--I COULD USE A LOVE SONG
I am five or six and Mother is showing my brothers how to butcher chickens. They corral the squirming birds and Mother stretches each one’s neck across a tree stump, raises her butcher knife and slashes down hard as black blood sprays the weeds. Once in a while she lets my brothers kick the headless carcasses in the ass, my brothers hooting while the dismembered chickens flop down the slope that leads to our trailer.
We have an early dinner where one of the butchered birds is served. The meat tastes like clay and I keep gagging. Mother says I will be whupped if I don’t finish my plate, but I can’t eat, so she gets out the strap to fulfill her promise.
Another day I watch Mother in the kitchen sifting through a box of wigs, trying them on over her real hair. There are blonde wigs and brunette wigs, some curly or straight, others blunt cuts. Once she’s selected her favorite and clipped it into place, Mother sprays perfume in the air and walks through the mist looking like a mannequin.
The man who picks her up drives a car instead of a truck, and it has no dents. He wears a sweater with buttons and a black and white diamond pattern. He tries to peek inside our trailer, but Mother closes the door fast, her voice sounding different when she greets him, as if she’s actually happy.
After she’s gone, my brothers and I go outside because it’s summer and the sun stays up late into the evening. Both Robbie and John grab their bb guns and start shooting at me, so I run. A couple of pellets nick me, one sticking in my neck like a dart. I dash through the lot behind our trailer, past abandoned refrigerators and rusted oil barrels. I bury myself under a compost pile, leaving just enough room to breathe. I hear my brothers yell my name, telling me come out of hiding, calling me a chicken, saying if I don’t come out, I’m really going to get it. I let them go on until they give up, and even still, I wait beneath the rot.
I am forty-six and my mother’s dead body sits inside the wooden box four feet away in front of me. Robbie and John are slumped beside me sobbing, while I can’t muster a tear to save my life. I’ve flown two thousand miles to be here, but I could be anywhere.
Once the funeral services are over, the three of us stand in a parking lot.
Robbie blows his nose into a crumpled hanky and says, “Hell, let’s grab some chow.”
“Yeah,” John says, “and Hot Shot here can pick up the tab.”
I tell them I’m not hungry. I say I like to eat alone. I get in my car and drive.