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"So how's it going, Mama? How's married life treating you?"

She lowered her voice. "Something's wrong, isn't it?"

"Why would you think that?"

"Either you've got a bad cold or you've been crying. Your sound's all up in your head."

The tears started coming again, and I asked Mama to hang on just a minute. I had to put down the receiver to blow my nose. The one thing Lou Ann hadn't thought of was that I should have packed two dozen hankies.

When I got on the line again the operator was asking for more coins, so I dropped them in. Mama and I listened to the weird bonging song and didn't say anything to each other for a little bit.

"I just lost somebody I was in love with," I finally told her. "I just told him goodbye, and I'm never going to see him again."

"Well, what did you turn him loose for?" Mama wanted to know. "I never saw you turn loose of nothing you wanted."

"This is different, Mama. He wasn't mine to have."

She was quiet for a minute. We listened to the static playing up and down. It sounded like music from Mars.

"Mama, I feel like, I don't know what. Like I've died."

"I know. You feel like you'll never run into another one that's worth turning your head around for, but you will. You'll see."

"No, it's worse than that. I don't even care if I ever run into anybody else. I don't know if I even want to."

"Well, Taylor honey, that's the best way to be, is not on the lookout. That way you don't have to waste your time. Just let it slip up on you while you're going about your business."

"I don't think it will. I feel like I'm too old."

"Old my foot! Lordy, child, look at me. I'm so far over the hill I can't call the hogs to follow, and here I am running around getting married like a teenager. It's just as well you're not here, you'd have to tell everybody, Don't pay no mind that old fool, that's just my mother done got bit by the love bug at a elderly age."

I laughed. 'You're not elderly," I said.

"It won't be as long as it has been."

"Mama, shush, don't even say that."

"Oh, don't you worry about me, I don't care if I drop over tomorrow. I'm having me a time."

"That's good, Mama. I'm glad, I really am."

"I've done quit cleaning houses. I take in some washing now and again to keep me out of trouble, but I'm getting about ready to join the Women's Garden Club instead. The only dirt I feel like scratching in nowdays is my own. They meet of a Thursday."

I couldn't believe it. Mama retired. "You know what's funny?" I said. "I just can't picture you without an iron or a mop or something like that in your hand."

"Oh, picture it, girl, it's a pretty sight. You remember Mrs. Wickentot? The one always wore high heels to the grocery and thought she was the cat's meow?"

"Yeah, I remember. Her kids never would give me the time of day. They called me the Cleaning Lady's Girl."

"Well you can put it to rest now, because I told her off good when I quit. I told her if I had the kind of trash she has in her closets, and the way she lets those boys run wild, what I found under their beds, I just wouldn't act so high and mighty, is what I told her."

'You told her that?"

"I did. And then some. All these years, you know, these ladies get to thinking they own you. That you wouldn't dare breathe a word for fear of getting fired. Now I think they're all scared to death I'm going to take out an ad in the paper."

I could just see it, right on the back page under the obituaries and deed-of-trust announcements. Or better yet, on the society page:

"Alice Jean Greer Elleston wishes to announce that Irma Ruebecker has fifty-two pints of molded elderberry jelly in her basement; Mae Richey's dishes would be carried off by the roaches if she didn't have hired help; and Minerva Wickentot's boys read porno magazines."

I couldn't stop laughing. "You ought to do it," I said. "It would be worth the thirty-five cents a word."

"Well, I probably won't. But it's good for a gal to have something like that up her sleeve, don't you think?" She chuckled. "It makes people respect you."

"Mama, you're really something. I don't know how the good Lord packed so much guts into one little person." The words were no sooner out of my mouth before I realized this was something she used to say to me. In high school, when I was having a rough time of it, she said it practically every other day.