Well, James, said my mother.
Your times almost up,
I nodded, listening to the
gutters rattle against the side of the house. The smell of dog rose up
from our feet as Daisy scratched herself beneath the table. Two more
days, I said.
I was on the road, out from the
sunny west to visit the family in the snowy east. Eight days I had spent
in my mothers house, sleeping on her couch, keeping the driveway free of
snow, getting out of her way when she began to shout. That last was a hard
one; my mothers anger was large, and Id been gone a long time.
When do you think youll be
back? my mother asked.
Dont know. Summer maybe.
Maybe? Thats the best you can
I shrugged. Well see, Mom.
My nephew Tony padded out to
the back porch in his socks. Hed gotten used to staying up late with all
the days off from school because of the snow. He wore his ski cap perched
delicately atop his head.
What are you guys doing? he
My mother took a sip of her
drink and rapped her glass on the table top. Never you mind, you. she
said. Thats our business. She glared, narrow eyes and teeth, until Tony
padded back out of the room. Theres one thats always under foot.
We got out the deck of cards
and I dealt out a few hands of gin rummy. We played, drank, watched the
snow fill the yard for about an hour. My mother was quiet except when she
wast sure which card to play. Then she muttered under her breath,
cursing as she tossed her card on the pile. Finally, tired of losing, she
threw her whole hand down on the table. God damn it, James. God damn
I gathered up the cards and
slid them into their checkered box. Sorry, I said.
A word stretched across my
mothers lips and then faded. She reached over and touched me on the back,
her fingers barely there, the liquor swimming in her eyes. See you in the
morning, she said.
OK. See you in the morning.
In a minute, I got up from my
chair and went in to the living room to see what my nephew was doing. He
lay on the couch, his head propped up with a pillow, watching a late night
movie. The TV flashed blue, white, yellow in the dark of the room. The
sound was so low, I couldnt see how Tony could hear it at all.
Hey, I said. You wanna go
out and pass the football around?
Tony looked at me, brows
crossed, mouth screwed down. Now?
Yeah, I said. Why not?
He shrugged. OK. Ill get my
coat and boots.
We got outside and marched
through the newly fallen snow that covered the ground. The air was crisp,
cold for a night of such heavy snow. Under the streetlights, out in the
street, the air was a maze of white flake, the ball fading away as it
arched in the sky, reappearing as it found our gloved hands.
This is cool, I said,
thinking how everyone in every house on the block was asleep.
Yeah, Tony replied.
After about fifteen minutes, my
sister, Tonys mother, came chugging up the street in her beat-up
Chrysler. She swung around widely, wheels spinning and sliding, into my
mother's drive. The car idling, she rolled down her window and sent out a
white cloud of cigarette smoke.
Hey, brother. Hey, son, she
Tony and I sidled up to the
car. My sister reached out with her bare hand and shook both our hands.
Her hair was tousled and her breath smelled of beer and smoke. She wore a
black shirt with strands of gold thread woven into the fabric.
Where have you been? I asked.
All dressed up?
My sister laughed. The bars.
Want a beer? Reaching into the back seat, she pulled out a bottle and
handed it to me. It was cold and it felt good to be drinking it in the
Wheres Mom? she asked,
tilting her head toward the house. Asleep?
How was she tonight?
I shrugged, about to say OK, when Tony butted in.
Grouchy, he said, and the
three of us laughed.
Jeez, youd think with you
leaving in a few days shed try to be nice, my sister said. Its not
often her only son comes to visit her.
I sighed. The snow fell hard on
the ground, the sky deep and dark, and I was drunk. Well, I said and
listened to the chug of my sisters engine. It filled the terribly quiet
night, where we all were waiting, and there was nothing else to say.
Joseph Young lives in Baltimore, where the art of dry weather
seems to be lost, but where the robins nest safely in his grape arbor. His
work has appeared in Hobart, The Mississippi Review, Pindeldyboz, Word
Riot, Lit Pot, Blue Moon Review, Haypenny, the-phone-book, and
elsewhere. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.