Home One Night

The night Mommy shoves a shotgun up a man’s nose, her intuition saves us and I am changed forever.

♥  ♥  ♥

The Bonanza map burns fast across our black and white Zenith television in the front room, so it must be Wednesday evening. But tonight Mommy has the sound turned off.  Sultahn paces and won’t lie down even when Mommy tells him to. His nails go click, click, click across the floors throughout our little home. Mommy tells the big silver dog to go down into the basement and then she closes the door behind him. She is quiet and listens for something I can’t hear.


Our kitchen windows have bright yellow checked curtains, which frame the dark sky tonight. Our kitchen is filled with our wooden kitchen table and I am sitting on my chair, staring at my food. I am already sleepy and full. I don’t want to go to bed yet.


“Kelly, it is time to join the Clean Plate Club.  You still have some lima beans there. Eat up now so we can go get your pjs on.” Mommy says quietly as she leans over from behind me to look into my bunny bowl.  Mommy watches me tip my head back to finish the milk in my cup. Her hand feels light on my shoulder.


She says to me  “Kelly, don’t spill.”


Mommy has on her full skirted white and black plaid dress with the tiny patent leather belt at the waist. Mommy isn’t wearing her high heels because she was out in our vegetable garden today, so she has on her white Keds sneakers with the pointy toes. I have to wear the Keds for six-year olds, the ones that are navy blue with the rubber-covered round toes. Since she is a grownup, she hasn’t picked off the blue rubber labels on the sneaker heels that say ‘Keds’, like I did. Maybe I will pick off hers next time I play in her closet when she is wearing her black high heels.


It is getting way late and she still has on her bright red lipstick which she always wears no matter what. Mommy’s black hair curls in big round waves around her pale white face and she is beautiful. Mommy is soft and smells good, like the sun-baked cornstalks out back mixed with my little brother Mike’s baby powder.  When Daddy lived with us at the old house and they got dressed up to go out, she smelled like something she calls Shalimar.


Michael Michael Motorcycle, the best little brother in the world, is already asleep in his room down the hall.  Mike is only four, and my heart gets all big and warm and squishy and happy when I think of him. He has white blond hair with a red patch near where his hair swirls, which Grandpop calls a ‘strawberry patch in a wheat field.’ Mike and I have blue eyes, but I have lots of red freckles. My short red hair is cut in a ‘pixiecut,’ which I hate. Sometimes when Mommy decides to cut my bangs, I hide the fat scotch tape so she has to use the skinny tape to cut a straight line across my forehead with her sharp scissors.  I want my bangs longer.


I want to lean back against Mommy and have her wrap her arms around me, but she quickly moves away to put her own plate in the sink. She reaches over for her dark red apron, the one with a drawing of a king on it, which hangs on a hook behind our electric icebox. She pulls it on and ties it at her back. I think the king’s name was Henry Eight, and Grandpop says he is the bad king who made us speak only English in the Old Country but I don’t remember any of that.


She turns on the water and lets it flow over her hand for a long time. Then she starts to scrub a fork, back and forth, back and forth.


“I wanna hug instead,” I say. I put my chin on the table with my nose close to the lip of my bowl and hug my arms tight around my waist. I swing my feet a couple of times.


“Hugs when you’re done, sweetpea.”  I can’t see her face, but I feel her restlessness and so now I feel fidgety in my chair.


“Didn’t Tinkerbelle come from that orange flower, Mommy? Don’t you think the Leper-cons put her there?” I ask. I sit up and then lean over my bowl. I blow on my lima beans. Mimi comes over to sit very still under my chair and I hear Sultahn scratch at the basement door.


Downstairs in the basement is where I play house with a blue wooden cabinet and a little plastic pink stove and icebox. There’s a linoleum floor mat unrolled on the basement floor for us to play on, and I love to study its stick-like gold stars sprinkled all over. Downstairs was where I was during the only time I was ever really, really mean. I never told anyone. I pushed Mimi, my Siamese cat, into the wooden blue cabinet and closed her in it. I was mad about something, but not at Mimi. Then I worried about her feeling trapped and I felt yucky. My tummy hurt. I became scared instead of mad.  Mommy didn’t know where Mimi was and I didn’t tell her. I let Mimi out of the cabinet and then I felt better when she climbed into my arms. I hadn’t known I could be so mean for no reason.


“I promise,” I whispered into Mimi’s velvet black ear that day, as she purred, cradled in my arms. “I will never again scare you.”


Mimi and I together feel like one person and I love her so much my heart hurts. Somehow Mimi still loves me with all her heart. I hated the way that felt, being mean to her, so I kept my promise and never, ever did anything to scare an animal again. I still feel yucky if I think about how mean I was that day.


I keep chattering nervously instead of eating, “Mommy. We don’t live in Gawgia anymore, do we? We live way, way out in the country now in Murulyn, don’t we?”  Mary. Land. It says in yellow letters on a little metal plate on Mommy’s key ring. She read it to me once when I asked her to.


In our old neighborhood in Gawgia, our neighbors lived in tall, brick houses all attached together.  There were rows and rows of narrow houses and lots of children playing outside. Our house was on an end, across from the big park. I would lie half on the dirt, half on the ivy and count how many red ants were mixed in with all the black ants. I would pretend my acorns and my acorn hats were the Little People, and I would play Army Town with them in the roots of the big tree. Once, my friends and I found a child's accordian left by the tree. Mommy said it must have been forgotten by a child, so we couldn't keep it, but i knew it was really a gift from the Little People.


Home is now way out in the country.Our new neighborhood isn't really a neighborhood at all. It is actually lots and lots of fields as far as I could walk if i were allowed to.  It is a long drive in our brown station wagon down Route Three Yellowsprings Road to Grandmom and Grandpop’s farm.  Daddy doesn’t live here with us because he is an Army Ranger fighting the Red Communists. He writes letters to Mommy on thin see-through paper and the envelopes have red, white and blue airplanes on them.  Once he wrote a letter with a story in it for Mike and me.  It was one of his stories about bunnies named Peaches and Hoppy.  In this one, he told us about how Daddy Bunny is overseas fighting the Red Bunnies, helping other bunnies stay free.


Mr. and Mrs. Johnson live across and a ways down the road on a farm. They are our closest neighbors.  Their house is tall, made of white wood, and has a lot of empty bedrooms. They are also tall, and have no kids for me to play with, so we don’t go there often. We went over there once when Mommy seemed really sad. Mr. and Mrs. Johnson didn’t say much, but they gave me a juicy red tomato from their garden. I ate it like an apple, out in their yard just off their wrap-around porch, holding it with both my hands. It was huge and way juicier than an apple, and I dripped pink runny tomato seeds down my chin and my arms. We don’t really know anyone else, since we moved here after Daddy went overseas to Vietnam. There are no trees anywhere around until you get to Grandmom and Grandpop's where they have a lot of Christmas Trees. No acorns, though.


Home is a little one-story tan brick house that faces the two lane highway. We have a big garden out back, in front of one of the Johnson’s fields. Our house has silver half-round basement window wells. Once, when the orange tiger lilies were growing in the wells, we found a kitten the same orange color in the window well out back. We named her Tinkerbelle even though we couldn’t keep her, and I still kinda think she came from out of the flower. We already had my cat, Mimi.


Daddy’s dog, Sultahn, is a German Shepherd who ignores little children but doesn’t want another cat. I know this because I listen to our animals and dogs think pretty loud. Daddy told me Sultahn will go hold a man’s wrist in his mouth if a stranger puts his hand into his pocket, in case the man pulls a gun out. He lets go when Daddy tells him to. Daddy is the only one who stills speaks French to Sultahn, because Daddy got him when we were stationed in France. That was when I was born there as a baby. Sultahn usually stays in the basement at night time and during the day he runs through the tall corn and then lies in the grass out back, watching the birds and waiting for Daddy.  He likes Mommy but he loves Daddy.


“Kelly, stop daydreaming.” Mommy says as she turns to look at me for a quick moment, before turning back to the sink.  Her huge blue eyes seem even larger tonight.


I pick up a pale green lima bean between two fingers and carefully place it in my mouth, right on my tongue.  I close my mouth in case Mommy looks back over at me.  I prop my elbows on the table and cradle my chin in my hands. I close my eyes so I can see inside of myself. I turn the lima bean sideways in my mouth using only my tongue and I try to stand it up along its edge. Then I squish the lima bean with my teeth a bit till it pops open into two thin halves.  Sometimes I really do like lima beans.


Maybe Mommy can’t really see me even though she says she has eyes in the back of her head. I open my eyes to see what Mommy is doing. She is still washing dishes with her back to me.


“Keep your elbows off the table and don’t fall asleep. Eat up. You want time for a cookie and then storytime after bath time don’t you?’ Mommy says to me without looking at me.


“Will you read to me about the Little People, please? Grandmom says the Little People hide in big trees.  My babysitter down in Gawgia called them Brownies, but Grandpop says they actually wear green not brown.  Grandpop says they are Leper-cons. He saw them and he says the animals know them well,” I tell Mommy.


Mommy puts the last copper-bottomed pot into the drying rack next to the sink.  I stop talking and so Mommy turns around.  She sees me pushing lima bean halves out both corners of my mouth, still using only my tongue.  She gives me The Look, which I know means I could get into big trouble if I don’t stop whatever I am doing.


Mommy says, “Kelly, EAT!  Don’t play now!”  


She takes her apron off and hangs it up on its hook again. Mommy comes back to the table, sits on her chair next to me, and picks up my spoon like I am a baby.  I’m way too big to play airplanespoon but not old enough to leave the table without permission, so I open my mouth for her. 


“Three more big bites and you are done.  Then you may have a cookie,”   Mommy promises me. She spoons lima beans into my mouth. I chew with my mouth shut and swallow, and she gives me another bite. Sometimes I really don’t like lima beans.


“Can I have one of those ginger cookies with the pink icing?” I ask after a few moments.


“May I?” Mommy gently corrects me.  “Last bite. Here you go…..mmmm… Good job!  Look, you can see Peter Rabbit and Flopsey and Mopsey in the bottom of your bowl now.”  She scrapes my bunny bowl lightly with my spoon.


“May I, please?” I say after I empty my mouth, swallowing the very last of my lima beans.  Sometimes I love lima beans.


Mommy wipes my mouth with a white cloth napkin. She finally puts her arms around me and I melt into her hug like the butter on warm lima beans.  I wish I were littler so I could get lots of these melty hugs from Mommy. I crave Mommy more than the pink icing on a ginger cookie. I relax and get sleepier. I yawn and rest my head back on Mommy’s right arm. She holds me tighter and kisses the top of my head. 


There are three hard knocks at the front door. Mommy drops her arms and jumps up from our hug.  She stands still and listens.


We hear a second set of hard knocks, pounding even harder.


 “Who could that be? …shhhh….” she says. “Stay still.”


I feel the light touch of her hand on my head for a brief moment, right where she just kissed me. Then she goes to the door quietly in her Keds sneakers. I slide down off my chair and become Mommy’s shadow. I follow her to the door and match her step for step.


I can feel that Mommy is scared. I see her fear circle her body like the three-mink stole she used to wear around the shoulders of her fancy going-out-to-dinner coat. Now I am scared, too. I wish Sultahn wasn’t behind the downstairs door. I wish Daddy were here. I feel hot then cold. Then I feel hot again. The hairs on my arms stand up as I get pale Godbumps up past my elbows. Whatever is out there feels BAD.


Mommy slams open the front door bolt with her left hand and puts her right hand out to the shotgun that leans in the corner. The shotgun is always there.  I have never ever seen Mommy touch it before.


It feels alive, on high-alert, attentive and on-duty. It is taller than I am and made of dark warm-brown wood topped with cold-grey steel. Mommy says it once belonged to GrandDaddy, her own father. The shotgun smells BRAVE like dried cornstalks, cool baby powder, burnt gunpowder, and hot, hot silver buckshot.  I feel the shotgun listen. I listen.


With her right hand now tight around the shotgun barrel, Mommy turns the doorknob and tugs the door wide open with her left.


I grab her legs from behind and wrap her skirt tight around her legs. Her legs are solid tree trunks. I hide my face in the billows of fabric.


On our steps, inches away from us, is a man, a stranger. His back is against the darkness that is just past the lighted step. He wears an Army trench coat with a belt tied around him and a wide cloth hat shades his face. He has on dark Army sunglasses and he is taller than Mommy. We do not know him.


I feel all the clocks in the house just suddenly stop, as if they will hold their breaths forever, their ticking, swinging heartbeats frozen.


The silence breaks open and the man speaks.


He says, as polite as ice, while he looks down at us from the dark, “Evening, Ma’m. Is your husband here? I am his friend. I just stopped by to visit. I’d like to come in.”


Mommy yanks the shotgun straight up in the air so that its bottom barrel slides fast up and down with a double CRACKCRACK.


She swings it up over my head, throws it back on her right arm, grabs the trigger with her left hand and shoves the shotgun right up his nose, flattening his nose against his face, all in one smooth graceful motion. She moves quick and smooth like dance, only very different.


The man leans backwards, away from the shotgun as he raises his hands out sideways. He grabs nothing but air, carefully stepping backwards down each of our three steps in slow motion.


The man is silent and I don’t feel him at all.


“But Mommy, he says he is Daddy’s friend!” I whisper.


Mommy ignores me and cradles the gun tighter than she ever cradled Mike or me. Mommy doesn’t blink and she looks scary mad. I’ve seen Mommy mad, but never like this.


I wanna cry.


 “Ma’m, I am just here to see your husband!!” the man pleads. He sounds as hollow as the Tin Man, and very far away.


Mommy speaks finally, very slow and very low. “Hells Bells, Mister…. You are a liar…. You have just a few seconds to get off our property…. or I will shoot you dead.”


The man turns in a flash and runs fast out of the light, deep into the darkness. He avoids the long walkway, and runs almost sideways through the dry grass of our long front yard.  Soon we hear a car start up. Gravel spits and spins when the car jumps onto the blacktop highway, and then, it is gone.


I never see the man again.


Mommy slams the door shut and bolts it up again. She uncradles the shotgun and pulls on it hard, just like Hoss or Little Joe would, and then she leans it back into its corner.


Mommy unwraps me from her legs and leans into my face. Her breath is shallow and warm. And her words are stern as she warns me, “Don’t ever touch my gun, Kelly. Understand?”


I nod and then Mommy takes a long, slow breath. She smoothes her skirt with her hands.


She gently asks me, touching my cheek with her fingertips, “You ready for that ginger cookie with the pink icing?”


♥  ♥  ♥


Everyone knew Daddy had never lived in that house because he was stationed for a year in Viet Nam at that time, 1964.  It turned out that the man also knew Daddy was gone. Because later, on a rare visit to the nearby Officer’s Club pool on base, Mommy overheard the snooty officers’ wives talking about how there was a rapist on the loose, raping the Army wives left living alone off base. I was told that rape meant he forced a woman to take off her clothes and she ended up hurt in a ditch on the side of the road.  He killed the very next Army wife and I never heard if he was ever stopped.


I did, however, hear that the Commanding Officer of that nearby secret military biological warfare testing base died of the Bubonic Plague. And we saw that each  lamb, cow, goat, pig and donkey – each one a sweet, sad solitary representative of their species -  lived quarantined all fenced in together as a weird herd further down our Route Three Yellow Springs Road. We heard that these poor animals were never sent to the butcher like other farm animals we saw in the countryside. They never, ever left the base. Instead, after they died after their testing, they were buried in spooky secret graves quarantined somewhere on the base.


After I was nearly grown, Mommy became a very fierce pacifist who never talked about these old days, but I never, ever forgot.




December 18, 2010   

(chapter not essay version)                                                                                                          

(c) Kelly Fitzpatrick                                                          


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  • Kate Comings

    I love this version--the whole story with everything put back and more added! That bit at the end about the test animals is so eerie; perfect ending.