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I always thought responding to personal ads in the back of the Enquirer was a dumb idea, but the whole concept of self preservation was lost on my mother when the third separation from my father finally took and she found herself divorced in her early 40s.  Complaining that she didn't have time to date like a normal person because she was too busy setting a good example for "you girls," she set to the back pages of the tabloids with a determination that bordered on obsession.

The parade of desperate men flutter through my mind like the rapidly flipped newsprint, my mother searching for the Prince who would overlook two mostly grown young women used to a matriarchal household.  Each letter ripped quickly open, pictures labelled and ultimately put in a Rolodex with a few notes so she would remember who she was talking to as she was running up our phone bill to the point where the child support checks were funding her private singles club, sponsored by Ma Bell.

I grew bored quickly.  My sister, when she was home, quicker still.  Smile, make small talk, wait for the inevitable attempt to curry favor and prove that there is a reason you are still single and living with your mother at 52 and that you are so out of your depth with judge, jury, and executioner comprised of 2 women on the verge of adulthood.

My mother took longer, usually, to realize that this one was still married.  That one was running from the brother of the last woman he slept with, got pregnant, and left...and who was three years older than I was.  The one who was perfect in every way...until he asked my sister out.

Then there was Mad Dog Madachek.  Technically, his name was David, but the nicknames you earn in the military tend to stick, even after you've retired.

Mad Dog was a disturbing presence in our estrogen-driven household.  Too male.  He looked a little too much like Sean Connery knockoff for my tastes, had a waist length gray ponytail and, most disturbing of all, was a former Marine.  Just like my father.  He did 200 situps before he even considered coffee, and actually did his morning jog around the neighborhood without a shirt.

The worst part, however, was his culinary prowess.  He travelled for his job, which he was always a bit vague about, but he would show up promptly at 4:30 every Friday night that summer, bags of ingredients in hand.  He would pour mom a glass of wine and shoo her out of the kitchen.  My sister would conveniently make her escape in the flurry of marinades and chopped garlic and pounding out chicken cutlets to military uniformity.  I was entranced.

Good thing, too, since I was under house arrest.

I was officially grounded for the summer.  I had been caught sleeping with my boyfriend, so obviously the solution to such depravity in a nineteen year old was to turn the house into a convent with one reluctant novitiate and my mother as the Abbess with designs on being a sort of Catholic Nurse Rachett.  She made a point of NOT sleeping with him.  Loudly.  Repeatedly.  Incessantly.  She was demonstrating how a lady conducts herself, she said.  I needed to learn to behave better.  If she could do it, why couldn't I?

(We'll ignore the fact that my younger sister was happily skipping out with no curfew and blowing half of the drag queens in Northeast Tennessee.  Half the time, she rudely skipped out on exquisite food.  But then, her appetites were always a little inconsistent, except when it came between exquisitely sauced vegetables and anonymous sex. That's another story for another time.)

I grew fond of Mad Dog.  He was consistent, but not constant.  Unlike his predecessors in the Rolodex of Desperate Men, he slid into place and knew he was only there under my sufferance, now that the other half of the jury was out availing herself of an impeccable fake I.D.  So he showed me how to peel garlic by slapping the heel of my hand against a knife.  How the right touch of sweetness will make vegetables sing.

And how a glass of wine and an Abba cd will get someone to quit hovering over your shoulder in the kitchen.  At least, as long as that person is my mother.

I was doing the dishes to give mom some alone time (gently suggested by Abbess Rachett with a look that might as well have been knife point) when Mad Dog leaned in the doorway.  I made a face at him, annoyed that I was stuck with the aftermath of a chicken dish with maple syrup and jalapenos.  It was improbably delicious, but I wondered if he deliberately chose a dish that made washing a lasagne pan look like a walk in the park, all so he could make out like a teenager on the sofa.  With my mom.

"So, what are your plans for tonight?"

It took every fiber of my being not to throw the filthy, sticky steel wool at him.  "Let's see.  It's summer.  I'm nineteen.  The weather is beautiful.  I think I'll go out, but..oh, I'M FUCKING GROUNDED!  I think I'll stay in for a change.  Again."

"I noticed that platform in the apple tree out back.  Did you build that?"

That's my favorite place, especially since my leash only reaches so far.  "I didn't build it.  I would die from a fall if I built it.  But it's sturdy.  I like to go out there and read."

"How about I finish the dishes and you go out and read for a couple of hours?"

I raise an eyebrow.  Is the convent about to lose an Abbess?  I dry my hands, trying to hide my knowing smirk.  "Yeah, just let me get a snack and something to read."

He smiles, and I may be more charmed than mom.  Frankly, I'm a little angry it took her so long.

The rucksack has a bottle of cheap red, a corkscrew--wine with a cork!  I almost swoon--, a package of beef jerky and a red plastic cup.  I scramble for my book, my notebook, my pen.

"Let me know if you need a flashlight.  I'll bring it next time."

Suddenly, my exile has become a perfect summer.  I grit my teeth through the week, waiting on Friday with possibly more anticipation than the other women in the house.  My sister slips off, all sequins and cigarettes and fake I.D.   My mother eats faster than she should, and pretends she doesn' t notice when I go to bed extra early, usually leaving the dishes unfinished.

A sleeping bag.  A light that clipped on the a convenient branch with an extra long extension cord, tangling and frustrating the late night prowling alley cats.  The tree supplied the apples.  The library provided endless worlds trapped between hard covers.  The offerings of wine and snacks showed up, consistent.

When the light started invading my sleep, when I'd roll over to a sticky facial of apple cores and wine dregs, I'd sneak back in.

I would wash my face.  My sister would wash the cigarette smoke from her hair.  My mother would pretend she'd fallen asleep on the couch.

And he would be there, too big, too male, too much.  All tattoos and ponytail askew, wearing a Home Ec. project apron.

"So...who wants pancakes?"

 I want to request apple pancakes, but I don't want to push things TOO far.


Mar. 9th, 2016 06:24 am (UTC)
Sounds like a pretty decent guy-- although when he leaned back in the kitchen I was a bit worried at first. After that line about the would-be guy who hit on the sister I was like... EEK CREEPY MEN WILL CREEP. So I was actually really glad he just turned out to be a nice dude.

The way you had of including certain lines or phrases that pointed to extra detail really helped paint a rich world. Although you didn't necessarily explore all the points, it was done in a way that created the sense that it was a fully fleshed out world with complex people, rather than simple shells in a short story.


The fucking YARN FAIRY!

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