, oh and outnumbered because the son-of-a-bitch has brought what appears to be the whole family. Apparently, his mission was to slide under the fence undetected in what I would call a recon mission. Crafty creature.
Breathe. You can do this. Unlike the mind of the distracted armadillo, you are a cunning individual. Anyone able to convince a three-year-old that mommy’s sanitary napkins are best left under her bathroom sink rather than acting as Barbie beds, while simultaneously removing a sliver from a screaming seven-year-old son’s thumb, at dinner time, with the mother-in-law expected at any minute, can certainly handle a family of armadillos. I mean, hopefully.
Moving to plan B and re-adjusting my position on the patio to a more strategic locale just left of the fern, I begin to slowly execute my system of attack. I have one shot, one opportunity…how did I go from Al Pacino to Eminem? Focus. Once I let off one round the rest will, no doubt, scatter. Take out the leader and the rest won’t return. Excellent strategy and if I wasn’t so busy trying to readjust the gun against my sweaty cheek to take aim, I would pat myself on the back. Plenty of time for that later when I am drinking my celebratory beer.
It dawns on me then how proud my dad would be, although it is just a BB gun. He is true hunter, uses a bow and is badass as dad’s go. Still, he might give me an “atta girl” slug to the shoulder.
Time’s ticking. I count them. One, two, three, four, five, damn-that’s a family alright. The leader of the pack, Mr. Recon, hasn’t moved far from his original spot near the woodpile so I take aim. His beady eyes fixed on his prey of grubs keeps him from knowing I exist. My arm is shaking, but only slightly and I squeeze the trigger, it’s way harder than I thought it was going to be but I suddenly change nationalities from German to Italian and whisper, “Say hello to my little friend” and let off the shot sending my shoulder against the chair and causing me to go slightly deaf in my right ear for about two seconds.
Don’t worry pal, I missed and then…all hell breaks loose.
Like balls on a bumper pool table, the five of them start bouncing off the fence line in what only could be described as blind chaos. Not one of them can manage their way back to the section of fence they had originally smuggled themselves through, crazy mammals! I am telling you here and now, if I would have managed to get the scene on video it would have gone so viral Jimmy Kimmel would have invited me to sit on his couch. It was nothing short of watching kids scramble for money the second they hear the ice cream truck enter the neighborhood six streets over. It was insane. All I could do was stare for what seemed like an hour but was probably more like five minutes as one by one, in full on survival mode, each family member slipped under the fence. As a bonus, every single dog in the neighborhood is now barking. Great, I have become “that neighbor”.
Behind me, Waffles shoots me a look of disappointment, her lower jaw quivering in unison with my right arm as the gun slips into the grass, “That’s right, run vermin, run! Tell your friends danger lurks here!” I yell in dramatic fashion, as is my way. Both kids are now peering at me through the sliding glass door, the curtain panels waving as if to say goodbye to our visitors. My daughter, the one who is northern born but most definitely southern bred, is laughing. Not just a little either, hysterically. My son is shaking his head. “Mom, come back in. Let Dad do it when he gets home,” he shouts then adds, “You’re going to hurt yourself.” I throw him a “thanks pal” nod and reach down for the gun, feeling defeated.
Was I tougher when I lived in Michigan? Seems like it. I was more daring that’s for sure. I blame the heat, yeah, the heat. Couldn’t be my age, I mean, it’s probably my age. The mind is a tricky thing and I only wish it could have willed me to have better aim. Just wanted to accomplish this one thing while my husband was out of town. Reaffirm my individuality so to speak. Then it happens. The kids are pointing with muffled excitement for me too look back. He has returned!
With the grace of a seasoned hunter I silently retrieve the BB gun and line up the shot. Thankfully, the neighbors flood light flips on and is hitting the lawn just right, its golden beam not only illuminates the armadillo but causes him to freeze. With my confidence restored, I pull the trigger.
Damn, I forgot to pump the gun and as Mr. Recon scurries off, I believe I hear him laughing. Nope, it’s both kids. Pointing and laughing, hysterically.
Oh and Waffles, she didn’t acknowledge my existence for well over a week.
The fires final ember
To get up, into the current
Abandoning its home
Desperate to matter
“I would like to be everyone, a cripple, a dying man, a whore, and then come back to write about my thoughts, my emotions, as that person. But I am not omniscient. I have to live my life, and it is the only one I’ll ever have.”
Nothing stinks like a pile of unpublished writing-Sylvia Plath
Over glossy pupils
Dreading his return
Almost Livin’ Almost Dyin’
for all the dead
& hear my streets
with ragged beats & the beats
are too beat to live so the graves push out with
hands that cannot touch the makers of light & the
sun flames down through the roofs & the roots that slide
to one side & the whistlin’ fires of the cops & the cops
in the shops do what they gotta do & your body’s
on the fence & your ID’s in the air & the shots
get fired & the gas in the face & the tanks
on your blood & the innocence all around & the
spillin’ & the grillin’ & the grinnin’ & the game of Race
no one wanted & the same every day so U fire &
eat the smoke thru your long bones & the short mace
& the day? This last sweet Swisher day that turns to love
& no one knows how it came or what it is or what it says
or what it was or what for or from what gate
is it open is it locked can U pull it back to your life
filled with bitter juice & demon angel eyes even though
you pray & pray mama says you gotta sing she says
you got wings but from what skies from where could
they rise what are the things the no-things called love
how can its power be fixed or grasped so the beats
keep on blowin’ keep on flyin’ & the moon tracks your bed
where you are alone or maybe dead & the truth
carves you carves you & calls you back still alive
cry cry the candles by the last four trees still soaked
in Michael Brown red and Officer Liu red and
Officer Ramos red and Eric Garner whose
last words were not words they were just breath
askin’ for breath they were just burnin’ like me like
we are all still burnin’ can you hear me
can you can you feel me swaggin’ tall & driving low &
talkin’ fine & hollerin’ from my corner crime & fryin’
against the wall
almost livin’ almost dyin’
almost livin’ almost dyin’