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Fiction

Granny reminds me that where I come from, “Sundays are for visiting with Jesus, not idle boys.” 


Sometimes Jamie surprises me with a visit to the pretzel shop where I work. We sit in front of the last vestiges of the mall. Once it had been a thriving center, a replacement for the dwindling tobacco business. But the arc of commerce, quick to rise and fall, meant the mall was now a gathering of vacant storefronts and retired folk using it as their all-weather track for walking laps. We perch on a bench outside the parking lot, Jamie scheming between puffs of vape exhaust.  


His brother’s band had made their start a couple of years ago in the nearby town of Chapel Hill. The drummer wants to get a music degree over at Vanderbilt and there was really no reason the band couldn’t make it happen in another southern music haven. Last month three of them had packed up a van and skipped town. His brother, now working carpentry jobs while they gig has offered Jamie a place to stay and a way out. Spinning tales of exotic adventures, he imagines me in the burlesque shows he’s heard about, learning to become a fire dancer.


It’s night as I gyrate wildly around the firepit. As I scream for Jamie to watch me fire dance, he buckles over. That’s not what a fire dancer does, he lets me know. I tell him I figure they just do it with their top off which makes Jamie cackle even louder. He shows me a video on his phone. It’s of a lady in a two-piece costume that reminds me of the one Shelly Lambert wore when she played Jasmine at the local theatre house downtown. Granny’s eyes about jumped out of her skull when she saw her come onstage in that glitter-covered ensemble. “Oh lord, I don’t know what they wear in that air-bic country but here a lady, ‘specially one of that caliber, don't show her belly button to the whole town. She got a voice like a nightingale, she better use it in the choir tomorrow. Send some prayers to Jesus.” 


The lady in the video bends her torso backward and downwards one vertebra at a time, her hands holding rings connected to a trio of stems, flames flowering from the top. She reminds me of a human candelabra as she swings the rings 'round her fingers, bright circles of light trail around her forearms. When she brings them together they all burn intensely as one, bleaching out the screen.


We share beers and box wine until the world becomes unhinged. Discarded sparks from the blaze of the fire escape toward the heavens, believing themselves to be stars. In the absence of sunlight, the ground is cold and hard beneath our bodies, the neverending sky welcoming. Jamie talks poetically about home being within the heart and I believe mine lays with his as well.


It’s at the convenience mart 'round the corner that we get the test from. I squat right there behind the dumpster after downing a big gulp. Jamie says he’ll help me learn to fire dance right there at home. While we wait, he lightly draws scribbles on my palm and lists off names of boys and girls from his family line. I make faces after each, suggesting which ones I might entertain further. Though I already know that if I am pregnant with a boy he’ll be named William after my daddy.  


Daddy worked all the time since I could remember him. He’d been a self-made man who’d generated his wealth by renting properties to the newcomers and passersby that didn’t want to pay the skyrocketing rents of the university towns nearby. Daddy held the family in a tight knot, hosting Christmas dinners and Easter lunches where baby cousins, wide open, would bustle around the yard and the adults would remark over the rising prices at the grocery. Daddy would fix the birds while Mama would make the sides. On those days the kitchen stayed balmy and smelled a mix of fats and bitter greens.


After Daddy’s heart gave in, the parties stopped. Mama didn’t have the same enthusiasm and Granny didn’t feel like pressing it on her. Granny always fixed something up and we’d drive it out to a potluck at my uncle’s. We’d sit by the done-up tree, by the grand fireplace, or by the still sleeping hydrangea with the plastic pastel-colored eggs littered around for the littles, chewing on a bird bone off a paper plate till Mama said we’d best be on our way, which meant she’d had enough of the family without Daddy there to soften the blows. But I also knew that on holidays, after the littles had gone on to bed, Aunt Mae dropped by with the leftovers and let Mama cry stifled sobs into her shoulder.  


It’s on a Sunday when it happens. Mama holds me without judgment, her arms wrapped so tightly that if I hadn’t already lost the baby I’d be afraid I would. If Granny thinks we had it coming, she never says so. All she says is, “it’s time to visit Jesus.”  


Granny insists it’s time for me to learn to cook. “Lord knows I won’t always be here,” though I’ve no doubt at that moment she’d still be out picking tobacco leaves if there were still a tobacco farm to tend to. She watches me shred chicken apart before moving on to gathering flour, shortening, and butter to form a dough that grabs hold of me and doesn’t want to let go.  


Jamie leaves in the fall. But blood is thicker than water and my taproot, long like those of the hickory trees in our yard, had been laid deep long ago. People take care of one another ‘round here and come winter I’m offered a spot at the bank where Mama works. Mama and I’ll bury Granny in the clay beneath my feet. For generations my offspring will grow here like the hickories, stretching their arms upwards towards heaven. Every Sunday we will all gather together and visit with Jesus.


I know where home is. 


September 22, 2022 13:06

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2 comments

Keila Aartila
22:14 Sep 28, 2022

Critique Circle - though I don't have much to say - I thought it was a decent story - you wrote Grandma's personality very well, she stood out to me - bittersweet, but nice in the end. 😀

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20:57 Sep 29, 2022

Thanks for reading! It's interesting you say that. I'm with you, I liked her character most and originally had a line from mom in quotations but took that out so that Granny is the only character who is ever quoted.

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