Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: MIX (10/22/15)
TITLE: Give Her a Dream
By Zacharia Fox
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How could she be this messy and know where everything is?
When I handed her the birth certificate, she kissed me. Her breath stunk like coffee. Always.
“Thanks, sweetie.” She never used names for us kids—couldn’t keep us straight.
There was only one thing as sure as the coffee on Auntie’s breath—tales of her childhood across the tracks in Oak Park. Boring. I’d slip off with my cousins while Pa sat and listened till stars freckled the Louisiana night sky.
One morning, over grits and fatback, I asked, “Pa. How come you listen to Auntie ramble on about the good-old-days?”
Pa chewed, and the folds in cheeks deepened when he grinned. He swallowed before he said, “What are your dreams, Jeanie.” He was asking for me; I could tell by the way he said it.
“Well, I’d like to go to LSU.”
He nodded. “And why’s that your dream.” Another one of those questions.
“It’s a good school. And you went there.”
He smiled. “You’re dreaming forward, cause you still got most your life out in front-a-ya. But Auntie Rose dreams backward, cause most her life’s behind her.”
“So, you just like to hear Auntie dream?”
He patted my head on his way to the sink. “I like that she can still do it.”
“Yeah.” He kissed me on the forehead and took my plate.
I wasn’t sure what he meant, but somehow it made him seem like a good man.
The next weekend the family got together over a big pot of gumbo. Everything was an occasion for Auntie to ramble; even gumbo.
“… in Oak Park, Celeste Poulet used start her gumbo at six in the morning. Gumbo needs’at much time for the juices to catch a flavor.” I nodded, trying to humor her as my cousins scurried off. She started in on how all the best cooking died with the old guard in Oak Park.
I’d almost tuned her out when I noticed she was staring at me kind’a offish.
“You alright, Auntie?”
She blinked a few times before her brow furrowed. “I aint your Auntie. Where’s my ma?”
“I can’t find my ma,” she said, scanning the yard.
“I aint your Auntie!” She set her hand on her hip. “M-M-Ma’ where are you?”
“Your ma’s been dead a while, Auntie?”
Crack—she caught me clean across the face and I stumbled back.
“Don’t you say that you lying—”
“Rose!” I’s relieved to see my pa walking toward us. Then I noticed he was smiling. “Rose, is that you?”
“Yes.” Auntie squinted. “Who are you?”
“Oh, you done forgot your old friend Steve?”
Auntie smiled. “Steve! Steve Clay? Is’at you?”
“Sure is.” Pa’ sat down at a picnic table and waved Auntie toward him. She tottered over and plopped onto the bench across from him. “How you been, Rose?”
“Oh…” Auntie’s lip trembled.
“Tell you what. Cars and air-conditioning is nice, but there ain’t many days I wouldn’t trade all that just to be back in Oak Park.”
Auntie smiled, a tear sparkling on her cheek. “Me too, Steve.”
My pa smiled wide. “We didn’t have much, but we didn’t know no better.”
“There was something special about making-do.”
“Remember that spring it rained a week—”
“The marsh came right up to my porch—” Auntie’s smile was big as our pot of gumbo.
“And the uppity folk went the shelter!”
“Yeah, but we just got out the canoes and paddled around till the marsh settled.”
“Rose, you rowed right through Lester Labatte’s front door and yelled—”
“Ahoy there!” Auntie giggled like a school girl.
Pa kept her going with all the stories he’d cared enough to hear, and Auntie laughed like I didn’t know she could.
Eventually Pa took her arm and led her to the rocking chair inside. I laid a blanket over her shoulders and it wasn’t long ‘fore she dozed off.
I held my Auntie’s hand as the candles melted away, smiling all the while because she was smiling.
My eyes stung as I whispered, “Give her a dream, Lord.”
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