Mama and me in the kitchen.
We stand at the window and watch the sun rise red pink powder blue daylight.
“I have learned to read the tarot,” I say.
I’m just showing off. All I had done was buy a deck of cards from the headshop in the back of the art cooperative.
Mama claps her hands once and looks at me with her coal black brows raised and her garnet lips smiling open. “Oh, let’s see!” she says. Uh-oh.
We sit at the kitchen table, and I spread out the cards. I don’t want to give myself away by checking the meanings, so I study the pictures and describe what I see.
She is delighted with the reading I pull out of my ass. I talk about how creative she is, what path she’s on, what made her the way she is, and I watch the excitement redden her cheeks under her powder. Then I land on a golden-headed king card and say she will meet a person who looks like him: ruddy with copper red hair.
A fierce inhalation like she does when she makes a mistake while driving. She stares two miles out of the kitchen window while she stabs the tips of her scarlet nails into her black beehive.
“Well,” she says. “We need some biscuits.”
She puts her rings in a dish on the drain board and starts gathering the ingredients she needs. I am doing what she calls standing around in the way. We’re both old now, and we’re used to the dance of the kitchen—when to step back, when to open a drawer.
Mama talks. She does that best. There is no point in interrupting, because when I finish she will fly quick as an arrow back to the topic she was covering as if I hadn’t spoken at all.
But in the midst of one of her stories, she tries to tell me that she has never had a car accident.
“You hit a deer!” I say. “And you turned onto the two-lane in front of a motorcycle!”
She touches her neck goozle and gives me a fake shocked look. “Well, that wasn’t really an accident,” she says.
“He ran his bike up into somebody’s yard to avoid rear-ending you!”
Mama laughs. And not her nervous tittery laugh, but rather the one she reserves for silly nothings like a donut that looks like Mahatma Gandhi or an acorn cap stuck on the dog’s toe.
“Why are you laughing!?” My voice goes a little high, then I pull it back down. We are calm people. “You could have killed someone.”
She stirs the buttermilk into the flour. She flours her hands, then the dough board. Her hands are lightly freckled, her nails manicured with the red hot color she favors.
“No one got hurt,” she says.
“But—you just laughed about it!”
“Did I?” She mixes the dough with one hand and turns the blue bowl with the other. Her nails look like bloody little teeth.
Mama remembers the past the way she wants to. The problem is I do too.
“Remember that red-headed guy?” I ask. “The one who used to take us to the drive-in
restaurant?” I remember it vividly: sitting in the back seat with a paper bowl of chili and a packet of oyster crackers.
Mama turns the dough onto the board and says, “I don’t know who you’re talking about.” She pats the dough flat.
“You know—we would see him at the motorcycle races. He was short and red-haired and had a tattoo of a heart?”
Mama got us into the motorcycle races for free every Sunday afternoon by taking down the stats and delivering them on Monday morning to the newspaper.
“He won the figure 8 race one year.”
She cuts out a biscuit with an old coffee mug. “Doesn’t ring a bell,” she says. She plucks the dough out of the mug and puts it on the pan, reshaping it until it suits her.
We stand there looking at the oven as the biscuits bake.
“Okay,” I say. “He used to dress in buckskins and shoot a musket during Old Fashioned Days.”
After my dad was gone, she worked late nights and wore a costume: satin skirt the same black as her hair, white blouse like her pale skin, vest as red as her lips. Black bolo tie, the better to strangle you with, my dear. She had a life without me in which she was beautiful and young, and her smile was sincere instead of just for making the best of things.
“He wrestled the bear one year.”
When she first got the job, she walked to the bar out by the overpass, then she got rides home, and soon she had someone picking her up. Once she came out of the outbuilding with that guy who broke the horses.
She really had laughed when she ran him off the road. I was sitting right there in the passenger seat.
She pulled out onto the two-lane. I saw the motorcycle coming straight for my side of the car. The rider swerved and stood up on the pegs as he went over the curb. He kept the machine upright as he ran through the front yards. Mama didn’t even act like she saw him.
“You almost ran over a motorcycle!” I shouted.
“I did not,” she said. She held her long cigarette out the wing window. She didn’t slow. She didn’t speed up.
I turned my head all the way around and watched the man drop his bike on the grass. Watched him run his fingers through his copper red hair and stand there looking after us.
And then she did it: just a sharp, short laugh as she looked in the rearview mirror.
Angelique Cain lives in the land of bourbon and horses with two black cats and three wee dogs. Her poems have been published in Poetry Nook, Moonchild Magazine, andOcculum. She’s @paperbatty on Twitter.