For Mommy, who is always crying
in her bedroom like a secret, only we can hear it through the door. My big brother, Lou, took off with Ernesto, the boy with the neck tattoo of skull and bones, who picks up my brother in his Cadillac car, and they both will be gone for a week.
I scatter the little brothers and sisters outside. I tell them quick! it’s the ice cream man, can’t you hear him? Then I sizzle up a breakfast of hash and scrambled eggs, Mommy’s favorite. I crack open her door. She tells me go away, but I know she doesn’t mean it.
She is leaning herself over the beauty table. Midnight in Paris and red heart lipstick from the times she made herself up to look pretty for Daddy. That was before Daddy leaned himself over the dining room table and never sat back up.
That was when Mommy started crying and never stopped. For Daddy. For how are we gonna pay all these bills. And now for my brother, Lou. Who comes in, surprise! later that afternoon and not in a week like we were all thinking. He looks crushed and torn, his leather jacket ripped, a blue punch still on his cheek. He doesn’t explain, just goes over to Mommy and gives her the biggest hug. The both of them crying now.
That’s when my friend, Ceci who knows everything, calls me on the phone, tells me shush but she’s got a secret and I gotta swear I’m not gonna tell. She tells me Lou and Ernesto got into a fight on River Street. Ernesto got killed, and now they are looking for my brother.
That’s when my little sisters and brothers fly in, smacking closed the screen door that Lou keeps promising to fix. They chatter and giggle and pile into Mommy’s room when they see that Lou is home. He scoops them all up and squeezes them close. Mommy sits back and watches. A smile on her face for once.
Later tonight Lou will be gone forever. Running for the rest of his life. Maybe in time, a postcard, I’m okay, it will say, but I can’t tell you where. Wherever it comes from, Lou will be five days away. I will have to explain this to Mommy again and again as I sit there with her at her beauty table, as I try to draw her a lipstick smile, hoping that this time the tears don’t wash it away.
Originally published in Rougarou 2018
Francine Witte’s poetry and flash fiction have appeared in Wigleaf, Mid-American Review, Lost Balloon, Stonecoast Review, Moon Candy Review, and many others. Her latest books are Dressed Wrong for All This, (Flash,) The Theory of Flesh (Poetry,) and The Way of the Wind (novella.) She lives in NYC.
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