Mums the Word

Mom says, ‘’Ulbefine,’ or ‘Wheelbefinenowgit.’  Or variations on this idea. Places I hope to soon live.  Words uttered by Mom the minute I start to tug at her dress when I fret and cry.  Places I cannot find on the shrill green globe I take from the shelf off Daddy’s oak roll top desk.  The one Mommy calls an eyesore blizzard before she slams the tambor top with a thud.

My eight-year-old index finger runs over crease mountains Daddy calls Ghana and Poughkeepsie.  Where my aunts, Dad’s sisters live.  My hands and eyes travel in return traces, until my head tells me I must have the wrong map.  With another rattle spin, I pick the globe up and carry it into the kitchen.  My face full of water and ooze, I find Mommy at the sink, beg her to look at me.

“You’re going to be fine,” she says wiping her hands on her dress’ front as she moves to the table.

I am not so sure she is so sure.

“Show me where,”  I say pushing the globe into her, my fingers on the red gloss buttons of her dress.  Thick cucumber slices that run up and down the front of the yardstick print of her dress.

She sets the globe on the table, sits down, takes a ‘Superstiff’ hair pomade stick from her pocket and pulls my seven-year-old brother Andrew from the floor to stand between her knees.  Two short swipes later, a week’s worth of boy hair is pushed to the side of my brother’s head, his bangs stiff peaks above his freckled forehead. He does not mind his church hair today.

Mom has her good loafers on, the mahogany ones, a good luck cent in each penny spot.  Days on end I watch Mr. Lincoln go about his business with Mom between rooms winking honest copper at me.  I bide my time in waits between fills, when the shoe pair wait in Mom’s closet.  Like Mommy, Mr. Lincoln is a hard worker, one who does not gather dust.

He pays me no mind.

Day comes, Mr. Lincoln and his twin safe in my pocket, I look to the ceiling at a float question.  I will wait, then buy myself a piece of Bazooka Bubblegum from The Associated Grocers like the piece already in my skirt pocket bought for waving in front of my younger brothers or sister to keep their attention.  Gum is not for chewing.

Besides, I have a plan to go somewhere more important today.

I am going to ‘Befine.’

Mommy and me.  Together or alone.  Still in the kitchen with Mom. Between dry sniffs I tell her my plan.

“I am ready to be fine.  When will we go?  When will it be time?”

Confused, Mom says, “What?” She, squint looking at me.  “Church first young lady, that will be enough for today.”

She brushes past me into the living room to stand at the bottom of the stairs.  There, her frosted head tilts back, soft as powder cheeks, through pink lips razor words fly up the stairs.

“Bernadette Mary I called you down here once already.  Whatever it is you are doing stop this instant.  Come downstairs.  Do not make me come up there in person.”

I no longer think we will go anywhere.  ‘Ulbefine’ anyway, water wells my eyes, followed by a new round of moans.

My brothers and sisters on the ‘company’ sofa sit in a ‘finish line,’ next to the ‘almost finish line.’  Where they watch a stop-motion TV clay family, ‘Gumby’ solve putty problems.

My brothers, ready for church in Sears’ Permapress plaid shirts tucked into starched white shorts, my sisters, two in ‘Deb ‘n’ Heir’ blue seersucker skirts with crisp white Peter Pans, Sharon, too old, in a facsimile.

Keds all around.

 

(c) M K Smyth

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