Mammy has her feet propped up and is sitting on the bench, the heat has certainly arrived and this is when her porch watching thrives. Alex, the little traitor, is sitting on her flip-flops and chews his rawhide as she points out the cars passing by. Nana pulls into the driveway and gives two short honks, her universal sign for “You should stop whatever you’re doing and come get what I have so I don’t need to get out.” Mammy raises her American flag can cozy and takes a sip of pop instead.
“It’s my summer of ‘I don’t care’, Vicky!”
You Can’t Lie if You Don’t Answer
“You’re not giving him people food, right?” I ask as Mammy eats her saltines at the table with Alex sitting at full attention beside her, his head moving to watch each cracker from its starting position in the wrapper to its demise in her mouth.
While we both lived in their house, Mammy always made sure to reinforce that Alex was my dog, and so making sure he wasn’t learning to eat most human foods was a priority on my list.
“Ginger, he has plenty of his own food and treats.”
Later that night while I’m in an online tutoring session for work, I hear quiet crunching. Alex trots in the room not long afterwards. His breath smells of popcorn.
“Delano, we have to do something. She just dropped her off here with practically nothing! And Kristy’s lucky we didn’t move the spare yet, or else we would’ve found her own daughter waiting in the snow for who knows how long!”
Mammy was trying to keep her voice down while she and Pappy were talking in the kitchen, but she was angry enough that volume control wasn’t quite working, and my sneaking down the hallway to stand right beside the open doorway to the kitchen probably didn’t help.
To be fair, if they wanted privacy then maybe they should’ve chosen a room with a door.
I’m sure they were shocked when they came home to find me curled up on their couch, letting them know that my mother kicked me out of the house and had her boyfriend drop me off here with my school bag before their date; my mother’s intentions weren’t law though, there was no guarantee that they’d take me in.
And why should they?
These were supposed to be their golden years, and they were already taking care of Pawpaw full time since his dementia seemed to be getting worse. Why should they have to take care of and take in their granddaughter again?
“She was in there crying, Kay! What are we supposed to think about that?!” I poked my head around the doorframe leading to the kitchen to hear Pappy better. Something thumped the table hard. “There’s no other option. I can’t believe this. This is going too far, even for her.”
I stepped around the corner and tried to control the shaking in my voice, “I’m sorry. Please don’t fight because of me.” The silence in the room was palpable, my nerves already shot from the days events. The clumps of dirt in the floor from Pappy’s work boots suddenly became much more interesting to look at instead of my own fate. “I know asking to live here again is a lot, especially since Katie is living here too,” My voice wavered, but it didn’t break, something I was thankful for at that moment, “and I’m sure I can find some sort of place to go to instead. I’m sorry.”
Mammy and Pappy abruptly stopped their discussion which caused me to finally look up, to finally accept the cards I had been dealt. Instead, I found looks that were full of pity etched onto their faces, but it was also glaringly obvious that they found the idea of me leaving to be completely and utterly stupid.
It looked like I was staying.
Cut It (Out)
Hearing whimpering, I looked up from my laptop to see Mammy hunched over at my door, clutching something around a finger.
“I cut myself pretty bad” she explained, lessening the grip on her finger to reveal a tissue absolutely soaked in blood.
I scrambled off the bed at the sight, rushing to her side as she started to sniffle.
“Are you okay? How deep is it? Do you need me to take you to the hospital?” I bombard her with the questions as she holds back her tears, sniffling one last time before removing the tissue to show me… a perfectly fine finger.
Mammy laughed in my face before shouting “It was red food coloring!”
She takes her leave afterwards, shuffling back up the hall and cackling all the way.
I’ve never seen Mammy cry as hard as she did after I told her that I sincerely wanted to die at the tender age of fourteen.
Little Things After Shutting the Door
“Op-er-a! Alex, we are singing Op-er-a!”
After I insinuated that people thought Pappy may have been engaging in extra-marital activities to his face, I took three days off from work. For years, Mammy thought it was appropriate to share her anger, frustration, and concerns about Pappy’s relationship with the neighbor down the road to me, and I asked her to stop every time.
While Mammy and I are close, there are still some things you don’t want to hear about your own grandparents.
Yet she never had, so in an attempt to stop the fighting between them (for my own sanity) and try to deal with this the way healthy adult relationships are supposed to be dealt with, I attempted to talk to Pappy and instead hurt his pride; Mammy had hurt herself by trying to eavesdrop on us from behind the closed door. She only came away with the phrase ‘she’s paranoid’ out of the sentence “She’s paranoid sometimes, but honestly I think she may have a valid reason to be concerned.”
She lashed out at me directly while Pappy was more aggressive and violent towards Alex, an innocent little puppy in all of this.
Alex and I stayed in my room for those three days with the door shut, only leaving when one of us needed to use the bathroom. I held him tight, face buried in his fur, and attempted to hold back tears. The walls were thin and I didn’t want to provoke them to come back here.
“I’m sorry, baby. I’m so sorry. I’m going to protect you though, I’m not going to let anyone hurt you, okay?”
There was nothing I knew to do aside from protect Alex. After all, what is there to do when your two biggest supports become direct adversaries? Even if it’s for a short period of time.
Pulling Down Pants and Making Holes: A Mammy’s Must Have Items
- A bundle of eight keys contained on three keyrings, also includes a maroon dusty plastic bottle cap opener that’s been broken as long as I’ve been alive.
- One hot pink scrunchie, thick fabric band with waves
- Another clump of keys, this time to things we directly own (including the key fob for the Tahoe). A worn out 2018 Frosty tag comes right before the metal connecter where the key to my mother’s house lives. The distance is oddly appropriate.
- A small metal flashlight, with a soft button on the bottom. It has ribbed siding, and a small black strap on the back. I think she actually took this one from me, I had a similar one given to me by a stranger the night I tried running away.
Alex the Dog
“Do you love him?” Alex is in my lap in his ‘Zen’ pose, both of us are down in the floor while Mammy sits on the bench with her feet up. She dislikes that I sit there to be closer to him (You’re human, she always says, Humans sit on seats).
“Oh, I tolerate him and his five dollar ears. Don’t I, Dog?”
I cuddle Alex closer and give him a couple kisses on the side of his head. “You could at least use his name, you know.”
“Oh! I’m sorry, Dog. I mean Alex the Dog! Empress takes care of you, doesn’t she? That’s enough.”
Pappy works hard in his construction business, but is used to being away from home due to the industry. I, on the other hand, like being home more often than not. It’s difficult to do so when attempting to work a full time job, or part time position while in school. Pappy can’t continuously be there for Mammy, and I can’t be there all day for Alex, so the two keep each other company instead.
They play together and sit on the porch, watching the bugs and cars that go by. He acts as her little shadow, always sticking close by. Mammy talks to him on the porch, or through the open window while she’s working in the kitchen. She cares for him, slips him way too many treats, and purposefully gives him saltine crackers even though I keep telling her not to.
Love comes in a lot of different forms.
Every year without fail, we both put off cleaning the living room for Christmas until it’s 6AM the day of. It consists of practically playing Tetris, shuffling the boxes of glassware from yard sales she’s been hoarding into a corner along with the weighty glass serving platter that I’ve never actually seen in use.
Mammy always dejectedly looks around at the room whenever we do this. She’s mentioned several times before (and even more as we clean) that the house used to be spotless, but she can’t keep up with it like she used to. Every year she gets a little slower, gets tired a little quicker. Mammy always says that her age doesn’t bother her; it’s how her body breaks down, how every year the boxes she moves on this day need to become lighter and lighter. She’ll say nothing when I’m obligated to move heavy boxes filled to the brim with heavy glass and ceramics, but the disappointment isn’t hidden; the way she’ll look at her wrinkled arthritic hands in contempt.
I move the fake flowers and the troll dolls off the piano cover and pull it up, the discolored and broken keys taking its place. “Hey Mams, listen to this.” Slowly, I peck keys to play a very out of tune version of “Away in a Manger”. It’s embarrassing, my piano skills (or lack of) are nothing to be proud of, but when I glance over to see her grinning, eyes wide with a spark of something I can’t quite place.
I play on.