This week’s feature appeared in RE:AL 33.1, Summer/Fall 2008. Continue reading “Memory Lane Monday”
It was a difficult task, but after serious deliberation and several back and forths, we would like to Congratulate Ashley P. Lee for having her photo selected for our new translation series.
Old Houses Continue reading “Memory Lane Monday”
Welcome to one of our new weekly features! Memory Lane Monday is just that—A trip down memory lane. Every week we will feature a poem, story, or essay from a previous issue of RE:AL. Some pieces will be direct copy from the issue it was featured in, and other weeks we may stroll down memory lane and catch a fresh reading of an older piece from the author themselves.
This week, we find ourselves in the Fall 2000, 25.2 issue of RE:AL with Nancy Ryan Keeling’s : “The Tank in Leona”.
The Tank in Leona
Mark closed his eyes and groaned. He hated the thoughts that filled his mind. When he was younger, he had played the gladiator for his mother, but today his head was pounding with thoughts coming in bitter waves. He knew she deserved his respect and attention, but as he entered her door, he felt he was meeting with a declared enemy.
The air in the room was stale and close. Tight-lipped she sat in a wheelchair sifting
rosary beads between her fingers.
Mark’s stomach knotted when he saw her packed suitcase.
Damn. She thinks I’m here to take her home.
Mark cleared his throat. “Ready for your ride?”
She made the sign of the cross over her massive bosom.
He turned and gave her a pasty kiss and held his breath against the Este Lauder she wore to disguise the rank odor of her flesh. Frowning, he hefted the suitcase and piloted her wheelchair down the corridor past a man in a khaki one-piece jumpsuit. There was a pitiful brainless momentum to the old ma’s walk. The emptiness o it all came to Mark as a buzzer resonated off the tile walls of the bleak nurses’ station.
He cleared his throat again. “Where to?”
“Want to see my little boys?”
“What little boys, Mother?”
“Well, I call ’em Mark and Matthew.”
Mark punched the button for the elevator and squatted in front of his mother. He gazed down at her ankles which were crisscrossed with lump, varicose veins then locked eyes with her.
“I’m Mark, Mother.”
Her face was gentle almost like a kid’s as she whispered. “I know that.”
“Mother, how old am I?”
She stared straight ahead for a moment. “Forty-seven.”
“Right.” Mark expelled a deep breath. He noted the purple marks on her arm as he patted her hand. He was used to seeing her with bruises no one could explain.
Her voice cracked. “I must be losin’ my mind.”
Her hand went slack. He patted it again. “you’re all right Mother; You’ll be all right.”
As Mark rose, the elevator doors opened. He hated himself and the lie.
Still brooding, he stood in the elevator gripping the handle of the suitcase, reviewing his sister’s earlier words. Why couldn’t she have died last Christmas?
Mark didn’t blame Liz for her less-than-saintl-sentiments. He thought of all the holidays he and his siblings had gathered around their mother’s bed in a vigil as her seizing cough wore them all out–as she spat mucus, gulped for air, and lived.
Mark propelled his mother’s wheelchair through the lobby and out the automated glass door. He almost welcomed the pungent smell of burnt coffee grounds that came from a chemical factory close by. His mother opened her purse, stretching it into a yarning cavity with both hands. “Now, where did I put my car keys?”
A moment later rosary beads, Kleenex, lipstick, compact, bingo markers and dominoes cascaded onto the asphalt. Mark clenched his fists, counted to three, then stooped to retrieve her belongings.
“Oh, no. No. No.” His mother fretted.
He assisted her into the passenger seat of his Lexus, letting her talk on about finding her little boys. Mark stowed the suitcase and her wheelchair then bent to fasten her seat belt. After his fourth attempt, he longed to kick the woman’s puffed stomach as he had a cantankerous mare they’d once owned.
Accepting there was no way to cinch his mother’s girth, he slammed the door and slid behind the wheel. He was not surprised by the sudden lucidity of his mother’s words as she simply instructed, “Take me to the tank in Leona.”
He groaned. How could he tell her, now?
On the ride he and his mother were silent except for her coughing spasms when she hacked phlegm into a wad of Kleenex.
When he turned off the interstate and saw the orange surveyor flags, ragged feelings assaulted him. Thinking annoyed thoughts about the $600,000 they’d accepted for the land, Mark wondered if she remembered Daddy had been pulling stumps at the edge of the pasture on the day he died thirty-five years ago.
Mark drove as gently as he could, snatching glances at his mother. The dips and ruts in the pasture were as hard as they had always been. It was only his mother that was different. Did she even realize she would never come to the home place again? He didn’t want to share this experience. He wanted her to face it alone and be able to fight it.
Then Mark thought of the first fish he’d caught. A four pound catfish. He thought of the day uncle Dean taught him and Matthew to shoot the .410. He smiled as he recalled how a few years later he’d lost his virginity under the live oak at the edge of this tank.
He parked the car and got out. In the distance Bootsie Hightower waved to them from the porch of her shotgun house. He returned her greeting. Avoiding hills of fire ants, they moved in fits and starts to the swing Mark had welded as a Mother’s Day gift back in high school. The rust-scabbed metal frame creaked as she lowered her bulk.
“I’ve never seen chickens that could fly.”
He knew she hallucinated on the medications, so when he gazed at Bootsie Hightower’s pigeons, he didn’t correct his mother. Instead, his eyes swept the horizon.
He wanted to cry.
This was no longer his mother. His real mother was a memory. A woman on the shoreline of this tank, one hand on her hip, the other up like a visor over her eyes as she counted four heads bobbing in the water. A woman in a bathing suit who still had her figure. A woman he had gawked at when he’d caught his parents at it in the bedroom once in the middle of the day. His face warmed with the remembered shame as he tried not to envision it. Even now, among the many memories, he kept returning to that moment.
“Be back in a minute, Mother.”
Grasshoppers lit on his trousers as he wandered in the knee-high weeds. Along the waters edge he gathered stones, listening to her as she coughed and spat. He hoped she would let him relax for maybe a half hour without demanding his attention.
He tossed a stone that skipped three times before it landed on the other side. Then another.
He ignored her.
This time his mother’s voice held that tight-scared quaver it had when as a child he and his twin sometimes hid out under grandma’s porch.
“Take me to town.”
“Mother, we just got here.”
“I’ve got to find my little boys.”
Her face looked serious as her eyes sought his with an anxiety to know what had happened to her small children.
Mark raised the stone high above his head. Fuck it, he thought and hurled it into the tank breaking the skin of the water.
When they returned to the nursing home, an uneasy guilt rose in Mark as through the glass doors he caught sight of Liz and Matthew. He retreated ten paces along the sidewalk to a bench. He lingered there deciding what to do, as he watched the melodrama of his family unfold.
Matthew and their sister stood eyeing each other. Matthew, dressed in a charcoal suit, his chin thrust out, arms folded, waited as Liz spoke, her feet planted far apart, her face a stormy mask of distress.
Mark watched a ripple of tension pass from Matthew’s temple down along his jawline. Watched Matthew uncross his arms, adjust his bold red tie and talk rapid fire. Matthew’s words seemed to deepen Liz’s rage.
Recalling the faint downy mustache on his sister’s upper lip they had teased her about growing up, Mark thought, Watch it, bub, she’s got bigger balls than both of us.
Mark rose and wheeled his mother through the automated door.
Liz whirled fixing him with a ray-like glare.
“Have you lost it totally?”
Mark replied with a massive shrug; then he whispered, “I couldn’t tell her.”
“Mother, let’s get you into bed.”
Liz hustled her inside closing the door behind them.
A few moments later they entered their mother’s room where Liz went on bustling about. Mark sat down at length on the chair by his mother’s bed and studied Matthew who sat leaning forward, head cocked, eyes narrowed, working his jaw, still scheming.
“What now, Mother?”
“You sold the tank at Leona, didn’t you?”
The expression on Liz’s face when she uttered “yes” was dreadful.
In a choked voice, Liz said, “I was just trying to find a solution-something simple and acceptable to everyone.”
Biting her lip, she looked away, but not before Mark spied a single tear rolling down her face. They were not a family comfortable with tears.
His mother looked at each of her children and suddenly seemed content.
His mother stretched out her hand and Liz came up and took it.
“Well, I suppose it’s for the best.”
His mother shifted in her bed. Then a dark faraway expression crossed her face.
“Matthew, does your daddy know I’m here?”
Mark watched his twin struggle with it as he sat cracking his knuckles.
“Yes, Mother. Daddy knows.”
“Good. Because when he gets here, I have to go find my little boys.”
—Nancy Ryan Keeling
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