NOVEMBER 2007 – NO. 19
The first story selection from our sixth Guest Fiction Editor, Natalie Danford
Shards of sunlight stabbed at Mona's eyes through the landscaped pines as she edged her car toward the water. Pupils dilating, she rolled her windows down and blinked hard to adjust to the brightness. The park was a flat piece of grassland that lay at the foot of Cloyd's Mountain. Unlike anywhere else in the county, she hardly had to steer through it to keep a straight course. Just past the gazebo glistened the thick vein of freshwater that was her destination. Ellis's Creek was only a trickle in some parts of Dalton, but down here at its dumping ground, it swelled up pridefully wide and deep. It's not the muddy red banks of the Jordan, Mona thought, but it would do.
The movie last night had revealed just how much dirt had been accumulating on her over the years and by morning she was certain she couldn't wait until Sunday to wash it off. Like a black light illuminating white lint on a dark shirt, the Lord had saw fit to point out each speck of her transgressions to her. And although Mona thought Mel Gibson probably was every bit the foaming zealot that the tabloids alleged, his passion play possessed a power that transcended its Hollywood creator. The woman who played Satan was particularly effective, she thought, and the implications of the fiend's gender hit her with a wallop.
Curt hadn't seemed to notice anything especially moving about the film and walked out of it as unaffected as ever, pulling his NASCAR cap on over his baldness as soon as the lights went up. "Good thing we didn't bring the kids," he said as they made their way toward the parking lot. "That sure was bloody."
Punch-drunk and grasping for her bearings in the brisk March night, all Mona could summon was docile agreement. "Yeah," she had replied. "Good thing we didn't bring the kids."
The persistent rhythm of the lines on the freeway began to restore her senses and she looked over at Curt, still sipping from his gallon-sized fountain drink. Not like the kids wouldn't be watching something worse on TV when they got home, she thought. Or maybe they wouldn't even be home at all, but out doing God knows what with who knows who. And what about the one she had given up? It was all so easy for Curt, the biggest child of them all. His son was with his mother and Curt didn't worry about him, just as Mona's children were with their mother and their fathers didn't worry about them. They should all worry, she thought.
"We're home!" Mona yelled over the TV's racket as she shut the door on the cold behind them. Curt bolted past her for the bathroom. Mona could see Casey sprawled out on the living room floor, scrambling to change the channel. A blood-spattered horror movie took her mind back to the ruthless two-hour torture session she had just bore witness to. Satan's wan and angular face grinned beneath a black hood as she watched Christ's flogging. A wrinkled demon-baby cackled at her hip. Then the red-covered body was gone, replaced by a black and white Dick Van Dyke.
Why does she bother, Mona wondered. I know she's not watching cartoons anymore. She rubbed at her taut forehead.
"Where's your brother?" she asked as she picked up an empty potato chip bag from the floor next to Casey.
"Dunno. His friends came by and he went out."
"Well, turn the TV off and get ready for bed. You have school tomorrow."
Casey groaned as she rose, sounding more like eighty than fourteen. Her shoulder-length hair was bleached to a blondish orange and its dark brown roots were starting to show. Looking through Casey's braces and slight acne, Mona felt as if she could see her daughter at forty, her own age. A sneaking suspicion was beginning to come over her that she hadn't done her best with her children, despite every intention to the contrary. There were far too many times when she'd been too busy to listen, too tired to talk. She'd always thought that as soon as she could get a little money ahead, she'd start being all the things they wanted her to be. Now that Curt had brought her some measure of security, however, Casey and Cody didn't need her like they once did. The damage was done and that window had been closed forever.
Watching Casey trudge down the hallway, Mona had the urge to re-read a letter that had come in the mail yesterday. It was the first one she had seen hand-addressed to her in some time — not a computer-processed bill or statement, but something someone had taken the time to lick a stamp and post just to her. She took it from underneath some dishtowels in a kitchen drawer and ran her eyes over the thin, slanting handwriting. That writing looks familiar, she remembered thinking yesterday before she opened it. She had tried to place it, savoring the anticipation.
"What's that?" Curt asked, coming up behind her in his t-shirt and sweat pants.
"Oh, nothing," she said and flipped the envelope over. "Something from one of the nieces. Go on to bed, I'll be in after I put the coffee in the maker."
"Okay," he said. "Don't put as much in as this morning, though. It was too strong."
"Okay," she said. He squeezed her shoulders and she watched him meander down the hallway, waiting until the door gave its emphatic click to re-open the envelope's flap.
"I hope you don't mind me writing," it began, "and that this letter finds you well." Mona's eyes danced over the page, picking up the words "understand", "adoption", "good life", and "college." It was signed "Annie" in a flourish that was similar to her own signature. With her heart beating almost as wildly as it had the first time she read it, she pored over each word until they seemed to have always been etched on her brain, if she had only known where to look. The paper in her hands took on a weight that she could barely hold and she stared into that signature, trying to form a face.
Scooping coffee grounds into the plastic filter, Mona had stopped intermittently to take the letter out of its envelope and then replace it. It took someone else raising my kid to get it to turn out right, she thought. How different her first-born's life must be from Casey and Cody's. College wasn't some dim possibility for her, but a living reality. The girl had fallen into a life that Mona had always wanted to provide for the two children who came after her. Replacing the letter in the drawer underneath the dishtowels, she was overwhelmed by feelings of regret and insufficiency. The right thing would be to just be happy that things had turned out as well for her child as they did, but she kept imagining meeting the girl for the first time and seeing a wave of disappointment come over her face. A whole life's worth of mistakes were burrowing out of their dark hiding places and eating their way toward her skin. For a moment, she felt hideously deformed.
Coffee spilled onto the counter and Mona pushed this notion of ugliness out of her head, dumping some of the grounds back into the can. No, she had thought. I've been sought out. This is all mine for now. This girl needs something that no one else in the world can give her except for me. She needs to see my face and hear my voice. This is a window opening. I must prepare myself for it. Curt was already snoring when she opened the bedroom door and Mona was glad not to have to speak.
"He was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities," Mona said, recalling the quote from Isaiah that prefaced The Passion. "By His wounds are we healed." Pressing her sensible shoe onto the gas pedal of her sensible sedan, she lunged for the river. Waves of cold, redeeming water rushed in to embrace her and she accepted them hungrily. Staring up into the hard light in the sky, she knew a crowd would soon gather and calls would be made. She would walk out of the water to them, soaked to the skin and shed of blame. Everyone would know that she had chosen to be made clean and was worthy of it.
Original art courtesy Rob Grom.
Back to Top