Gramy birthed my mother next to an icy rushing river in Coburn, Oregon, far away from here, where she had followed a carnival man up the coast and into the woods. He put one in her and cut the phone lines. She was alone skipping rocks out there the whole pregnancy with nothing but the hummed hymns she knew from childhood to keep her from losing sense. And when it was time, the pain drew her to the water where she squatted and pushed. Took a jackknife and prayed. And there was my mother, not purple like Gramy expected, not covered in the white film of birth. But hot hearted and smooth. Strong.
Gramy tells the story often while we man the fruit stand on Olive Avenue, each time the details shifting to accommodate mood, but I don’t correct. We sell pesticide-covered fruit and vegetables from my uncle’s farm and call it Organix. A stringy man unloads our due each week and we sell everything, even stuff that has almost gone bad, because people, I imagine looking at us, feel sorry. Gramy is a spectacle, a knobby wooden puppet, so small in her sweatpants and fitted lace blouse, her right arm emaciated, completely unmuscled. It happened years ago, she won’t say what, but doctors called it severe ulnar nerve damage with neuropathy. She rejected the titanium re-building. She wanted to feel it all. So she holds it like a battered wing to her side, and I carry her home from the fruit stand in my arms. If a child asks her what happened to it, she narrows her eyes. She hisses. She says, never walk home alone at night.
I forget sometimes, watching Gramy, that I am a sight myself. I was born palate a cleft and though Gramy afforded my surgery, my mouth looks sewn together by someone blind and all thumbs. No girl has kissed me. I am nineteen years old, and no girl has kissed me.
“I am a small woman, Adric, look at me,” Gramy says, pointing to her middle with a banana. “But your mother slid out, roaring with life right onto the riverbank. Big ole thing! Squirming a storm. I thought, Jesus, she’s fixing to leave me already!”
“She was a good swimmer?” I say, trying to be positive like my book suggests.
“I cut her loose from me and washed her clean. Baptized her twice.”
“Miracle,” I say.
“You have a little bit of her writhing around in there,” she says, poking my heart with her good arm’s fingers. “But you better stick by me if you want the best possible outcome.”
She loved talking about best possible outcomes, weighing them against worst possible outcomes as if there were choices to be made.
“I have to stick with you, Gramy,” I say. “Who else would I stick with?”
“A boy your age could go anywhere or do anything,” she says.
A man stops at the stand and fingers a plum. He pushes through the purple skin. He puts the stump in his mouth and says, “sweet.” He says it to me, like he doesn’t see Gramy at all.
“Shouldn’t you finish it?” I ask, anger rising.
“About too ripe, son,” he says and walks on. The plum sits next to the others and I reach for it but Gramy grabs out with her strong arm to stop me.
“Don’t be provoked,” she says. “She would throw the plum at the back of his fat head, but not you.”
“She is dead in a ditch somewhere,” I say.
“She could be dead, or she could be alive as ever, turning tricks dancing fierce.”
Gramy brings my mother up regularly which used to confuse me because it seemed silly to talk of things that cause you sad days, weeks, months sometimes. But now I’m not so sure she is sad over it. Rather hot steam fills her little body until it has nowhere else to go but out her mouth.
How do I feel about her? Let’s get it over with. About my mother? Well. If asked by a stranger, I say, she died when I was a baby. Tragic.
If asked by Gramy I say, she is probably dead in a ditch somewhere. I say, where did she go? I say, what was so wrong with a nine-year-old boy?
If asked by my father, who visits once a month when his truck-driving route comes back around, I say, tell me about her when you were in love. I say, show me the picture of her holding me when I was a bundle, the one in the sand where she is a little too skinny but so striking you might think it’s an image from a magazine if not for my red carved up mouth. I say, do you really not ever talk to her after all these years, she has never called you once, not once, not even one time?
But he never asks so I say none of these things to anyone at all but in my head on nights when I can’t sleep and I think I smell her mango shampoo rising from my pillow.
My book talks about removing unmanageability from your life to awake true presence and meaning in small day-to-day moments. To ignite the significance of your morning coffee and the beauty of the shrieking toddler on the bus. The book is completely yellow with the words Awake now! across the cover in a cursive banner. On the back the author’s photo takes up the page and it is a sandy haired woman with clear braces smiling wide, her fist hovering next to her face in an illusion of support. I picked it up in a free pile on the street outside of our house a few weeks ago. The pile also had an unopened box of condoms, a foam finger from a baseball game, and a soaking wet Nascar t-shirt. I took one condom from the box and have carried it in my wallet for absolutely no reason ever since.
I count the years I have spent sad over my life. How every morning with each bite of cereal I think of my mother and wonder what she is eating, if she is eating, where she rests her head each night and with whom. Does she have another child? Does that child cling to her with a perfect mouth, soft pink lips curved in a sleepy smile? I wonder these things and if I didn’t have to go to the fruit stand and carry Gramy I think I’d never leave my bed. But the book says it doesn’t have to be this way. I have wasted my life so entwined in my imaginary her that I am completely unkissable as an adult boy. Girls can tell I’m not strong. This kid I knew in high school had to piss and shit his whole life into a plastic bag attached to his leg, and he has a girlfriend with fine breasts under tight paisley tops and tanned strong legs she uses to rollerblade around town. He has sex probably. Or at least gets to feel her up. So I know it’s not just because of my upturned lip and hairline white scar that runs to my nose that keeps them away. It’s got to be these energies I’m emitting. The book, well the author’s name is Selby, she says your energies are what you need to manage.
But my life is manageable. I do almost nothing that challenges me in a real way. I work the fruit stand. I can do it in my sleep. I carry an old lady home in my arms. So unmanageability is not my problem. Or I’m not understanding the book.
But there are other things lately.
Florin. She walks Olive Avenue and we nod when we pass. We nod not because of the ten words we have spoken to each other, but we nod because while I carry Gramy wearing her big sunglasses even in the shade, Florin passes arms linked with her mother who is blind in one eye, a former local beauty queen until her face was burned off with sulphuric acid by a crazed man in Miami while on vacation. How do I know this? Everyone knows. They wrote a story about her in a huge magazine. She was on Dateline and the news and she would be a town hero, I think, but the thing turned her weird and she never speaks much. Face like dried glue, a crack for a mouth. She whispers into Florin’s white silk hair and Florin plucks things requested from shelves in markets, and, lately, from our stand. I watch her mother eat the innards of a pomegranate seed by seed. The rims of her waxen lips redden. She whispers up to Florin who is tapping at something on her cell phone, and Florin looks to me, and says, “she likes.”
“For you, free!” Gramy says. “For her free, always,” she says to me.
“We take no pity,” Florin says as she puts a dollar fifty down. They walk off and I am in love.
Florin. Maybe sixteen. Homeschooled, but you can see. You can feel her energies. You can feel they are like mine. And this is partially why sometimes when I wake up in the morning, I don’t think of my mother first anymore. Sometimes while eating cereal in my sleep heavy trance before coffee takes me higher, I think of Florin and being the one close enough to whisper something into that silk sheet of hair.
My father requests I call him Percival and he has taken to wearing only cropped leather tank tops and studded black jeans. He is not a large man. When I think truck driver I think large, but he is smaller than me even, and has gotten progressively skinnier in the last year since he found Sayer at a road stop begging for a friend. Sayer is, from afar, a tall gazelle of a woman, but up close she is a mix of a lot of things involving coarse stubble from chin to ear and tattooed eyeliner. Sayer is a head taller than Percival and they are what they call cosmic lovers. They describe it as lying next to each other sharing a large pillow in the bed of the Valley Dairy Farm truck and dreaming in other languages. They caress each other’s minds in REM sleep and affirm each other with words they do not totally understand upon wakefulness, but feel.
“It’s like lucid dreaming but with a partner,” Percival says.
“Co-lucidity,” Sayer says, rings on each finger.
They have returned for one week, and a few days in they have spent most their time in the front yard practicing universal communication, bodies swaying reed-like under sweltering sun. It is early and we are readying for the fruit stand. Gramy pounds a jar of iced tea for power and pops her little feet through the grass to confront them with her broom, swatting at their tight denimed asses.
“Your son has been waiting all month for you,” she says. “All month all he talks about is, when dad comes we will go to the beach! When dad comes we will jump in the lake!”
Percival and Sayer remain poised, arms to the cloudless sky. They cannot be bothered by Gramy’s screams that are so loud I can hear them with perfect accuracy from the kitchen table. I have never said any of these things to her, and cannot for the life of me picture jumping into a lake with my father.
“Oh, foey,” she says. “You two get out of my sight. Out of here.” She drops the broom and comes back inside slamming the door behind her. The little arm is curled oddly at her side, fingers nestled in pit, a position I know is painful, but tolerable when she is enraged. “They,” she says to me, “are the worst possible outcome.”
I put my head in the freezer for a last few moments of cool before the long day ahead. Sayer comes in and hugs me from behind.
“Can I have some iced tea?” she asks.
She presses a hot cheek into my back. I imagine a stamp of clown face makeup depositing itself on my white tank. I turn.
“You feel the same as Percival with my eyes closed,” Sayer says, squeezing her shadowed lids tight. She smells like deep sweat and licorice.
“Get off me,” I say. “I have to work.”
“I have a secret,” Sayer says. She stretches her arms up and her blouse rides high revealing a dangly belly ring made from what looks like shark teeth.
“I don’t care,” I say and begin to pack my frozen water bottles in a satchel.
“You do,” Sayer says, performing a series of high kicks.
“Why are you so limber?” I ask.
“I’ll tell you for fifty bucks,” she says.
“Let me guess. Dancer. Exotic.”
“Okay, I’ll just tell you. I’m no good at this.”
“Whatever you’re about to say means nothing to me,” I say. Gramy is squawking for us to go and the smell of Sayer is getting to me. A headache already, so early in the day. But then from her bedazzled back pocket Sayer pulls a white envelope and tosses it on the table.
“After this you’re going to love me,” she says, giggling and clapping.
Awake Now! talks about thinking things into reality. The power of positive thought. I imagine rewards being handed down by God to the person with the most positive thoughts. As if to say, here, you get the reward. As if to say, not you. Not ever you, Adric with your deformity. So when I thrust the envelope into my pack and see something I thought I would never see again, I think, is this God? Am I finally awake?
Because it’s her. My mother’s handwriting written in ink so fresh I can feel her heart beat.
Sayer whispers as I hurry out the door, “Don’t tell Percival.”
On the walk to the fruit stand I carry Gramy facing out, hands under knees, for we are late and her steps are slow. She likes to face out and see the world, she says. She prattles on about Sayer and my father and special places in hell. But I’m not focused on her. Sayer had smiled and breathed in my ear, “Don’t tell Percival,” and my world opened up into a field of electric peonies.
We set up our table and prepare the display of nectarines, white corn, barrel of watermelons. We rent a tiny shed where we store the goods at night, and it has only been robbed twice in my lifetime. I place the sandwich board sign on the sidewalk. I write in chalk: Organix! Farm Fresh From Down the Road! Gramy and I have agreed that technically “down the road” is not a lie. Everything is in some way down a road. Most of our customers are locals and they take our ads at face value. It’s charming to shop on the street. Weather so good no one needs a supermarket. Tourists are more the skeptics. “Where exactly is this tangerine from? Are you sure they’re in season? Is this a GMO?” But we really don’t get many tourists, and if we do, they are passing through on their way to Yosemite where they have a one in seven chance of falling to their death off the side of a shoddily fenced ravine, usually trying to take a picture of themselves being brave in nature.
Gramy sets up our lawn chairs and we wear our matching farmer hats to ward off the sun. Our skin is tan, but ten hours in direct light can cause Gramy sunstroke. I spritz the fruit with a water bottle and sit in wait.
“Your father is out of control,” Gramy says.
“He is looking thin,” I say.
“Drugs,” she says. “No other explanation for what’s happened to him.”
“Sayer,” I say.
“That pixie is higher than a Georgia Pine,” she says. “Bouncing off the ceiling. I’ve seen those likes in my time with the carnival. I think she’s stealing my silver spoons.”
“At least Sayer talks to me,” I say. “More than Percival.”
“When your mother brought that man home, I thought, oh thank heavens, here’s a normy. And now look.”
“I can’t remember them together,” I say.
“I don’t think your father cares for women much,” Gramy says. “Just cared for your mom in a way I never understood.”
“They would play scrabble,” I say.
“He was broken when she left,” Gramy says.
“Are you sure Percival has never heard from her?” I ask. “It just doesn’t make sense.”
“You just stick with me, Adric,” she says. “Best possible outcomes.”
“I am working on awakening meaning in my every day life.”
“Every day life,” she repeats, and then pauses. “What life isn’t every day?”
I go back to my book and Gramy reads her romance novels. I close my eyes and daydream of Florin, configuring the logistics of how she would kiss a mouth missing an upper lip.
“A flat of nectarines, please.”
Florin stands before me in a sheer summer frock. Gramy bolts up when she sees her and reports she is going for a stroll, something she has never said or done before. I can see Florin’s bra faintly through the material. I smell vanilla.
“Did you bake today?” I ask.
“We don’t eat baked goods,” she says. “No flour for the fattening.”
“Where’s your mother?” I ask. I had never seen them apart.
“Please call her Daisy,” she says.
“Where’s your Daisy?”
Florin rolls her eyes, and I’m horrified that she might be irritated by me. But her fingers play with the zipper of her coin purse and through this I sense something else. “She’s got a boyfriend now.”
“Who’s it?” I ask, ashamed that I can’t imagine her with a man.
“Calls himself Osbourne.”
“New to town?” I ask.
“She shipped him over from some God awful place,” Florin says. “Kansas or something. Who cares?”
“Companionship is helpful,” I say, scanning my brain for wisdom from my book. I want to offer something. “A portal through which we can see things with enhanced clarity.”
“Listen,” she says. “I’m feeling low, and I just want some nectarines.”
“No one can make you feel anything,” I say.
“Is that so?” she says, smiling. “I bet I could make you feel something.”
I don’t know what to say so I look at her teeth instead. They are small pearls, rounded slightly, and I realize I’ve never seen them on such display. She reaches out to me and runs a finger down my scar and holds it to my bottom lip. “Born this way?”
“It means good things,” she says. “Daisy is a witch and would love some of your saliva.”
“Oh yes,” Florin says. “We make them in our bathtub.”
Florin and I spend the next several evenings together in her and Daisy’s apartment, Daisy gone with Osbourne in his shanty across town on a lover’s retreat, according to Florin. I carry Gramy home and tell her I am helping Florin’s mother repair some broken utilities. She narrows her eyes at me, but says nothing. Florin shows me a book of Daisy’s spells and we hover over her tub, me drooling into the water as she stirs in dried nettles and flowers I recognize from the Silver Pennies Flower Mart three lots from the fruit stand. She tells me she picked each stem from a field hours north, and I nod. It’s the third night and I have no idea what we’re doing. Something about a death concoction for Osbourne, though it is clear to me we are making potpourri-scented water. I have yet to open the letter, yet to even examine the penmanship across the front, and have avoided Sayer at home, which is easy, as he and my father have taken up residence in a kiddie pool they stole from the neighbor’s front yard. The longer I wait, the more impossible it seems.
Florin sits on the ledge of the bathtub and from a small drawer pulls out a clove cigarette. She does not offer me one.
“I need something from you,” she says.
“Anything,” I say.
“We need to dispose of Osbourne.”
“Is he that bad?”
“He has taken my mother,” she says. “He has turned her against me. He feeds her like a baby bird, chews her food and applies her face powder each morning.”
“That seems nice,” I say.
“No,” Florin says. “Those are my jobs. He’s just a half-wit with a very specific fetish. He doesn’t care about her.”
“We have to let other people make their own decisions and take agency over their lives.”
“Where do you even get this stuff?” she says. “After Daisy’s accident, I went to work for us, I did everything for us. And now, he just shows up, and that’s it.”
“You work?” I ask.
Florin looks at me and sighs. We are quiet for a time. She begins undressing and I stay perfectly still, one movement could shatter her gentle motion. She lights a candle. The nub of the cigarette goes into the water with a hiss. In the flicker I see her ribs, breasts, nipples pointed slightly outward. I have seen naked women in magazines at the liquor store, but Florin looks different. She steps into the tub full and cold, overpriced wilted flowers floating completely void of magic. She puts her head under and the water becomes still above her. Her hair floats to the top, a lily pad. I reach my hand in to feel the temperature and she pulls it to her chest.
I will do anything she asks.
I don’t spend the night with her. I can’t. Gramy would cause ruckus. It is four a.m. and my hand feels changed. It touched her bare skin and became different. I tucked her into bed. She was asleep before I even got up to go. I lie in my own bed and think of co-lucidity and pray I will dream of her. I wonder if we have cosmic communication. On the other side of the wall Sayer and Percival are awake listening to records and moving all around the room. I am too charged to sleep. I turn the light on to read my book but every sentence feels beneath me now. Every sentence is simple and untrue. I think of Florin and Daisy and none of the book can ever make sense again. I go to the backyard and place it on the barbeque. I turn on the gas and light it. I close the lid. Sit on the patio cement and feel the breeze. I lie on my back and watch a movie of my mother.
I am five years old and we are at the welfare office standing in a winding line in the sun. Have I ever considered how young she was when she had me? Just seventeen. She is wearing a small green shirt and denim shorts. Men look at her and even that young I can feel the desire around her. It’s never romantic, though. It is rough and unwanted. Desperate. We stand very close but not. It was always my job to make sure we stayed together. In supermarkets if I didn’t pay close attention I would look up and she would be gone. My job to alert the checker to call her name over the loud speaker.
“Clementine, your small boy is here at the customer service desk, Clementine.”
She would retrieve me, never in a hurry. Walk up dreamily, eating a popsicle. “I’ll pay for this. I’m saving the wrapper.”
But here, let me tell you the best of her.
At night sometimes when Percival was away, she would get lonely and come into my room. She would lie next to me and tell me so many stories. We would play a game: you say one sentence, I’ll say the next, until we have a tale. Her favorite was a story about a wolf named Mika. Mika would howl to the moon each night, crooning for a great eagle to swoop down and take her into the sky. But the eagle never came in the story, and Mika every time, no matter what sentence I inserted to dissuade it, would be hit by a car on an icy mountain road and die.
“The wolf has to die at the end, Adric,” she said.
“No it doesn’t,” I would plead.
“No one really likes a happy ending.”
In the morning Sayer and Percival are making breakfast. I sit at the table with Gramy as she sips orange juice.
“So,” Percival says. “What’s new, Addy?”
It is the first actual question he has asked me the whole time he has been home, and it happens to be the morning they are to set off again cross country.
“I have a girlfriend.”
Gramy chokes on her juice and begins a horrible hack. Sayer shrieks and grabs at her crotch in excitement.
“Oh?” Percival says. “Is she a sun spirit?”
“A witch,” I say.
“Is she a sun spirit?” Gramy repeats. “Oh for Christ’s sake. A witch? Florin? Hell’s bells.”
“Spells,” I say.
“That’s nice,” Percival says.
“He means to ask,” Sayer pipes in, “Can she read teabags?”
“Tealeaves,” Gramy says. “He means tealeaves. Can’t keep it straight, the dummy.”
“Sure,” I say. “She does everything.”
“I’ll get the real story later,” Gramy says, proud. “This is to entertain you quackjobs.”
Sayer begins a dance behind Percival, swiveling her hips. The front of her leather pants are tight and I see a thick mound. My father turns to me while Sayer humps his leg. “Just don’t get her pregnant.”
Florin comes by the fruit stand as Gramy and I are closing up, eats three kumquats before she speaks. “Let’s go,” she says.
“I have to carry Gramy,” I say.
“That woman is a fine walker,” Florin says. “She’s holding you back.”
I look at Gramy bending over a flat of peaches, wiry like a coiled spring.
“Let’s go now before she sees,” Florin says. “Easier that way. Goodbyes make things ridiculous.”
I look in Florin’s eyes, one brown one violet and she reminds me of a pale and graceful horse. We sneak away just as Gramy is distracted by conversation with Lonnie from the bead stand. Surely she will be fine. The sun is slipping behind the single level shops, days getting shorter with September’s fall.
“I need something from you now,” I say.
“Nothing too much I hope,” she says.
“It’s easy,” I say.
We walk to a small 24-hour coffee shop and sit in a booth with the leather split. I pull nervous at the white synthetic stuffing. I put the letter on the table between us.
“I need a reader,” I say.
“Are you illiterate?”
“No,” I say. “I’m sensitive.”
Florin laughs loud. “Okay, tell me when you’re ready.”
There was one place I always suspected my mother went. She spoke often of the turquoise jewelry they make only in New Mexico. The open skies like nothing you’ve ever seen. She kept a stack of postcards by her bedside table each advertising the sandy painted hills, the clouds of watercolor.
“But you were born in Oregon,” I said over pork chops the night before she disappeared. She was telling me of wanting to travel, to leave the valley for good. “Don’t you miss the place you were born?”
“Babies don’t remember their birthing grounds,” she had said. “Besides, we weren’t there long before your Gramy bundled me up in a rice sack and took me to this hell hole. Some kind of punishment.”
“What about your daddy?”
“Gramy made me by herself.”
“Oh,” I said, and made a mental note to look that up in my encyclopedia.
“Your father will be home tomorrow,” she said. “And it’s about time you earn your keep.”
“Fruit stand?” I asked.
“Someone’s got to.”
“Gramy scares me,” I said.
“No,” my mother said. “She’s a golden heart.”
Her eyes were gone then and had been but I had gotten used to it in the way you just do. In the morning her bed was made and I went in and lay under her quilt. I turned over and felt my heart break.
The letter was about nothing really, just reviewing her week to Percival, who she still called Lloyd, his given name. She was working at a grocery store. She told him a story about her co-worker stealing raw meats in her purse and getting caught. She said she wanted to kill everyone she worked with. The return address placed her on Indian School Road, Apartment 209.
“Albuquerque?” Florin asks. “What gives?”
“I thought it was too obvious,” I say. “She always talked about it, but I assumed it was too simple.” But that was a lie. I had searched her name and New Mexico on the library computer countless times and before the page would load I would close the window. Maybe I had always known. Felt those southwest winds course through me.
Florin points to the name scrawled in the upper left corner. “Clementine Gabel?”
“Fake last name, but Clementine’s real.”
“She didn’t mention you,” Florin says.
“She didn’t mention me,” I repeat.
“You know, this is more common than you think,” she says.
“Mother’s don’t just leave their children for no reason,” I say.
She reaches across the table and clasps my hands. “They do.”
I walk slow down Olive home. I pass the shops and in each one remember my mother talking to a clerk, buying something, petting a stranger’s dog. I come up on produce row and hear whimpering. I quicken my pace and see in the dim streetlight our stand has not been dismantled. I run to it in a flash of panic. Gramy is curled into a little ball under our main table, the one too heavy for her to fold up. I had forgotten about the table. She is rocking back and forth cradling the little arm to her chest.
“Oh, no,” I say, bending down, scooping her into my arms.
“Where have you been?” she asks.
“Why are you still here?”
“It’s dark,” she says. “I looked up and it was so dark.”
She is easy to lift, growing seemingly lighter each week. “I’m so, so sorry,” I say. “I’m so sorry, and it will never happen again.”
“I need to go home,” says. “It’s so cold out here.”
It isn’t cold, not really, just the valley heat leaving us in wisps. I walk some distance and wait for her breathing to regulate.
“Albuquerque,” I say in her hair.
She presses in closer to me.
“She’s in Albuquerque on Indian School Road.”
Gramy looks up and reaches her good arm to my face and cups my cheek. “Do you feel better now?”
“No,” I say, knowing then I was the last to know. The last of them all. Gramy goes to her room with a warm cup of milk. I open the barbeque and access the remains of my book. The majority of it is charred and eaten, but there are a few readable lines remaining. I wish now I had read to the finish, a fool thinking Florin was the answer. The thought of seeing her again felt shameful, her knowing all of me now, so easy, so easy. My problem small to her, the girl with a waxen faced mother, a witch with a shipped-in boyfriend.
I make out a very clear passage in the remains of the book. Most of it I don’t register through swollen eyes. Just one line.
There is even merit in pain. This we must not forget.
I decide to sleep outside on open grass. Why not. Almost dozed, I feel warm hands on my neck, and think I’m dreaming. Florin is straddling my hips. It would be a sexual triumph if she wasn’t damp with tears, mascara smeared over cheek.
“Now,” she says. “We have to do it now.”
“What’s going on?” I ask. She pulls me up. I follow to their apartment. The bathtub still full of our mixture. Florin’s hands are shaking as she hands me a large glass vial.
“Are we leaving this at Osbourne’s?” I ask. “You know it won’t do anything, right?”
She looks at me astonished. “It’s Daisy’s recipe. She once fed it to old Miss Beulah Mueller down the way and she died the next week.”
I set the vial down. I put my hands on her shoulders. “Let’s just lay down, okay. It’s late.”
“It’s the perfect time,” she says.
I remember her under the water, my hand to her chest. We walk to Osbourne’s a few miles down. We barely say a thing, but it occurs to me that I have been chosen for this. She could have asked anyone, and she asked me. We stop in front of a trailer park and we climb the gate. I watch as she pounds on the door of a small gray trailer, the outside bordered by lawn gnomes. A tall man with a low slung gut comes to the door.
“Didn’t I tell you she don’t want to see you?”
“You let me in,” Florin says. Her voice is shrill like a little girl. “Adric, come on.” She pushes past him.
“You in on this, too?” Osbourne asks me. “You with the little whore girl?”
“Don’t call her that.”
“I don’t make up stories,” he says.
“She just wants to see her mom.” I realize I’m holding the vial in plain sight, and put it behind my back.
“Daisy is busy,” he says. “See for yourself.”
Inside Daisy is propped up in bed and Florin has thrown herself over her legs. She is sobbing but Daisy is reading a magazine, a plastic compression mask over her face. She looks at me.
“The fruit boy,” she says. “Look Ozzy. It’s the fruit boy.”
“I see him,” he says.
“Are you here to remove her?” Daisy asks me.
“Talk to your daughter,” I say.
“She is hysterical,” Daisy says. “And has clearly forgotten my earlier words.”
“Please don’t do this,” Florin sobs.
“Osbourne is taking me to Kansas with him,” she says to me. “Flo is old enough to be on her own. It’s time for my second phase.”
“I did everything you asked,” Florin wails. “Everything.”
Osbourne sits himself on the bed and begins tickling Florin. I watch the odd scene for a moment as Florin kicks him in the face and on his chest and Daisy reads her magazine over everything. I step into the small kitchenette and pour the vial into an open cold can of beer on the counter. I assume it is Osbourne’s and right then I wish more than anything it had poisonous powers, but I know it does not.
I sit on the stoop of the trailer and wait. Florin comes out wilted and holds my hand. We walk back to her apartment but when we get there she refuses to go in.
“I want to be with you,” she says.
“Gramy might not like that,” I say. “She’s mad I left her at the stand.”
“I have nowhere else.”
We get into my twin bed and though I know it is terrible timing, I can’t help my body from being alert. She presses herself so close. She puts her forehead up to mine. I feel her mouth suck my bottom lip. She arches her back and I feel her hipbones press into me.
“Daisy says I’m fat,” she says as she reaches in my shorts.
The condom sits in my bedside drawer. But something tells me no. Florin climbs on top, removes her shirt and puts my hands on her breasts.
“I want to lay with you and kiss your neck,” I say.
I pull her into a hug. “We need some sleep.”
When I wake, she is not beside me. I hear activity in the kitchen, a clanging of pots and pans. I walk in and Florin and Gramy are cooking eggs with biscuits. Florin looks renewed and is wearing small denim shorts and one of my tank tops.
“Florin is a great cook,” Gramy says.
“I put in a little magic, that’s why.”
I squint my eyes and my mother is here, too. She’s eating biscuits with jam. She’s turning the pages of my book, laughing. She looks up at me. Perhaps there is merit in pain, I think. And I want to come to a happy ending, right here, right now. I have what I want. Florin puts a hand on my shoulder. Florin pours coffee. But my mother, I see her now where she is truly, packing raw meat into butcher paper, heart dead, heart dull. I think of my father and Sayer steaming south in a semi, my mother walking to the bus stop under an Albuquerque sun. I try to release them, let them go like balloons in a field. Visualize like my book says. Florin kicks my shin under the table and smiles. Gramy is squatting, telling the story again of her prowess, of her woman’s birthing ability on that rushing icy riverbank when she screamed into the wild and there was no one around to hear.
Chelsea Bieker’s fiction and non-fiction has been published in The Cincinnati Review, The Normal School, No Tokens, Cosmonauts Avenue, The Collagist, The Portland Review, Portland Monthly, Pregnancy and Newborn Magazine, and others. She is a recipient of a MacDowell Colony fellowship and is at work on a novel set in California’s Central Valley.
This originally appeared on September 6, 2017