- An Art
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[End Page 116]
We'll hide here," my sister Helen said, and pulled me onto a bed of pine straw under the fence at the edge of the ditch. We watched my mother drive slowly through the puddles of our driveway. The rainwater sprayed out from the tires. My mother looked straight ahead, at the house. She'd left us home alone, which she rarely did, to pick up the mail in Dixie. The mail carrier had died of a brain aneurysm, and they hadn't found a replacement yet. It had taken no more than twenty minutes for my mother to make the trip. My older brother, Hal, had smeared ketchup on the floor of the front room, smudged a wad of his own dark hair and several strands [End Page 117] of my sister's along the edges, and run out the back door. He was hiding in the tractor-shed yard.
My mother parked the car in front of the house, at a diagonal to accommodate the overgrown azaleas. She yelled hello as she stepped out of the car and made her way toward the front door. She had the mail in her hand. "Shh," my sister said, though I had said nothing. "She's about to see it." We were looking out from behind the unclipped grapevine. Everything in my life in those days seemed overgrown. My sister's hair teased my knee. She had her arm around me. Her breath smelled like cigarettes. "Shh."
Our mother was at the steps, then on the porch—we saw her white hair through the screen—and then she opened the heavy door and disappeared.
* * *
"It's not major," Dr. Parsons said and laid his stethoscope on the table. "At least, we'll hope it isn't. But we need to watch her for a day. We'll admit her."
"Oh, my god," Helen said. She sniffled, hitched her arm up and wiped her nose on the shoulder of her T-shirt. "We did this." She looked at Hal.
"Wow," he said, and took my mother's hand in his. She lay on the table. A wedge of gauze was taped above her left eye. Her right eye was turned toward us. She said nothing.
* * *
When she saw the ketchup, which she had taken for blood as we had hoped she would, she had fallen and hit her head on the iron doorstop. She had suffered a concussion, from which she did indeed recover. The gash had taken six stitches. That put a stop to our pranks for about six months.
But the pranks began again. My mother found someone else's mangled bumper hanging off the front end of our Ford. This was supposed to be funny, and I believed it was. I was eight, but even in my child's heart it hurt to see my mother's face redden, her voice crack, and tears gather in her eyes. She pleaded with us to stop, grew angry and threatened to take the whole lot of us to a psychiatrist. Nevertheless, we jumped out from aisles in the grocery store, woke her in the night to say a coon was in the bedroom, told her bill collectors were on the phone, pretended to burn ourselves on the hearth, [End Page 118] and produced sounds in the back seat that made her think something was wrong with the car.
One afternoon my mother came out of the bank after trying to borrow money for Helen's wedding. (Helen was pregnant; it was necessary, but I did not know any of that then, only that she was getting married.) It was a brutally hot day. The bank's lawn was brown. There was a yoke of sweat on my mother's shirt. A piece of hard candy had melted on the dash. I had instructed my little brother, Lance, who was six, to lie on the back seat of the car. One of his legs hung limp over the side of the seat.
"He passed out," I said to my mother. "I...