Well, here it is. The stem of the fruits of my collaborative NaNo effort 2014. Don’t tell my writing partner, but I’m sharing this one little chapter, to see what you think.
So — tell me what you think! Enticing? Boring? Stupid? Inspired? Intriguing? Insipid?
Let me know. Because we’re almost finished with the thing and we’d hate to have been working all this time on something no one will care about from the get go. If the “get go” is a real thing — it’s a real thing, right??
Lily November, 2011
“The past can’t hurt you unless you poke at it, so leave it alone,” Mama said. “If you step back to live with a memory for a moment, the present will kill you. Leave it back there. You’ve got a whole new past in the works as soon as you move forward.”
Then along came an evening of herbal induced rampant reminiscing, and she choked on a joint and died.
She’d swallowed it whole and passed out before River or I knew she was in trouble. All entwined in my own high, I thought her closed eyes meant she was lulled in the calm of a sweet buzz, or seeing beautiful pictures in her head, or floating along on kismet. I never thought she was dying.
I don’t remember the particular story she was telling before she zoned out, and that irritates me. Many nights since, I’ve lain awake trying to recall her words, and now I’ve rerun the scene so many times that I’ve created twenty versions of new truths, all orbiting the original but never landing upon it.
One clear detail remains: her face. Then I see her laugh through the smoke, I see her eyes lit up by lamplight, and I hear her inhale, as though to laugh harder. Then her face breaks gently into a slight smile, her eyelids lower, and she gracefully lays back against the couch cushion. Her body in repose is a still shot burned into my gray matter.
She was gone, but we didn’t know. How could neither of us realize something so momentous, pot or not? Sure, the world was fuzzy; I was high. This wasn’t the first time one of us had passed out, so once we realized Mom was down and not coming up, Dad and I went through the steps: first, call the police for help; second, clean. Electrical karma sent alarms coursing through me, helping me find the phone quickly. I punched the numbers, the 9, the two 1’s, missing twice with a stab at the zero, and I reached Dirk, asked him to come quick. He knew where we were didn’t question my plea to “Come now!”
Then I returned the phone to its cradle.
I had followed procedure for Man Down, and still I had no comfort. My eyes closed, I counted to five, picturing the numbers on the backs of my eyelids. “1,2,3,4,5…” and started again. “1,2,3,4,5…”
I couldn’t breathe. The air was too thick.
River poked my shoulder, startling me back into the room. Together we slid Mama off the couch and onto the floor. With crossed legs, I formed a lap nest for her head and stroked her hair while I listened for sirens.
“Should we call Sadie?” I whispered.
“What? Why? We’ve never called her before, so, no, there’s nothing to tell. Your mama will be right as rain in a minute, no big deal.”
River went to work. While Mama and I waited in the floor for medical know-how to burst through the door, he waved his arms, flushing smoke clouds out of the front screen door. Then he sprayed Febreze all over the couch and up into the air while I sat beneath, on the shag rug, holding the weight of my mother’s head in my lap and soaking up disinfecting droplets as they misted down.
All the while, River talked to Mama. “EMTs will wake you up, babe. One shot of epi and we’ll be partying again until sunrise. No sweat.”
Over the years, Mama and River had so many run-ins with the law and marijuana that this was normal. Cops would come and assess the room, see and smell and stare at my parents as if the air redolent of cannabis was shocking, and then the group would get in the squad car — my folks behind the grid wall, of course — and as the car backed out of the driveway, River would reiterate his argument for legalizing weed, informing the officer of the numerous benefits and noted efficacy of herbs, all a philosophical discussion moderated by a fuzzy fellow locked behind the grill of the squad car.
I stared at River and focused on the white noise of his continual chatter, his running conversation with the body of my motionless crazy mother,
“You’ll see,” he continued, speaking to her still face as he scurried the four corners of the room cleaning. “Vi, you’ll wake up in a second, any minute now, and you’ll be furious about the stain on the rug. And I’m sorry for that, I spilled my tea when I jumped up to open the door, but a footstool will cover it, no sweat. You ever notice how dirty the curtains are? Is this a washable fabric? I’ll stick ‘em in the machine tonight before you get home…oh, and I’ll feed the dog…have you seen the dog?”
He scratched his bare belly as he at last stood still and looked around the room, seeking Bud, his dachshund.
I heard Mama laugh at us from her ethereal perch. Invisible but present, floating, high in a different sense, and loving us from wherever she drifted. I smiled.
I felt her hand rub my back even as I held her inert head in my lap, and she whispered into my psyche, “Told you, this is why we don’t look back; it’ll kill you.”
She laughed again, audible in a new spiritual frequency, and suddenly my eyes drowned. Then her hand lifted up, off, away.
“River,” I started, talking to him as he clipped my knee with the vacuum cleaner. He was intent, the dead electrical cord in his hand as he searched the walls for an electrical source. Irritated, rubbing my knee to dull the soreness, I opened my mouth to ask, “What’s the use?” when he spotted what he wanted and moved to the outlet..
Under the influence — an enormous, cloudy, dense herbal influence — River shoved the plug into home using his fingers first. I heard his yelp, saw his body spasm, and I watched as he fell. He descended in slow motion to the floor, until he rattled into stillness. Quiet followed. After three or four blissfully peaceful moments, while I stared through blurry eyes at my Dad’s pronate being, Mama’s laughter trickled in. Then I heard sirens, saw lights. Blue and red strobes filled the living room walls, making it look more disco than domicile. Entranced, I watched the colors play on the world’s oldest couch — brown, more dirt than cloth, a sectional sofa made before sections were cool — until an officer rapped on the door.
“River, it’s me,” the policeman dully announced. I didn’t respond. He sighed, swore quietly, and declared, “I’m coming in.”
Officer Dirk Bennett, a staple in my twenty-eight years, strode in to find the three of us on the carpet, two laid out and me sitting, staring upward, noticing his enormous nostrils. Were they always so cavernous?
“Peacelily, uh…” Bennett began, taking in the scene — Mama’s hair-covered face resting on my lap, River splayed in corpse pose — while he scrubbed the back of his neck and sighed big and deep, so mad that he’d taken the call. He swore again. “Tell me,” he demanded impatiently, putting his hands on his hips and sucking on the inside of his cheek. “What now?”
“Mama brought up the past.”