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Drama

As if her name Tawny Brown wasn’t enough to endure through the taunting and teasing of grade school peers, there was the issue of the one who so carelessly bestowed the ‘lovely’ name on her.


Born in a field of sweet clover and common daisy’s her mother was higher than any clouds that floated overhead, as she gave birth to the tiny baby with tawny brown hair.


When Tawny arrived slick, wet, and squalling, one of the many languid observers in the camp, took a drag from his blunt and drawled slowly,


“Tawny would be a real good name.” He probably thought himself clever.


“Yeah,” Lilah, her mother said dreamily. “It would be…”


***


Eighteen years later and Tawny found herself trudging through the door of the tiny thin-walled trailer called home.


She stopped just as she crossed over the threshold to allow her eyes to adjust to the low light. The blinds drawn. The small television illuminating the cramped space. The same vile day-time talk show, blaring.

Tawny sighed heavily and began to collect wrappers off the living room table.


“Lilah, the trash can is only three feet away. Can you please just throw this stuff away?”


“Yeah, sweetie. Sorry about that.” She sucked at her cigarette, exhaled. Smoke swirled around Lilah’s emaciated hunched form, which sat on the edge of the old time-worn tweed couch.


Tawny glanced at her mother’s arms. Even the low lighting and smoke mist couldn’t hide the track marks that ran like hideously small stop signs interconnecting a map of blue veins on Lilah’s forearms.


She was healing. In recovery - yet again.


“Lilah…” Tawny had begun to say something but was cut off.


“Why’th don’ht y’ call me Momma l’k all the other girls do?”


Only then did Tawny spy the empty bottle of vodka on the floor. “I don’t know.” She mumbled and quickly exited the room to the back of the mobile home to her room – her sanctuary.

She threw herself across the bed.


Mindlessly the thought wandered around her brain, ‘When did I stop calling her momma? I can’t remember when or why…’


Turning over and propping herself up on the bed, she looked around the room. Four blank walls lightly stained from years of nicotine wafting in despite keeping the door shut. A nightstand with a reading lamp. A bookshelf overflowing with yellowed dime-store paperbacks falling apart at the seams. A threadbare carpet, devoid of a single candy wrapper or piece of laundry. A faded calendar hanging above her chipped desk - dates penned in for work and homework assignments.


And on her clean desk, only one item sat - a single letter.


She sighed and looked at the tiny alarm clock on her nightstand. The was 3:45. She only had ten more minutes to rest, then she would have to get up, get her uniform on, and walk to the corner to catch the city bus.


She stood, picked up the envelope. Her eyes fixed on it, bore a hole through it like a beam of sunlight focused through a magnifying glass. She couldn’t decide what to do. She thumbed the paper in between her fingers, like a poker player calculating whether to play or fold.

Weeks had passed since its arrival, and when she’d opened it, she read it over three times to be sure. A full ride to the college of her dreams.


But what about Lilah?


She set the envelope down, feeling its weight was greater than a mere sheet of paper should be.


She got dressed and trudged off to the bus stop. She had just settled down on the seat when her phone pinged with a text.


Where did you go? Lilah texted.


Work.


You work today?


Yes, I work every Tuesday.


I thought it was Monday.


Tawny clicked her phone off and put it in her bag. She worked through her four-hour shift at the grocery store, bagging groceries and pulling in carts from the parking lot.


It was the 15th of the month, and her paycheck was in today. She cashed it at the customer service booth, then sat at the table in the breakroom, eating a snack before she’d have to walk to the bus stop.


As she waited, she counted out the bills into three piles – one for food, one for rent, and a small portion she set aside for savings. Sometimes rent didn’t get paid, and she needed a reserve – a cash stash. After too many evictions, she’d learned to work around Lilah’s antics.

She folded the three piles neatly and put them in her purse. She left the break room, pulled out a cart, and began to load it with staple items; milk, cereal, bread, ramen, and so on.


She rode the bus home, got off at her stop, and entered her house using her house key. It was quiet inside, and she wasn’t sure if Lilah had turned in early or had gone out. Either could be a possibility.


She immediately turned left, passed through the tiny kitchenette, and went straight to her room. She undressed, wrapped a towel around herself, crossed the hall to the small bathroom and showered, washing the tension of her workday away.


She sat at her desk until 1 a.m. and worked on her homework until her eyes could no longer keep themselves open. Still, the envelope sat there, making her feel like a prisoner waiting on the jury’s verdict. Yet, she was both prisoner and jury – what an odd situation to be in…


She woke at 6:30 a.m. and was on the school bus by 8. She went to school, came home, and walked into her living room to find a dark room, stale trash and fresh cigarette smoke comingled with the same droning TV talk show. Same Lilah - angled on the couch with one leg on the table, the other on the floor, and some pillows propping her up.


She smiled when she saw Tawny.


“Baby, can you get me some Coke after work tonight? I saw you got paid.”


“Yeah.”


“Tawny!” Lilah called her back. Tawny stopped - didn’t turn around - waited.


“It’s May baby girl. Aren’t you going to prom this year?”


There was barely money for rent, let alone a dress from a thrift store.


“No,” she mumbled. “I’m working that night.” She moved quickly down the hall and closed her bedroom door. Most days, she wouldn’t bother, but today she locked her door.


The stark white rectangle envelope silently screamed at her - decide!


At five till the hour, she got up and began to put on her uniform. She went to work. She brought home the coke Lilah requested. A 12 pack. She set it on the counter with a loud thud, which reverberated like a jackhammer crashing down.


***


Prom passed. The small spattering of Lilah’s friends went to prom. Lilah worked and smiled when her friends shared their pictures of the ‘magical’ evening. Tawny wondered what it would have been like to attend with them. She had a hard time envisioning herself in a glamorous gown like her girlfriends.


Graduation approached. She informed Lilah about the occasion, the handful of times when she happened to be home. She left the invitation right on the coffee table. It was unmistakable to spot, seeing as Tawny cleaned the table off each day. After three days the invite disappeared.


Graduation day arrived and Tawny was handed her diploma. She smiled shyly, looked up into the bleachers – half hopeful, half pragmatic. No familiar faces were beaming with pride. Perhaps she had hoped but was not surprised at the outcome.


A week after the date of her graduation Tawny exited her room in her work uniform at the same moment her mother came out her room dressed in an oversized flower-patterned dress. It hung on her thin frame like a tent - looking ridiculous. It was probably the best her mother had dressed in ten years. 


“Aren’t you going to your graduation, Tawny?” Lilah asked, genuine dismay etched her facial features at seeing Tawny in her work uniform. “You missed prom. You can’t miss your graduation for work!”


“Lilah, that was last week. You missed it.”


Lilah’s face fell, and she sat down slowly on the couch. She stared at her hands, not knowing what to say. Finally, she looked up.


“Baby, I’m so sorry. I lost the invitation. I lost track of the days. I meant to be there for you. I did.” Lilah lifted her hands in a helpless gesture.


“It was on the table for serval days,” Tawny said, devoid of emotion.


“Oh,” Lilah said quietly.


Tawny left. She wanted to slam the door shut, yet pulled it closed softly. Her heart swelled with both sorrow and anger. When she reached work, she shoved the emotion deep down and got to work. It’s what she always did. It’s what had to be done.


For the next few weeks, mother and daughter interacted as strangers – barely speaking or touching as they passed each other in the narrow halls of the trailer.


Was there a time when we were not strangers, Tawny thought bitterly?


Those words Lilah had mumbled, hung heavy in Tawny’s mind like low, angry clouds on the horizon.


I meant to be there…

I meant to be there…


***


Later that week, her manager, a robust man with a thin line of hair, brought her into the office and said with gusto, “Tawny, I’d like to promote ya to checker! You’re a hard-working gal, and you’ve really been there for me.”


He beamed as if awarding her a great honor.


She’d worked for him for three years. She’d been passed over for a promotion several times, even though she was more than qualified to move up eight months after taking the position.


At first, she smiled at the thought of finally being promoted, but then those words… Those insidiously cankerous words bore into her heart and mind with venom threatening to poison her if she didn’t… Do what? Something? But what?


Her smile faded, and the manager asked, “Tawny, ya, okay? You look pale?”


“Can I think about it?” she whispered.


The manager stared at her, confuddled at her lack of excitement. “Yeah, sure. Just don’t think too long. I gotta fill the spot by Friday, ya hear,” he grumbled.


“Alright.”


On the bus ride home, she pondered her sudden shift of emotion. She found those same words - that phrase - like termites eating at her thoughts relentlessly.


Been there for me…

Been there for me…


***


Been there for me…

Been there for me…


One night as she lay in bed with those wretched words playing over and over like lyrics to a song that wouldn’t quit, the thought came to her swiftly and with such force it was like a punch in the gut.


Everything felt crystal clear and she knew what she had to do.


On Friday, she walked into her manager’s office at the exact time she knew he always took his lunch break, and thus would not be there. She placed a small note on his desk in the same way she had placed a note on the coffee table before leaving home.


She took the city bus downtown to the Greyhound depot and bought a ticket eastbound for a state she had never visited but would soon call home.


She stashed her small duffle bag in the luggage compartment. Her stomach clenched with anticipation and fear. She couldn’t believe she was actually doing this.


As the bus rumbled to life and turned onto the freeway, she clutched her small pack to her chest. She slipped her hand into her pocket, clutching the acceptance letter banded around a paltry roll of bills from her stash of cash, like a lifeline, pleading it would carry her through.


Been there for me…


I’VE been there for me. Not Lilah - Not my boss - Not even my friends. I’VE taken care of myself for as long as I can remember. Why should I be so afraid to leave this life, and make a better one for myself? Why shouldn’t my mother, the one who was supposed to take care of me, now take care of herself? Why should I give up my life for her?


Why had she not seen this until now? It didn’t matter, the fact was, she had immense clarity. She was putting her best foot forward, and not looking back.


I – have been there for me. I – will take care of myself. Everything will be just fine.


***


Tawny was just crossing the Texas-Louisiana border when Lilah came home and found the small envelope on the table. She opened it, and several bills tumbled out.


Lilah picked up the currency, confused. Her eyes turned to the letter. She read it. The note slipped from her fingers as tears streamed down her cheeks.


Momma,


It’s not much, but hopefully, this money will help you get through until you can get a job to pay the bills now.


I’m really sorry I wanted to be there for you, but I just couldn’t.



I’m leaving and won’t be coming home again.


Tawny

August 03, 2020 23:16

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9 comments

C. Jay Loren
04:09 Aug 09, 2020

Oh wow this is quite a powerful story but really very sad. I’m glad she got the strength to leave and be for there for herself and doing what she wants. :)

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Mary Black Rose
19:03 Aug 10, 2020

Thank you so much for taking the time to read it and comment! I truly appreciate the feedback!

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K. M. Carpenter
19:49 Aug 09, 2020

Captivating and moving. From the beginning, I could sympathize with Tawny and throughout the story I could repeatedly feel just how torn she was. You did an excellent job of showing, not telling, her emotions and her relationship with her mother. At the story's end, I found myself cheering for her when she finally seized her own life. I loved it! Keep writing!

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Mary Black Rose
18:44 Aug 10, 2020

Aww thank you SO much! I truly appreciate this feedback. I especially appreciate the specific feedback of what worked for you in the story. Thank you so much!

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K. M. Carpenter
21:36 Aug 10, 2020

Any time :) I loved the story.

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Deidra Lovegren
23:22 Aug 07, 2020

This is so delicate and lovely. Keep writing :) Favorite simile: like termites eating at her thoughts relentlessly

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Mary Black Rose
00:11 Aug 08, 2020

Thank you so much for reading my story!!! I appreciate it. I really enjoy your writing! I feel honored that you reciprocated reading mine. Thank you for the compliment!

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Deidra Lovegren
00:16 Aug 08, 2020

I've only been on Reedsy since May. I never thought anyone would see or read anything I wrote, and it sucks to write into the void. But hang in there. You have great talent. My goal is to write something every week until I find a character I love enough to write a novel for. If not, maybe a book of short stories? If not, at least it's FREE therapy. :)

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Mary Black Rose
19:13 Aug 10, 2020

Getting a compliment from someone whose work I feel, exceeds mine - THANK YOU! You truly just made my day. I was hesitant that no one would respond. Yes, it's great therapy, true... But, I also love getting feedback, so I can know what to cease or continue with in my work. I want to make a career of this, so thank you for the encouragement. It means so much!

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