We ate an early lunch at Abb’s Corner, the village café hangout located downstairs from the Movie House. Outside steps took us down to the lowest level of the Community Center. Divorce Me COD spilled from the jukebox as we piled into a large booth and Daddy splurged to buy hamburgers, fries and tall frosty milk shakes for the lot of us, including sixteen-year-old Francine, who usually bypassed family things.
I hated the divorce song. Soon Frank Sinatra soothed the airwaves with Night and Day and I relaxed and counted my blessings that we were together.
I caught glimpses of conjecture on my sister’s cynical face and I knew. She, too, hoped Mama would for once in her screwed-up life be good, and think of us rather than herself. I frowned at her, discouraging her dark skepticism.
Afterward, at Mama’s request, Daddy parked the car on the curb near the post office, as close to the Company Store as he could get. Mama hopped out, then stuck her head in the back window, where we huddled, her offspring, beguiling us with Blue Waltz fragrance and her incandescent smile.
Her white silk, clingy shoulder-padded blouse, tucked into fashionable pearl-gray, loose-legged slacks, cupped what Francine had informed me were lush breasts — much like her own, she smugly added, which had drawn my dismayed gaze downward to my own comparatively small assets, ones that resembled two once-over-lightly fried eggs.
“Can we go, Mama?” whined Sheila.
“Nonono.” Laughter, rich as hot fudge, gurgled from her as she reached over to tweak the little freckled nose. “Doncha know I’m gonna get ya’ll each a surprise? Even Daddy gets one,” she said in her throaty way, rolling her vibrant greens at Daddy. I was just beginning to realize what everybody meant by ‘Ruby’s bedroom eyes’, when her lids lowered like a silk curtain, exposing only a sliver of sea mist glimmer.
“Now ya’ll be good for Daddy, y’hear? I’ll be a little while.” Her voice oozed slow and thick as honey. She wrinkled her perfect nose. Promise?”
“Promise,” chirruped everybody except Francine, who considered such compliance unbearably soppy.
Nobody, but nobody could stir my butterflies like Mama. Fact was, with her infectious, teasing laughter and melodious voice, she had the power to sweep us all from calamity to ecstasy in seconds flat. And despite her equally quicksilver explosive fights with Daddy, and her loose ways, in that lovely sun-filled moment I adored her.
After all, my brain desperately let fly, this is a new beginning.
At the Company Store entrance, Mama turned and blew us a big ol’ kiss, gazing at us for a long, long moment before disappearing through the double glass doors.
I’m gonna get y’all each a surprise! Even Daddy gets one. I recall , in that heartbeat of time, I thought how Mama, despite her faults, possessed, when she had anything, a generous, giving spirit, fairly shoveling it all out to others.
We kids and Daddy waited patiently in our old 1947 mud-brown Ford, lustily singing I’m Looking Over A Four- leaf Clover while Mama shopped. Honeysuckle breezes wafted in through lowered car windows. We tried harmony with Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree, but, what with Daddy’s tone-deafness, ended up sounding like a Chinese laundry quartet. Francine and I laughed till we cried while Daddy remained oblivious.
Then Francine, who utterly idolized Hank Williams, did her nasal rendition of Your Cheatin’ Heart, as earnest and reverent as I’d ever seen her.
I didn’t take undue notice of Mama’s lengthy absence till Francine cranked up Hey, Good Looking, and Daddy’s brow furrowed when he hiked up his wrist to peer at his watch. Sensing the change in him, Francine fell silent, a phenomenon within itself because Francine’s focus usually opaqued anything beyond her immediate whim. Daddy kept checking the time, his brow corrugating deeper by the moment.
My stomach butterflies ceased their flapping, pushed aside by the dread that oozed inside me and settled like cold concrete.