Vickie didn’t know much about anything, but she knew something was wrong with Momma. It was wrong because Momma never touched guns. She baked bread and weeded the garden and went to work, but she never touched a gun. Guns were for her uncles and Daddy and Gramps. Guns were for hunting and target shooting, and for putting down her big white cat who had too many babies.
“Why did she die, Daddy?” Vickie asked when her daddy returned to the house.
“She got lead poisoning,” said Daddy, hoisting the .22 onto his shoulder with his left hand and taking a long pull on the Micky’s in his right.
Vickie thought that was a funny thing for a cat to die of, especially since she had seen her daddy carry Whitie off into the woods and she had heard the shot from the house.
Momma had told her to stop her crying, and what were they gonna do with all those kittens in her tummy anyway? Cats hadn’t ought to have that many babies!
But Vickie had seen Momma’s eyes, and she knew Momma didn’t think her cat died of lead poisoning either.
Vickie was used to seeing guns. They were everywhere – on the rack in Daddy’s pickup, under his bed. There were guns with scopes and some with long, black, double barrels, stacks of them in the corner of the kitchen.
Momma had fussed Daddy so many times about locking up those guns, but Daddy just laughed and pointed one at her and said locks couldn’t keep anyone safe. Plus, he said he never knew when he might need to use one. He pulled the trigger and it made a loud click and Momma jumped a mile. He laughed at Momma then… Daddy could be real funny sometimes.
So Momma swept around the stack of guns and she mopped around them. She hung her apron on the hook right next to them, but she never touched them. Not ever. Just like she told Vickie, guns were for men.
When Vickie saw Momma leaving the house, she knew something was wrong. From her right hand dangled the long, black barrel of a pistol. Momma crossed the yard and disappeared into the black woods, her strides long and even, her head bowed.
Vickie felt something trickle down her spine and she caught her breath, sensing with all the wisdom of a four-year-old that her world was slowly but surely capsizing. For there could be nothing wronger than Momma touching a gun. Momma hated guns, and guns were for men.
And so she followed.
Though it was just after lunchtime, the woods were dark as they always were, the black trees blotting out most of the light over a floor deep in orange pine needles. Vickie followed the path her mother took, arriving at last upon a clearing in which stood their old well, a rounded rim of mossy stones set into a circle and covered by an iron sheet. Here, under the dappled green light, sat Momma dangling the pistol between her knees.
Fascinated and terrified in equal measure, Vickie moved slowly into the circle of green light.
Hearing her approach, Momma’s head jerked up. Her eyes were red, and she looked angry, like she had been crying. “Go back to the house,” Momma said sharply. If she was angry, Vickie didn’t think it was at her. Not this time.
“What’re you doing, Momma?” she asked.
Her Momma was silent for a moment. “Shooting jackrabbits,” she eventually replied.
“Oh,” said Vickie, considering this for a minute. She looked around, and try as she might, she could not see any jackrabbits. “Can I watch?” she asked hopefully, craning her neck this way and that, trying to spot a pair of brown ears in the clearing.
“No,” said Momma, but softer. “Go back to the house.”
Vickie knew she was supposed to mind her Momma. Still, she climbed up onto the well and settled herself next to her mother, swinging her bare feet against the mossy stones. “But, I want to stay with you,” she said, leaning against Momma’s arm and popping a thumb into her mouth.
Momma sighed the deepest sigh she had ever sighed and was quiet for the longest time. “Ok, baby,” she said at length. “You can stay.”
Vickie nuzzled into the soft, sweaty heat of her mother’s arm and sighed, comforted beyond words at the sound of Momma’s breathing and the wind in the trees that drowned out the thump of her own heart in her ears.
© motherhendiaries 2014 all rights reserved
feature photo: Shutterstock