I was completely unprepared for The Visit. I mean, there’d been talk at school and I’d heard mama whisper things about it, but it was a hazy something that never seemed important enough to ask about until I was Visited.
I was dying, knew that for certain. The pull at my belly was too painful for it to be just another sour stomach from too many radishes for lunch. I saw the blood when I went to the bathroom, so I knew I had a cancer or TB or something I’d never recover from, but I kept quiet because it was clear to me I’d have to die a private death. I was never going to let anyone look at my gunny to find the problem. So I sat there at dinner with mama and daddy and my two stupid brothers with a wad of tissue shoved between my legs.
Mama said grace. I couldn’t even consider thanking God for food when there I sat dying on a wad of toilet paper right there in front of my family, so I prayed extra hard instead so I could be strong for my dying moments and not be angry at God for the timing. Teetering on the razor edge of death is no time to start up something with God you can’t take back.
“Sister, I said ‘Pass them greens.’” I’d been praying so hard that when I looked up the whole mess of my family was staring at me like I’d just spilled kool-aid on the rug. I opened my mouth to tell them but all that came out was a wail I didn’t know I owned that lasted from the table clean into my bedroom behind a slammed door.
When mama came in she was mad as hell, hands on hips like one of them Amazon women. I could hear daddy’s boots shifting one foot to the other just outside the door, but I knew he’d stay out there and not come in to see my shame and dying because he couldn’t bear a crying woman.
“Explain yourself.” Mama’s plaid housedress towered over me on the bed and I was afraid, but not nearly as afraid of her as I was this dying.
“I’ve got the cancer, mama,” I wept through a whisper, “Don’t ask me to tell you where because I won’t.”
So mama just stood there and I just cried into my bed quilt for the longest time. I wanted hugging, but I wasn’t sure if I could give someone else the cancer and I just couldn’t be responsible for spreading dread disease. When Scrap Wilson got the fever, the health department man came out and put a quarantine sign over the door and everyone whispered hot and fierce about how wrong it was to subject a whole family to one man’s dying germs. I’d have to move out, I guessed, live in a tent all alone by the pond and wait it out until they found my body.
“You ain’t dying, Sister.”
Mama was unmoved and all I could hear was the muffling shuffle of daddy’s boots making their way back the kitchen. Ill as I was, there was only one thing to do.
Summoning the last of my living strength, I leapt past mama, slung open the door, stopped off quick in the bathroom to resupply, then ran through the kitchen and out the back door into the mosquito dusk. It was a long way to the road, but I ran it all with a half-roll of flowered toilet paper in my fist, and it wasn’t until I hit the gate that I looked back. No one was coming after me.
(This is another crooked piece of theChesaleen stories. It’s NaFloScribMo rough, but there it is. I resisted the urge to write two pages on mama standing there hovering over the bed, which was the image I started with. We’ll see what happens when our new little woman makes it over to Chesaleen’s house and find out the real scoop.)
Here’s the problem. I’m writing diligently on Chesaleen and getting into the wicked flow of the moment, angels dancing on heads of pins and the typewriter muse singing to me in Olivetti and such, and I suddenly realize there’s no story. None. The whole thing is going nowhere and seems to be mysteriously levitating, waiting for something to actually happen.
It’s possible to write seven pages of a story and find out it isn’t a story at all. It’s a prose poem or an articulated photograph or something. People talk and there’s insight and self-delusion enough to go around, but the action of getting from Point A to Point B just never materializes.
It’s entirely possible I’m writing outside my genre – not that I chose one in the first place. It chose me when I was a little girl. It’s frustrating to be labeled and even more so when it’s self-labeling, but it appears that at least for tonight, I’m a poet. Or a memoirist. Or a blogger. Dammit. Tonight I wanted to be a novelist.
So I have seven pages of Chesaleen sitting in the dark and listening to trains. I could cheat and call it backstory, but that’s just semantics. I’m going to put these pages away for National Rewrite Month and maybe they’ll look different then, but I doubt it. I like it too much to wad it up, although if I had a fire going I might consider throwing all seven pages into the flames, just for effect.
Maybe I’ll just have Chesaleen set something on fire.
No one else in the store. Just Mama, Daughter, store owner, me.
The daughter is a youngish thing, belly slack from teen pregnancies, sporting an unapologetic black eye. A catfight, a man, a door, something. Lots of reasons to have a shiner and no real reason to cover it up. While I wait in line she steals a toy and sees me watching as she sticks it under her shirt. She doesn’t care. This is what we do. So what.
The store owner lady takes a step back from Mama and toward her cash register. She’s got Christmas light earrings shaking slightly below permed hair and her sweatshirt has a Jesus fish pinned next to silver baby feet. They both float just above her heart. This isn’t the kind of customer she thought about when she dreamed the baby consignment shop with its plush infant baubles and tiny Easter dresses hanging just so on the racks. Like a year-round church-basement baby shower. Not today.
Mama’s tired of waiting so she heaves the lawn-and-leaf bag on the counter and dumps it out fast. A small mountain of dusty baby clothes, and from the middle an unopened can of powdered baby formula falls out and rolls against the daughter’s foot. When the girl and her black eye bend down to get it, she pulls the stolen baby toy out of her pocket and places both on top of the clothes. Here, mama. These fell out.
Mama is tweaking and and scratching her arms and looks ready to get loud when the bell over the shop door tinkles a bit. They all turn and look at me, but I’m still there.