Blue Wooden Kitchen Table

Sunday, November 12, 2017

We never had much except mornings around the blue wooden kitchen table with meat from the neighbor’s pigs and grits from our make-shift mill. Grandma held a pen cap between her teeth, brows furrowed at the Sunday crossword. Grandpa was looking down at his latest Stephen King through thin wire glasses while he dabbed the corners of his mouth with a red and white checkered napkin. Eleven letter word for prominent, Grandma mused, and Grandpa said, Illustrious. He chuckled as Grandma hit him over the head with the rolled-up newspaper and said, I was asking Lila Jane, Hank.
            They wanted to send me to the boarding school across the state border, the one where Momma went to be a writer. On the shelf above the kitchen sink sat a jar, LJ’s school fund scrawled across the front in permanent ink. Grandpa would come home from the bank every Friday at drop a twenty in. Every month when I watched Grandpa sigh and lay his head in his hands while he paid the bills I would climb onto the countertop by the sink to get the jar and bring it to Grandpa; at first he would push it away with his tired fading hands, but then he would look up from the check book and his blue sparkling eyes would meet my hazel ones as he would reach out to cup my cheek with his palm and whisper maybe someday.     
But someday came and Grandpa collapsed on the linoleum and never woke up. I can't forget Grandma's murmurs of oh Hank oh Hank oh Hank my Hank when we lowered him into the ground the next week, how they folded up the American flag and laid it in my shaking hands because Grandma was too weak from the tears to grasp anything in her fingers.
The next morning Grandma and I sat at the blue wooden kitchen table and I skimmed Grandpa's copy of Children of the Corn. Grandma said, six-letter word for Russian peasant, originated in the Sixteenth Century and I breathed muzhik; she smiled when she tapped me on the head with the rolled-up newspaper. 
The jar on the shelf above the kitchen sink was long-empty so we replaced it with a picture of Grandpa in his uniform from the war and I rode the school bus to the local high school so we could save gas. Grandma tried to make coffee in the mornings but one day she sputtered over the words this coffee tastes like dirt, can you make it for me, Hank? So Grandma moved to the old folks home a couple towns over and I quit school and worked four jobs and made barely enough to cover Grandma's rent. 
The chairs of the blue wooden kitchen table creaked as I sat to dial the wretched numbers of the wretched man in the city apartment two states over. I’m in trouble, I said, and he recognized my voice. His words were slurred when he asked you’re not pregnant, are you. I said no, I’m not pregnant, but Grandpa’s dead and Grandma’s lost her memory and I can’t pay the rent. I got a check two weeks later, a big check made out to Lila Davis. I scoffed when I opened it because I didn’t know that girl, I was Lila Jane. But I signed the check and put it in the bank and went back to school and worked two jobs instead of four. And things got better.
           Momma had always told me hard work pays off in laughter so I grew to relish the achy feeling at the end of the day when my muscles felt like jello and little pieces of my hair were stuck to my forehead with sweat. I’d sit down to eat dinner at the cafe where I worked and smile as I ate because this was a place of unity and equality. In these walls no man had power over another. The beggar laughed with the Ivy League school girl over a song on the radio that had too many words and didn’t rhyme, and they took their coffee the same, black with two sugars.
I was taking classes at the University a couple towns over, in the same town as Grandma’s old folks home, and I’d sit and do Business Calculus at the blue wooden kitchen table after I got home. And one day a knock on the door yielded the view of a red-haired boy and some friends from the University. We need a place to stay and we heard you have extra rooms, we’ll pay rent, they said. So they sat at the blue wooden kitchen table while I changed the sheets in Grandma’s bedroom and the guest room. I told them about Grandma and every Sunday we’d take the crossword to her. Sometimes she thought the red-haired boy was Grandpa but it was okay because their laughs were the same, like honey on a buttered biscuit cooked golden brown.
A few semesters later by the exchange of golden bands the red-haired boy’s sheets became mine. We were having coffee at the blue wooden kitchen table and I was wearing his old Ghostbusters tee shirt when we got the phone call. Two weeks later Grandma was in hospice, but she had always said don’t hook me up to those machines, Lila Jane, let me go when I’m ready. So we let Grandma fall asleep and never wake up, and when we lowered her into the ground the next day it was just me and the red-haired boy there to say goodbye. He brought Sunday’s crossword and laid it on her grave, and I could hear from heaven the way Grandma rolled her tongue at the word fervent.
Two years passed and my belly was growing with the life of another human and the wretched man from two states over knocked on the door. Except now he was broke and cold, lost all his money from gambling on the Las Vegas Strip. I need a place to stay. I thought about how he didn’t come to walk me down the aisle of wildflowers when I wedded the red-haired boy, how his wedding gift was herbal tea, the only kind I didn’t like. But the red-haired boy smiled and shook my father’s hand and he stayed with us for a long while, in exchange for the money he lent to help us get by all those years ago.

He was sitting at the blue wooden kitchen table when he said it: I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry. So we helped him back on his feet. He worked four jobs and rented the guest house out back, came home every night with muscles like jello and hair stuck to his forehead with sweat. And every Sunday we’d eat meat from our own pigs and grits from the mill. Little red-haired Hank ate from the spoon his Grandpa held out for him, and I whispered words to my red-haired boy as he filled out the Sunday crossword. We never had much more than that, but it was enough.

9 comments:

  1. HOLY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! FREAKING!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!11

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  2. I literally had to take a step back and come back to this cause MS. This is so good. Lieka'sfklksdjflksdjl;fkjsd WAHTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTt
    IT IS SO GOOD.
    I just cannot tell you I love it so much you are so talented and YOU ARE GOING TO DO SUCH GREAT THINGS YOUR VOICE IS SO SPECIAL ????????? thx 4 this

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    Replies
    1. liv, I'm crying. thank you so much, friend!!

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  3. WHOA WHOA WHOA

    WHO EVEN ARE YOU
    ????????

    WOW

    Mary Shelley, your words have a way of transporting people into a whole different world. Like WHAT THE HECK I WASN'T EVEN SITTING HERE AT MY DESK AT WORK I WAS LIKE... VIOLENTLY SYPHONED INTO THIS STORY. I DON'T EVEN KNOW HOW TO EXPLAIN. I CANNOT AGREE MORE WITH WHAT OLIVIA SAID. you are so so so so so so so freaking talented and I cannot wait to see your name on the New York Times bestseller list.

    love you!!!!
    abbiee

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    Replies
    1. asdfjkl WOW UR THE BEST!! can't wait to be on the bestseller list together :)

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  4. EXCUSE ME??? HOW CAN ONE PERSON BE THIS TALENTED??? I read the first line and I was like, my comment is going to be in all caps. Honestly, this is so adorable and so MANY FEELS. I hope you don't think I'm just saying this, because I'm not. I truly believe you are destined to be SOOO successful with your writing, no matter how it takes shape as you grow older, whether it is something you do for a living or just a hobby. Never stop doing this <3

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    Replies
    1. Lauren, thank you!! Your comment means so much!!

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  5. I actually have no idea how you write so beautifully. It blows my mind. Like, I can't remember the last time that I read something and was almost bawling, but that's where I was here. You have SUCH a gift. Please never stop writing.

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    Replies
    1. Omg i love you!!! You’re the best!!!!

      Delete

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