Trouble Brewing

By Kristin Walrod

Mom said, it‘s important for me to serve, and that’s all she said about it, nothing about my dead little brother or Dad’s grief poured into the hood of broken-down cars in our front yard, or about the trouble I was in with the county and school and that other thing. She said that, then packed up and joined the Army, like she’s some eighteen year-old stumbling drunk into the recruitment office downtown and not a mom who’s supposed to serve at home, too. She’d been gone hours, but Dad didn’t budge, his hearing’s not so good, what with the box radio blasting in the garage and people always saying things that he doesn’t like to hear, things like Your payment can’t be late again, Jack, or There‘s no heartbeat anymore or I‘m cutting you off and taking your keys too. So it was no use asking him for a ride, I just nodded at him as I shut the door.

I was early for the bus. I held onto the pole and gave a little swing with my face looking up to the sky. Doing this made me miss the tire swing we had on the old oak tree before it got diseased and the city sent maintenance people to bring it down, limb by limb.

I knew that there wasn’t a lot of my childhood left.

Number fourteen rolled up and sighed. I climbed the steps, put my coins in and found a seat by myself. I pressed my cheek against the cold glass as we drove through Allenstown, past the high school with the new gym where I’d be going next year if I didn’t get in trouble again, past Rick’s Hardware Store, where Dad worked when he was in working shape, and by Star’s Seconds where I’d found that little, black dress I wore to Nate’s dance last month. Finally, the town stopped and the grass began. Yellow, thirsty grass. Tall, weedy grass. Tufts of it and long, rolling fields of it. I pulled the bell when I saw Grandma’s house, a white triangle in the distance, down a dusty driveway.

Grandma heard the bus on the road and was waiting for me on the sloped front porch. She motioned me into her arms, and I accepted her strong hug like I always did. Her kiss on my cheek made a smacking noise.

“Mom’s gone off to the Army,” I said as the screen door thudded behind me. Grandma turned to face me.

“That girl,” she said, shaking her head. “What did I ever do wrong?”

I sat at the kitchen table; Grandma’s coffee was cold and black in her mug across from me.

“Good thing we’ve got you,” she said, “you’re gonna set this family right.”

She smiled and brought down the flour and sugar, and pulled out the fresh eggs and milk from the fridge for us to make cake. I watched as she beat the dough, her thick trunk of a body embracing the bowl as she whipped it round and round. When she turned her back I dipped my pinky into the batter and tried to suck it off before she saw me, but I wasn’t quick enough. She broke into a sly smile and winked at me.

Sitting at Grandma’s table, I wasn’t worrying about Mom going off and killing herself and Dad drinking himself under the car. I wasn’t thinking about how much I missed my brother’s kicks under the table or about the trouble I might have brewing right in my own belly. I trusted Grandma’s words, the way I trusted her hugs.

The kitchen phone rang loudly and Grandma nodded and “uh-huh”ed into the receiver and then unwound the cord and stretched it into the living room, the swinging door shutting behind her, except for the spiraling chord bouncing in the air. The room was warm and the smell of the cake was intoxicating. I knew that Grandma left the room because there was trouble on the line, could be with the bills, could be about Dad, or it could be news about Mom. I liked that she tried to protect me. I knew that there wasn’t a lot of my childhood left and I wanted to protect her from that too. I didn’t bother to eavesdrop, even though I could easily — whatever trouble it was, I’d know of it soon enough. I watched the crows out the window as they lined the telephone wire. They squawked at each other and the line bounced a little as they flapped their wings taking off and landing. I knew they were scanning the field for worms, but I imagined they were sharing the neighborhood gossip. The country out here had ease to it that my life in town did not.

Grandma swung the kitchen door open right as I caught the whiff of a burning smell and saw the smoke coming from the oven. It wasn’t a fire, more of a fog, that I hadn’t noticed as it rolled in. Grandma dropped the phone, grabbed her potholder and opened the oven in one smooth motion. I saw the burnt cake, collapsed like a broken promise, as she plopped it in the sink. Exasperated she turned to me, and yelled, “Mary Beth, what were you thinking?”

I couldn’t find an answer quick. I had been craving that cake, and my thoughts often lead me to dead ends, and plus, Mary Beth is not my name. It’s my mom’s, but Grandma didn’t seem to notice. Anyway, her mistake might have been my mistake too — always looking for the differences between me and Mom, when really we should have been noticing the similarities.

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About Kristin Walrod

Kristin Walrod is a Portland, Oregon-based fiction writer whose stories and essays have appeared in Nervy Girl, Stringtown, Storyglossia and Columbia Gorge Magazine. She has been teaching creative writing in high school and adult settings for over a decade, and serves on the Advisory Council for Portland Arts & Lectures’ Writers in the Schools program and on the board of Sitka Center for Arts & Ecology, a workshop and residency program on the Oregon coast. She is completing her first novel, By Accident.

2 Comments

  1. Vanja Thompson
    Posted March 2015 at 3:38 pm | Permalink

    Gorgeous!

  2. Amalia Gladhart
    Posted July 2015 at 11:45 am | Permalink

    Sharp descriptions, and what an opening. Just reread this one–I’m glad I did.

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