by Almari Randall
My mother prances around the house, arms and hands hallelujahed, chanting “Saint Ann, Saint Ann send us a man.” I follow her laughing, grabbing her shirt that flies behind her like a sail, through the living room, the dining room, into the kitchen, up the stairs, down the hall, to the bathroom where she stops abruptly in front of the mirrored medicine cabinet. I am still going, praying to Saint Ann, right into her. We both laugh. From the cabinet, she pulls out a bottle and shakes a tiny white pill into her hand. She takes these twice a day. They keep her happy, she says, and I know this is true because I know what happens when she forgets.
She is happy today, and when I come home from school, the kitchen is filled with balloons, bubbles of red and purple, my favorite colors, that float and dance around my feet. I try to remember if I saw her take her pill. She sits at our small, round table just big enough for the two of us, a cigarette dangling between her fingers. Smoke streams from her mouth, lips painted hot. “Lily Spriggs.” I drop my school bag by the door. “Come give me a kiss. I have wonderful news.” I shuffle through the sea of balloons to where she sits. “Kissed by an angel,” she says. “I met someone, a man…a man from Saint Ann. Our prayers have been answered.” She exhales a string of smoke. We’ve been through this before. I think of Tyrone.
Sometimes my mother likes to pretend she’s someone else, just for fun, and she tells me the best place to meet a man is in the most obvious place. On Saturdays we go to Drury’s Laundry to do a few loads, never underwear though. She says, “Never let a man see your undergarments unless he’s earned it.” When I ask why we don’t use our own washer, she tells me to hush and places a well-manicured finger over my lips.
She met Tyrone there. He had the machine next to ours. I watched him watch my mother from over the top of his paper as she bent to move clothes into the dryer. He came to dinner almost every night for a while. Sometimes he’d be there for breakfast. It was almost like a family, like my friends at school, or how I pictured one. I liked the way Tyrone smelled, like soil and skin and rain.
Everything was good. My mother giggled and said how much fun it would be to get married, how we could both wear white and carry pink roses, but when a few nights passed with no Tyrone sitting in our kitchen, I wondered where he went. He called, every night, and when he didn’t, I found my mother with a small glass in her hand, standing at the railing of our porch. Her hair, usually tied back, tumbled in a mass of jumbled curls down her back. Her white nightgown clung to her, an angel standing in the light from the window. The floor creaked as she swayed in my direction. A thin arm waved me over as she stumbled back into the porch swing, laughing at herself. I glanced at the floor wanting to disappear, wanting to run to my room.
“Men are bastards Lily.” Her words mashed together. “Can’t trust them. Should have learned with your father. Bastard.” My father left before I could remember him. My mother said he came home one night, packed a bag, and left. A scribbled note on the table assured her I would be taken care of, and she didn’t have to worry…ever. She wasn’t supposed to drink. I tried to remember Dr. Boswell’s phone number in case.
When Tyrone did stop by, my mother ranted and raved saying she didn’t want to hear anything he had to say. I listened from the top of the stairs and silently cursed her. A door slammed, and I knew she had kicked him out of the house and our lives.
It wasn’t until one night when I went to throw away a tissue that I saw the white bottle in the trash. I ran downstairs onto the porch where my mother sat, staring down the road leading to our house.
“This was in the trash.”
“We won’t need those anymore. I’m happy. We’re good.”
“What about Dr. Boswell? He said you need these. Two a day.”
“Dammit Lily. I’m fine.” She waves me away. I drop the bottle at her feet. Tyrone. Dr. Boswell. I need someone. I call Dr. Boswell, his number on the refrigerator. I tell him what has happened. He says I should try to get her to take a pill, that she will be OK, to call his office first thing. And did I have someone I could call to come stay with me? I call Tyrone. I know I shouldn’t. I don’t know if he knows that we aren’t like other people, and we haven’t seen him in a long time. It is warm out but my hands and feet are cold. I am so cold. I shiver as I slump against the wall of the porch.
“Lily.” Her voice is so weak. In the early light, I can barely see her huddled in the corner, knees drawn to her chin. I crawl towards her. It is like she can’t see me. Wisps of hair fall around her tired face, a smudge of lipstick left behind. I rest my hand over hers, one tiny white pill clenched in my palm. Her nightgown is crumpled around her stomach, and her long legs, thin and pale are naked in the morning air.
“What are we going to do? Look at me.” I give her the pill from my fist. Her legs roll to one side. I sit beside her, my nightgown making a small hammock between my knees. I cradle her head in my lap and rock back and forth and pray, pray to God to please help us.