A dysfunctional family shares dinner but not secrets. Written on and in honor of June 3
Approximatley 1900 words
An Ordinary Day in June
I 'member how hot it was that day. Hot enough to peel house paint in hell. Excuse my French. If Poppa was here, he'd slap me up the side of the head for bein' unladylike.
Mondays at the factory is the worst, what with everybody bein' all pissy that the weekend's come and gone. My job's to take a lump of plastic and mold it into armrests for Ford Fiestas. Well, not exactly. The machine does all the real work. All's I do is to stand there like a robot, watch the plastic move along the line, and then lower the press. It stinks like possum crap on a barbecue, but you get used to it. Afterwards, I have to pick off any bits of plastic that cling there, like steamy turds waitin' to drop. They're friggin' hot, too. When I first started, I came home every night with broken nails, blisters, and black plastic stains on my palms. I used to try to cover them up with manicures at Elsa Mae's beauty salon, but now I just let it go. My fingertips is hard, like steel. It's like most things in life: you get burned often enough, and you stop carin'.
Anyways, I clocked out that Monday and walked across the parking lot, lookin' for my brother Tommy. A gust of wind whipped my hair and dust gritted in my teeth. The sky, it was all pink, too, like half of Texas had blown north to Oklahoma. Days like that, the wind don't cool you none. It's more like the Devil's breath blowin' on you. Pastor Mike sermonized 'bout that the day before. He'd said it's a portent of the eternal hellfire that God visits on sinners.
Lucky for us we's saved. Praise the Lord.
Tommy was leanin' against his Camaro, smokin' a cigarette. His denim work shirt hung over his shoulder, and sweat soaked his grimy undershirt. He flicked an ash and stood up. "'Bout time you got here. What'd you do, stop and gossip in the lady's room?"
I gave him a playful shove. He don't mean nothin'. "I ain't no lady, and you know it." I rubbed the track of bruises runnin' under my sleeve and considered afore answerin' his question. "The foreman, he stopped me. Wants me to work overtime this weekend."
Tommy, he didn't say nothin'. Instead, he jest ground out his cigarette and climbed in his car. I got in the passenger side. Even though he'd opened the windows to air it out, it was so hot inside I felt like a pig roastin' in Momma's oven. The seats burned my skin through my coveralls and sweat stung my eyes. "Shee-it, it's hot in here." I adjusted the vents, and semi-cool air blew in my face.
He backed the car out and maneuvered through the jammed-up traffic from the shift change. He growled, "Give it a coupla minutes." He lit another cigarette and blew the smoke out his window. "How about it? Ya gonna work this weekend?" His tone showed he weren't interested and was just makin' talk.
I shrugged. "Ain't got nothin' better to do."
At that point, he pulled onto I-40 and started to cuss out the other drivers, callin' 'em assholes. I thought they was, too, 'specially if you included Tommy, what with the way he was weavin' in and out and tail-gatin'. I tugged at my seat belt and muttered, "Better not let Poppa hear you talkin' like that."
He snorted. "What's he gonna do? I'm too big for him to whup me."
He had a point. I turned on the radio, and the DJ's twaddle stopped us from havin' to talk, praise the Lord. I barely paid attention when music started playin', but Tommy grinned and tapped out the beat on the steering wheel. "Ya hear that?" he asked.
"What? It's just some lame country song. What happened? She lose her pickup, or her dog die?"
His mouth turned down. "I meant the date. The song lyrics said it's June third, just like today."
I shrugged. "Whatever. Ya think maybe that's why the DJ played it? 'Cause the lyrics have today's date?" He was so simple, sometimes.
He frowned and shut up. Bless his heart.
When we got home, Tommy pulled into the driveway behind Momma's SUV. Poppa's pickup was already parked inside the garage, out of the sun. The smoky odor of barbecue mixed with the Texas dust that fouled the air. We squeezed past the boxes of old clothes, cans of paint, and other junk in the garage to the door that led to the kitchen. No one ever used the front door, 'ceptin' Pastor Mike.
Least ways, it was cooler inside. Not cool, but cooler. Momma had been cookin', and the scent of apple pie, biscuits, and pork gravy clogged her cramped kitchen. A lock of gray hair had come loose from her bun, and she tucked it over her ear. "Now you children wipe your feet. I didn't spend all day cleaning this house for you to mess it up."
Tommy breezed through the room, put an arm around her, and kissed her on the cheek. "It's great to see you, too, Momma."
She pushed him away and wiped her hands on her apron. "You're filthy, boy, and you smell bad." She glared at me. "You're no better, girl. Go get cleaned up, now. Dinner'll be ready in twenty minutes, and you know how Poppa is if you're late."
I glanced out the window at the back yard. Poppa huddled over his gas grill, a cigarette danglin' from his lips and sweat soakin' his armpits. His face was red as the bare dirt where the grass had died, and his belly hung over his belt. Ribs tonight, then. His favorite. Again.
Tommy showered first, and the big jerk used up all the hot water. I didn't care, though. My skin prickled at the icy cold stream, and I was grateful that it washed away the factory muck and the Texas dust. I scrubbed my hands special, but them stains, they was permanent . Nothin' was gonna wash 'em away. I put on a skirt and a long-sleeved, frilly blouse, just like Poppa liked, and wound my hair in a ponytail. No time for makeup. 'Sides, Poppa hated painted whores.
Everyone was already at the table when I got back to the kitchen. Poppa scowled at me and curled his upper lip. "About time, girl."
I plopped into my chair and we all held hands. Poppa harrumphed, and then his voice turned serious. "Almighty God, we give thanks for the bounty we are about to partake."
We was supposed to close our eyes, all reverent-like, but I peeked. Tommy's eyes was open, too, and I winked at him. His mouth dimpled, but then we had to say our "amens."
Poppa stood and served us ribs. Momma passed around her special potato salad, "just like Granny Great used to make," like she always says, along with a platter of tin-foil-wrapped corn on the cob,straight off the grill. Serving pieces clicked on the dishes while we got our portions, Poppa and Momma first, then Tommy, then me.
We dug in, lookin' at our plates 'stead of each other. I admit I wasn't none too ladylike. 'Spite bein' sick of ribs, I was plumb hungry. 'Fore long, though, Momma was moved to speak. "I heard somethin' at Elsa Mae's this mornin'. Seems that boy Liam Sanders, you know him--his Poppa spent time out McAlester way. Anyhow, that Liam boy jumped off the Lake Overholser Bridge yesterday and kilt hisself."
Poppa didn't look up from gnawin' at his corn. "Well, that boy never did have a lick of sense." He pointed across the table. "Pass me them black-eyed peas. Momma, when dinner's done, me and Tommy's got to go to the store. We got a shipment of paint today, and them shelves need stocked 'fore mornin'."
Tommy's left eye twitched, but he didn't say nothin'. Momma just nodded and murmured, "Yes, dear." Silence grew, with little clinks and clanks of silverware. She spoke again, her voice indifferent, as though talkin' about the weather or a broken dish. "Still and all, it's a shame 'bout that Liam boy. Seems like nothin' good ever comes out of McAlester, and now he's done and jumped off the Lake Overholser Bridge." She shoveled more potato salad into her mouth, swallowed, and then said, "You know, if Granny Great was here, she'd tell us that old bridge was part of the Mother Road, back in her day. Kinda sad it's all rutted out now."
Tommy swiped barbecue sauce off his mouth with his sleeve and reached for more biscuits. "Can't believe he kilt hisself. I saw him just Saturday night at the Dreamland Dance Hall. Seemed normal then."
Momma tsked. "You never can tell. Not with a boy like that."
Tommy turned to me. "Hey Sis, wasn't you chattin' him up after church yesterday? What was that about?"
Afore I could answer, he ran on. "I guess ya just can't tell what's in anybody's head." He took a swig of iced tea and another bite of ribs. "Ya recollect that time at the church picnic? What was it, four, five years ago? Me and Liam and Joe Bob stuffed a frog down your back." He guffawed at the memory.
Momma wiped her mouth with a napkin, all dainty-like. "Speakin' of church, that nice Pastor Mike came callin' this mornin'." She simpered at me, like I should be all a-quiver or somethin' at that dweeb stoppin' by. "He said he saw Liam out on the bridge Saturday afternoon with some girl. Said she kinda looked somethin' like you." That stare of hers tried to skewer me, but it don't work no more. Least ways, not since I was fourteen. "Anyways," she went on, "he said it looked like the two of 'em threw somethin' off the bridge. He couldn't say what."
Poppa grunted. "Who cares? He's done kilt hisself. Just drop it, woman."
Dinner dragged on, with Poppa complainin' about work and Momma re-hashin' gossip from Elsa Mae's. I admit, I weren't payin' much attention. Toward the end, she looked at my plate. "What's the matter, girl? You not hungry? You barely touched your victuals." She must not have been interested, though, 'cause she just took my dishes away and scraped 'em in the garbage without waitin' for an answer.
That was a year ago. Not long after, Tommy and Elsa Mae, they ran off to Ardmore and got themselves hitched. Her beauty parlor's done closed, and he's workin' at the tire factory. I've heard tell they're even talkin' 'bout startin' a family.
Poppa, he had a heart attack the day afore last Thanksgivin'. They found him all twisted up and dead in the seat cover aisle of his hardware store. The doctors said he didn't suffer none, though. Now that he's passed, Momma, well, she's kinda lost her spark. She just sits around the house all day, watchin' TV.
Me? Things is pretty much the same for me. 'Ceptin' that now-a-days, I spend a lot of time up at Lake Overholser, throwin' flowers into the muddy waters under that bridge.
Everyone will surely recognize the brilliant song by Bobbie Gentry provides the basis for this little tale.
If you enjoyed this, you might check out some of my other short stories in