When Men Leave: Part 6

ferris wheel at carnivalMy apologies for the delay. It’s a long story, and I’ll get to sharing that soon. In the meantime…If you’ve been reading this short story, thank you so much. If you’re just starting, you may like to start at the beginning with parts one, two, threefour and five. And now, part six.

Scout and I jogged back across the field in the direction of the huge, glowing ferris wheel where Mom and Carmine were waiting. As we got closer, I could see Mom and Carmine standing face to face. Mom’s arms were waving wildly about, just the way they do when she’s real mad or when she’s talking about something really exciting. As we got within earshot, I could Carmine yelling at Mom.

“For such a beautiful woman, you’ve got an awfully dirty mouth,” he said.

“I don’t see that one thing has anything at all to do with the other,” Mom said loudly, her right hand flailing. She whipped a Kool out of nowhere and lit up quickly.

“You embarrassed me,” Carmine whined, sounding like a spoiled brat.

“Oh, Jesus,” Mom said, looking over and noticing us for the first time. “Hey, girls,” she said quickly.

“Carmine, you’re gonna have to get over it,” Mom said, sounding suddenly tired. “C’mon,” she said, motioning to us, “let’s get outta here.”

She blew a huge cloud of smoke above her head, and we watched carefully as the billows of smoke drifted right down into Carmine’s face.

“Take that nasty shit out of your mouth,” Carmine growled and ripped Mom’s Kool out of her mouth and stamped it out with the tip of his black boot.

Scout gasped, and I hollered, “Hey!”

Mom grabbed Carmine’s wrist suddenly and spoke quietly but clearly, never once waving her arms.

“Don’t you ever pull that crap with me. You better find some passive little thing to manhandle. My life is too short to spend time with the likes of you.” She dropped his wrist and looked right into his eyes.

“C’mon, girls,” she said, still looking at him. “Let’s go home.”

I picked Scout up in one arm as Mom grabbed my free hand. Carmine just stood there, like he was frozen in place, not moving or talking. Maybe no one had ever put him in his place before. Maybe he just dumb as dirt like I thought.

Mom lit up another Kool and inhaled deeply as we walked toward the road. “What an ass,” she murmured, almost to herself. “Of course, you knew that already, didn’t you, Sara? You always do.” She kissed the top of my head lightly.

I glanced over at Scout whose face was pointing back in Carmine’s direction. She was sticking out her tongue and scowling as Carmine got smaller and smaller.

It took us the better part of an hour to walk home. By the time we walked up the driveway, Mom was carrying Scout, who was dead asleep, on her shoulder. I walked quietly with Mom back to Scout’s bedroom. I pulled the shade down on the window and pulled her pajamas out of her dresser drawer as Mom carefully undressed Scout’s limp, sleeping body. Mom laid Scout’s head back onto her pillow and pulled the covers up to her chin. Her hand went automatically to Scout’s head to play with her hair. I could only see Mom’s dark silhouette over Scout’s bed since we hadn’t turned on any lights, but I knew just what she was doing. She’d done it for me a million times.

“Night, Scoutie,” Mom whispered. I bent down and kissed her sweaty hair.

Scout rolled over to her side and mumbled, “Mmm, racin’ man.”

“Do you want some milk?” Mom asked as I sat down at the kitchen table.

“Yeah,” I said.

“So did y’all go see the races tonight?” She put a glass of milk in front of me. “Is that what Scout was muttering about?”

“Mmmhmm,” I hummed and took a big gulp of milk. I breathed in deeply. “Mom, Glenn was racing tonight. We saw him. I even talked to him,” I said fast, waiting to see what she would do.

She looked down at the table and began running her hand across it. She sighed deeply and when she finally looked up at me, I could see the tears sitting on the edge of her eyelashes.

“So how is old Glenn?” she asked, sounding tired.

“He’s alright. He’s been racing for a while now. He came in second tonight.”

“Is that right?” she said, her face brightening. “That’s funny. That’s great, I guess.”

“Glenn said he used to sneak out to see the races when he and his brother were kids,” I said.

Mom chuckled and reached for her Kools. “That doesn’t surprise me a bit,” she said and smiled. “He always loved fast cars. I guess it’s hard for you to remember him. You only ever got to see him at night for a few minutes anyway. He must’ve seemed like a dream to you.”

I looked up at her, wondering how she knew.

“There would be whole weeks when all I’d see of him was the back of his curly head as he got out of bed,” she said. I remember when he came to see me out of the blue at the diner one morning when I was real busy.” She looked past me, to the clock on the wall.

“He came in, sat in my section and everything. I walked over to him, saw that sad mile on his face that had become permanent, saw those dark circles under his eyes, saw him — in daylight, for the first time in, God, I don’t even know how long, and I thought, ‘I don’t know this man at all.'”

She took a long drag on her cigarette and held the smoke for a long minute before blowing it up toward the ceiling fan. “We had just become strangers, isn’t that funny? Strangers who are married and have two kids together? She laughed sadly. “I was so angry when he left. Angry that he left you girls. Angry that I didn’t even know my own husband anymore. Angry because I lost the best friend I’d ever had.”

I stared at her for a minute, seeing the two tears that had run down her left cheek and made a tiny puddle on the table. “I was mad, too,” I said softly. “When I first saw him tonight, I was so mad, but when I talked to him and really looked at him, I couldn’t be mad anymore, you know?”

She smiled and nodded. “Guess there isn’t much room left for anger, is there? Maybe there never was. Honey, Glenn and I changed, that’s all. God willing, maybe we even grew up a little, too.”

She laughed again, wiped her eyes with the back of her hand. “Your Dad and I are very different people, Sara. We have different lives.”

“I know,” I said quietly.

She grabbed my hand, held it between hers and said, “You always do.”