Saturday, October 27, 2012

Tuddie Mae

The room was almost completely dark as I entered through the heavy screened door. I paused for a few minutes to allow my eyes to adjust when something immediately caught my eye. Coming down the stairs was a middle aged woman with brilliant orange red hair. As she came closer, I could see that she was much older than I had originally thought, but a heavy coat of make-up hid her true age very well.

Tina turned to me and said, “this is my Mama.” “Mama, this is Bonnie, my friend from school.” The woman extended her hand, as she said in a long Southern drawl, “well hey theyah, Miss Bonnie. It’s a pleasuh to make yor acquaintance.” I didn’t know what to do with her hand as it remained extended toward me, so I vigorously shook it and said “nice to meet you too.”

Tina explained to her mother that we had come home from school to work on a report and after having a snack we would prefer not to be disturbed. “Sure, Sugah. Ya’ll do whatever ya’ll want to.”

As we slipped into the kitchen, I could tell that Tina was breathing a sigh of relief. I wondered what that was about but decided to ask her about it later when we had more privacy. Tina’s Grandmother was in the kitchen busy making tea. She greeted us with a smile and said “well, lookey here.” As she turned toward me, Tina introduced me and we exchanged a few pleasantries.

Taking our glasses with us, Tina and I quickly went up the stairs to Tina’s room. “We’d better slip off our shoes,” Tina said, “so’s we don’t disturb Mama.” I said, “okay” and we took our shoes off and then sat down to study. Tina got very quiet and then blurted out “Mama’s diff’rent.” “Whadda ya mean,” I said. I had no clue what I was in for as I asked that question.

Tina proceeded to explain to me that her Mama was a few cards short of a full deck and that her Mama honestly thought that she was Scarlett O’Hara. “You gotta be kiddin’,” I said. “Nope,” replied Tina, “honest to God, she does.” “Ever since Daddy died, she’s been acted funny. She has to keep her hair fixed just so and she has to wear all these big, frilly dresses. She sashays around the house fanning herself with her hand and saying “it’s so hot in heyah” all the time. Me and Grandmamma just try to ignore her as much as we can but sometimes, I declare! I just can’t take it any more.” “It’s really bad when she thinks she has somebody coming over to see her…you’ll see, if you’re heyah long enough.”

Tina and I worked on our report until our stomachs started talkin to us. I told her that I was gettin hungry and she said she was too. We closed our books and trotted downstairs. There in the middle of the parlor sat Tina’s mama, Tuddie Mae. She was in a big ol’ dark wood rocker rocking back and forth mutterin’ something to herself. When she saw us, she immediately jumped up and exclaimed, “now you girls just go on. Ya’ll know it’s time for my gentleman caller.” I looked at Tina and she looked at me as she rolled her eyes and motioned for me to come into the kitchen. We passed by her mama’s chair and went straight for the fridge.

Grabbing a bottle of Coke, Tina turned and asked me if I wanted one too. “You bet,” I said. “How ‘bout some pecan pie to go with it?,” she said. “Sounds good to me,” I replied. As we sat at the table, Tina’s grandmother came in. “Now ya’ll just set in here a spell, ya hear?” “Sure, Grandmama,” Tina said. There was a sort of worriedness to her voice. I didn’t know what was goin’ on and I didn’t think I wanted to know either. Tina and I ate our refreshments and talked a while.

The big clock on the mantle in the living room begin to chime a loud, deep, bong sounded for each hour that had passed. Tuddie Mae began to stir. She huffed and groaned and made noises that were unpleasant. “Ya’ll sit still,” Tina’s Grandmother warned.

“Wheyah is he? I know he said he’s be heyah at five. I been waitin’all day. Now wheyah is he?,” Tuddie Mae exclaimed. “Don’t you worry about it none now, ya heyah,” said Tina’s Grandmother. “Maybe he’ll come tomorrow.” “I think you need to go lie down a while, child.” “I do declare, Mothuh. You always know what’s best. I think I will. I just really think I will.”

Tuddie Mae’s mother, who was well into her eighties, grasped her daughter by the arm and helped her toward the steps. As they began to ascend the steps together, I glanced at Tina with puzzlement in my eyes. “Wait just a minute, wait til she’s gone,” she said.

When they were out of earshot, Tina said, “Mama’s not right. She ain’t been right since Daddy died. She thinks that she’s gonna get a gentleman caller cause she’s so purty. She thinks she’s got ‘em lined up outside waitin’ to bust the door down and take advantage of her. She sits in that chair day after day lookin’ all dolled up and just waitin’…but no one ever comes. No one ever will. It’s sad and me and Grandmama don’t know what to do, so we just pretend with her.”

“Tina,” Tuddie Mae hollered down the stairs. “Come up heyah and rub my eyes for me where I can fall asleep. Will ya do that for me sugah?” “Coming, Mama,” Tina shyly replied.

As Tina gingerly walked up the stairs, I wondered how my friend could survive in this house. A teenager shouldn’t have to deal with all this stuff. I knew I couldn’t deal with it. I couldn’t want to get home, in fact. I didn’t know I was walking into looney bin when I arrived this afternoon.

About an hour later, Tina came down. “She’s finally asleep,” she whispered. You better go now.” I didn’t hesitate in the least when she made that suggestion. I couldn’t wait to leave.

A few days later, I called Tina to see how she was doing. A deep sadness filled her voice and I could tell she’d been crying. I asked her what was wrong. She said that her Mama had killed herself, she’d taken an overdose of pills. Tina told me how she had been the one to find her Mama and when she’d gone into her room, all the shades had been drawn so tightly that not one sliver of light penetrated the room. At first, Tina thought her Mama was just asleep. She called out to her and then when she didn’t answer, Tina went over to her and gently shook her. When she got no response, Tina grew very afraid. She walked over to the window and let up the window shade. As she looked down at her mother’s face, she could see that it was perfectly made up. A deep red lipstick lined her full lips. Her cheeks were covered in a heavy blush and white powder set everything perfectly. Every hair was neatly in place and her hands were folded gently on top of her chest. There beside her on the pillow was a note. Tina opened it up and read what it said… “My Dearest Rhett, I waited as long as I could for you. I knew you were coming. Everybody kept saying to give up, that you found someone else, but I know in my heart that you belonged to me. I am so tired. I’m tired of waiting for you. I’m tired of pining for you. I’m tired of everything. I just want to go to sleep and never wake up. If you find this my love, please know that I’ll always be your sweet Scarlett. I never meant to hurt you. Please forgive me.”

Tina sniffed back a tear as she told me that although she was sad that her Mama was gone, she was also relieved. “I can stop pretendin’ now. I don’t have to watch her face when no gentlemen callers come each night. I won’t have to go rub her eyes so she can fall asleep. Maybe my life can start to be a little closer to normal now.”

“Normal, what’s normal?,” I thought to myself. We’ve all got our hang-ups. We all put on faces and pretend at times. We all try to be something we’re not at times. Was Tuddie Mae that bad? I don’t think so, she was just a little mixed up that’s all. Sometimes I think I smell a hint of Channel no. 5 wafting through the air and I’m reminded of that first glimpse I got of “Scarlett” sashaying down the stairs in all her elegance. “I do declare…I do declare.”

Written by Bonnie Annis

(originally published May, 2008)