Monday Myth & Mayhem: The Back Yard, Part Two

Posted on March 29, 2010


In which we meet Mama…

Her children were a burden. There were too many of them. It was better now that Katie was gone, less mouths to put bread in, but it was worse, too. Now she had no one but herself to look after the two youngest ones, born ten months apart, who were always off by themselves whispering about God knows what. Her husband was no help either. He couldn’t control the oldest boys and he never noticed the youngest children. Now and again, he’d look up, get mad, and give somebody a whipping, but then he’d sink back into that diabetic body of his and just kind of disappear. So after fifteen years of marriage, when she thought her childrearing should have been easing up and coming to its natural end, he was just another baby to look after.

This was not what she had wanted for herself. She had been a right pretty girl, and all the boys had run after her, even a couple whose families had money. All of them, even this one she married, had promised her the moon, had said they’d take care of everything. All she, Brenda, would have to do, they all said, was sit there and look pretty-and, of course, keep their manly natures satisfied. She had figured it was a fair trade, and she deserved to be cared for, after the family she had to grow up in. But it was her fault, in a way, for judging poorly and picking the wrong man. She should have known he wouldn’t amount to much. Kenny, her husband, was just a car salesman, and she could have– should have– had the owner of the car lot. And he wasn’t even that good at selling the cars. Why, after Katie came along, she even had to go out and get a job herself to make ends meet. He told her it was just for a little while until they could get on their feet.

Thirteen years later, she was still working, the front desk manager at the Rodeway Inn over by the Interstate. It wasn’t much, it didn’t pay too well, but she got to meet the businessmen who stopped for the night on the way to their meetings in one place or another. They told her she was still pretty, even after birthing five children. They told her she still looked like she was in her mid-twenties, even though she was closer to forty now. Sometimes, if those men were lonesome, they would tip her a few dollars to pay a “courtesy visit” to their rooms at the end of her shift. It made her feel young, and it made her feel pampered, the way Kenny should be treating her. The money she earned from that, she felt entitled to. She pocketed it for herself and kept it separate from the household pot. She was on salary pay, so she could tell him that she had to work overtime without overtime pay, and he never questioned her about it.

She would come home late after those visits, and if her luck held (she was always lucky on those days), the kids would already be in their rooms, if not asleep, Kenny would be snoring in front of the television, and she wouldn’t have to look at any of them. She would park the car and go out in the back yard to smoke a cigarette.

Tonight was one of those “courtesy visit” nights. She went into the back yard and lit her cigarette, sitting on the side of the brick barbecue pit. She watched the smoke from the cigarette curl up into the air and fade to nothing against the dark sky, and listened to the quiet of the yard. There was a tiny summer breeze, just enough to make the leaves rustle in the elm tree and the bushes. She smelled the honeysuckle and thought of Lola, who loved it.

That girl was just downright odd. She saw things funny. Like when she had that pitiful excuse for a flower garden and swore the flowers had fairies in them. Or after Katie had died, and Lola, every single day for a month, had said Katie was talking to her in her dreams, until her daddy had heard enough of that and whipped her for saying such nonsense. She had only been six at the time, was only eight now, but really. Where did she get such ideas? Nobody else on either side of the family ever thought about voodoo like that. And on top of all that, the girl was afraid of this yard. She wouldn’t come out here without Jubal, and wouldn’t step foot in the yard after dark. It was as if she thought there was a boogey man out here, though she had never said anything like that.

The elm tree whispered beside the patio, and she saw the leaves fluttering against the dark sky. There was nothing scary about this yard. It was relaxing out here when the rest of them were all in the house. She took a long drag from the cigarette, feeling the smoke singe her throat and lungs, and took pleasure in it.

A twig snapped in the bushes by the back fence, and the sudden noise startled her in the quiet. Just a stray cat, she thought. She turned her head toward the sound and saw a phosphorescent glint of eyes in the underbrush. The cat growled at something; the growl escalated into a shriek and a flatulent hiss, and it took off, rustling bushes behind it.

She heard all this, seeing nothing for the dark, even though she kept her face turned toward the sound. Then she did see something.

The blackness under the bushes seemed to gather and spread from the hedge in a pool along the ground. Out of that pool, a shape blacker than the night arose until it was tall as a man.

She sat staring at it, unthinking. The cigarette, unfiltered, burned down until it scorched her fingers; she turned to stub it out and threw the butt into the barbecue pit. When she looked at the back fence again, there was only the hedge, the darkness, the perfume of the honeysuckle, and the breeze moving softly against her skin. There was nothing there.

“I’m tired,” she commented to the night, and went inside to get ready for bed.