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Fiction

“Guess What?”                         

           You know the sound a shopping cart makes when one of its wheels is wonky? Wockata, wockata, wockata. Last year, my hoarder mother snagged one of those things from behind Walmart. Tiny as she was, she trundled that thing around like a ferret chasing a chicken.

Our stinking house, next to the tired strip mall, was bulging with: ratty furniture, empty cans, funky clothes, hideous lamps, broken toasters, and crappy cardboard boxes. Moldering stuffed toys and bedraggled baby dolls were crammed into every crevice. Halloween masks dangled from the living room ceiling fan. 

 In December, she came home with an aluminum Christmas tree. I was in my room studying for finals when I heard the wockata, wockata, wockata rattle of her cart coming up the sidewalk. 

“Hey Maddy” she yelled, “Guess what I found?” 

She jammed the tree into a corner of the living room. After Christmas she decorated it for every holiday. Christmas balls, red paper hearts, and plastic Easter eggs dangled from the tarnished branches. On Saint Patrick’s day she topped it off with a battered green cardboard derby.

A month ago, I was sitting on the stoop. Wocka, wocka, wocka. I hated the sound of those cart wheels clanking over the sidewalk. She pushed the cart up to the bottom step singing, “It’s so nice to have a man around the house.”

 “Hey Maddy, looky what I found in the dumpster behind the fetish store.” An anatomically correct male mannequin, legs akimbo, was jammed in the cart.

“Hey, can you get the door?” She was wrestling the thing out of the cart.

 What was I gonna’ say? I gave up the fight a long time ago.

She dragged it into the house and plopped him onto the sofa.. She straightened his tatty wig, and then, gesturing like Vanna White unveiling a vowel, pointed to the mannequin.

“Maddy, meet Manny.” 

I went to my room and slammed the door. It was a constant battle to keep her garbage from creeping into my room. Almost every day I’d come home from school to find boxes of crap stashed there. I’d given up asking her to move it. Invariably I’d get some version of,” Maddy, it’s rare or it’s worth a lot of money.”.

Two weeks ago I was looking for my sneakers and found a nasty cardboard box she’d stashed under my bed. I pulled it out and found three cracked and stained chamber pots. I grabbed the box, opened my back window and heaved the pots into the already trashed filled yard.

On Thursday, she arrived with another “surprise.” I heard the front door slam.

“Hey Maddy. Guess what I found at the tag sale?”

 She carried in a beat up, child size, CPR practice dummy and sat it up on Manny’s lap. Stepping back to admire the vignette, she grabbed a naked baby doll out from under the coffee table, and plunked it down beside the dummy. 

“Look Maddy,” she said, gesturing again like Vanna, “Just like a real family.” I felt like puking.

 On Friday, by the time I got home from the library, it was dark. The cart was parked by the stoop. I opened the door and flipped on the light. She sat slumped on the couch, head down, one arm draped around Manny. 

I figured she was drunk. Let sleeping dogs lie, I thought and went to my room. For once I wasn’t hungry. Miss Cloud, the librarian, had given me half of her ham sandwich and a bag of chips.

 Most of the time during lunch period I go to the library and lately Miss Cloud has been sharing her lunch with me. She tries to make it seem like she just brought too much to eat but I’m pretty sure she’s figured out why I’m in the library during lunch period. Only two more weeks to graduation and then I was going as far away as I could get. I’d been filching money out of my mother’s purse for a year. I figured I had enough saved up for a bus ticket to California.

I started my homework but after a while I became aware I hadn’t heard my mother doing her usual stumble, fumble routine. Actually the quiet was a was a relief, most nights she’d be playing old disco records, singing along with Donna Summer, “I Will Survive.”

“Hey Mom.” I yelled from my room. Had she gone out to prowl and left the door unlocked? Wouldn’t be the first time. I got up to check. The vignette on the couch hadn’t changed. I bent down to rouse her.

 “Mom.” I shook her. Her skin was ice cold. Her lips were blue. No pulse . . . gone.         I stood there for a long time before I wrapped her in an old poncho, carried her outside. and gently placed her in the cart. I ran back inside, and shoved my books and some clothes into my backpack. Now what?

Memory echoed. “Hey Maddy, guess what I found from behind the ‘Nails R’ Us?”

  I found the gallon jug of nail polish remover she’d stashed in the hall and doused it all over the couch. I poured the last of it onto Manny’s wig, and lit it on fire. I slammed the door and heard a massive whomp igniting the room. 

Wockata, wockata, wockata. The sound echoed through the empty street. I did a quick look around before I left her tucked in her cart parked behind the Walmart. Finally, I was free.

“Hey Girlie.” I whirled around.

Just my luck. I hadn’t seen the sheriff ‘s cruiser parked next to the dumpster. In the distance I saw flames shooting forty feet in the air, fire engines went screaming by. It didn’t take an Einstein to figure out that a kid wheeling a body in a shopping cart was going downtown.  Before he cuffed me, the sheriff just stood there shaking his head

       ***

Guess what? Mrs. Cloud told the judge that I can stay with her until everything gets worked out.                                           

July 21, 2022 15:49

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3 comments

Charlotte Morse
06:37 Jul 28, 2022

Hi Pinny, I enjoyed your story and your descriptions were good, I could visualise every scene, especially inside the messy, overfull house of the hoarder - I could even hear the trolley being pushed down the street! But I felt the end, although weird (but weird can be fine), was way too abrupt - like you suddenly realised you'd reached the word limit! Although nice to find out that she ended up with the kind Mrs. Cloud, I'm not sure that it wouldn't have been better without that last paragraph, or at least to give more of a lead up into it. ...

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Pinny Bugaeff
18:37 Jul 28, 2022

thanks for taking the time to comment. your insights were right on the money..gonna go back and work on it

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Pinny Bugaeff
18:37 Jul 28, 2022

thanks for taking the time to comment. your insights were right on the money..gonna go back and work on it

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