“Whoosh,” went the couch as I attempted to emerge from its depths, trembling as I made my way over to her. On the third try with a shove from Kim I was up and out. Good-bye Kim. See you in the cemetery. I glanced back at Kim, the glow of her panic-stricken eyes illuminating in the eerie firelight. She immediately began burrowing into the back of the sofa trying to disappear not knowing if her number was up next. Even Mama seemed unsure of my fate as she sat motionless on the edge of her chair waiting for the Dragons’ next move.
“Show me your feet!” she screeched. “This instant where I can see them!”
My feet? What? Had I tracked in mud or leaves?
“What’s wrong?” I managed to utter, barely audible, as I repeated the Lord’s Prayer in my head, giving myself my own Last Rites.
She ordered me to come closer so she could get a good look at my colossal 9-½ size feet. The evil smirk widened into a huge grin as she held up her own demure size six feet.
“Small feet are a sign of good breeding you know,” she beamed as continued to admire her feet.
I have to admit my purple high-tops didn’t look well bred at all.
“My feet aren’t any bigger than the other girls in my class,” I said, defending my gangly clodhoppers for the first time.
She slyly looked towards Kim and Mama’s feet, which were only slightly smaller than mine with a look of triumph on her smug face.
“Truth hurts!” she snapped.
Truth hurts. It was one of her favorite sayings. No visit would be complete without it.
“And look at that hair,” she screamed, snatching a stray strand and pulling till it hurt, with her arthritic fingers. “Blond out of a bottle just like your mother.”
Visibly shaken, I crawled back to the safety of my foxhole couch. And then to my surprise on this rare occasion, Mama slowly cocked her “no breeding,” blond from a bottle beehive head ever so slightly and coyly retorted to Grandmother, “My mama wears a size four, you know.”
What’s happening? Did my Mama just put the Dragon Lady in her place? My Mama? I’d never seen anybody do that…and live. The room went dead silent. Mama’s eyes were locked and dazed in the crackling firelight… like the eyes in that stuffed deer head mounted on the wall above her head. Grandmother was stoic as a statue, not moving an inch, only the cigarette ember pulsated in the darkness. Like my heart. It was beating inside my ears and down to my chest. Oh, Grandmother what big teeth you have!
Kim suddenly popped up, only to submerge again the flailing soles of her shoes all that were visible as Mama and Grandmother sat locked in a game of “armchair chicken.” the other to Holding my breath I waited for the worst, but nothing happened…right away. For a moment I naively thought Grandmother had totally dismissed Mama’s bold remark. But then the room began to rumble and roar, and pitch and whir like the wicked backside of a Cat Five hurricane. I quickly covered my eyes, peeking through my fingers at the horror flick before me that was furiously unfolding. The fire was crackling like thunder, and words were crashing about the room when it went flying. “It” being the coffee cup from which Grandmother had been slowly sipping. The same it that sailed through the air at warp speed conking Mama square on the head with dead-on accuracy. “Thud!” “Plop!”And there then only silence. Deafening silence. I looked to the floor, completely stunned. Mama was down, limp as a noodle, her body sprawled across the cold floor. I had seen it all through clasped fingers. Then Grandmother silently reclined back in her chair, lit another cigarette, exhaled deeply through her nose, and grinned. It was as though she’d just eaten a gratifying gourmet meal. She sat savoring it, satiated, as if was nothing was out of the ordinary, as if my Mama wasn’t out cold on her fancy imported Oriental rug, a cracked cup at her head and coffee stains all over her best plaid jumper. Only missing was the yellow, police crime tape. It was what terrified me the most---her calculating calm. Was I next? Who knew if there was another coffee cup hidden in the deep, dark recesses of that room? My heart was racing a mile a minute.
I hate to admit it, but a full five minutes went by before I summoned the courage to yell for Daddy. Afraid that maybe the next person with a chalk line etched around her would be me. I looked at Mama’s bleeding forehead the purple goose egg protruding through her platinum bangs, and screamed my head off.
“Daddy! Help! Help!” I yelled in between sobs as Kim finally popped out of her foxhole, eyes the size of moonpies.
Daddy came thundering through the room a rhino on the charge. I dared not look in Grandmother’s direction, but felt her icy glare gashing right through me as sure as it had been her crimson painted claws while Daddy tended to a still stunned Mama.
“She did it! She did it!” I saw her! She threw the cup at Mama!” I wailed.
“She’s lying! Lying little snit! She doesn’t know what happened! She had her eyes covered. Spineless baby! Besides it was an accident! An accident, you hear me! That cup slipped! You know I have arthritis!” she screamed, raising her cane overhead towards me like Moses parting the Red Sea.
Her eyes narrowed into tiny slits, the smirking curves of her mouth curled around revealing her many, many, teeth as she stared me down a cobra ready to strike. I didn’t know what to say or do, so when I blurted out, “Truth hurts!” Nobody was more shocked than I. I was a good southern girl raised to respect her elders and to never talk back to them. But I have heard that under extreme duress folks do things they wouldn’t ordinarily do. Nobody knew at that moment if Grandmother was implode or explode, in either case she was turning an ugly shade of purple and Daddy was rounding us up like cattle, but Grandmother did neither and instead, snatched up the all too familiar burgundy, fabric-bound notebook she kept by her chair at all times, and began scribbling furiously from her chair.
“What’s today’s date?” she screamed. “What time is it!” she demanded again, as she went to town with her poison pen, her nostrils so wide I could see her adenoids as we helped Mama to her feet. We were all mentioned in that book. For decades she’d kept a somewhat biased journal containing unfortunate phrases and statements we might have uttered, along with vicious put downs of which she was especially proud, and other important daily occurrences, complete with dates, times, and who said what to whom. Suppose I would have my own chapter after that day. She was still screaming when we screeched out of her driveway, doors slamming, gravel flying. It was I’m afraid to say a typical exit.
One good thing came out of that visit. We didn’t have to go see Grandmother for a while. Well, it was more like a few years. Mama’s head healed up quite nicely. Overall she’s handled things pretty well though she still twitches from time to time at the sight of a coffee cup. She has what her therapist calls “flashbacks.” Quite common for someone suffering from post traumatic stress syndrome. Lots of people have it, but the doctor said that Mama is his only patient who acquired it from a Sunday visit to Grandma’s house.
Mellie Duke Justad
I am a native of North Georgia, where my claim to fame is being the longest reigning Possum Queen and most recently my latest accomplishment was being crowned Miss Cow Patty Cotillion. I have spent the last twenty-five years in South Florida or as I fondly refer to it as the “Land of the Southern Impaired.” I have recently completed my first manuscript,“Tales of a Possum Queen” and am currently working on a new book about the humorous, but challenging side of living with an Aspergers child and spouse. My work has appeared in the anthology, Writing on Walls III, The Storyteller, ParentingPlus, Smile… American Humor, and What’s Cooking.
When I am not writing I am actively engaged as a teaching artist in the Palm Beach County School system where I work with children in the classroom enhancing their education through arts integration. In my spare time I enjoy cooking, swimming, and traveling. I am active in the Autism Speaks organization and Special Olympics. I reside in Boca Raton with my husband, Todd, son Jack, and my very Southern dog, Miss Stella.