That Mama from Issue 91/92
After the neighbor boys shot me in the arm and ass with two BB bullets, Mama called the police. Mama and the mothers of the neighbor boys gathered on the street between the two patrol cars, hands on thick waists, and yelled at each other. The police pushed on the women’s shoulders, told them to quiet down. Mama screeched, They aimed at her. The mothers stabbed the air with their cigarettes: Boys just playing. Even through the towels, my arm and ass dripped burnt blood.
At supper, Mama said all boys are jerks, and not just in Ohio either. Best you know now. That night, she played Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline” on loop. I wanted the song to stop, the day to end. Mama kept looking at me on my bed and asking if her sweet Caroline felt all right. I pretended to fall asleep. Pretended to dream I was riding a white horse with enormous wings.
Sometime after I turned twelve people stopped calling me Caroline and took to calling me Blue, even Mama. On account of my eyes, like blue nights. Blue or no Blue, though, whenever Mama drank late into the night she still played “Sweet Caroline” non-stop on her granddaddy’s Old Masters gramophone and called out for her baby girl. Hell, the whole world’s blue. She’d laugh like she was shaking out of herself.
When I hit sixteen, Mama said with my voice and looks I could make it big in country music. Said country told a story with every song, said she could tell me all I’d ever need to know about heartache, said that’s the material. Now that Loretta Lynn. Mama talked of taking me to Nashville, her voice gravelly with wonder and whisky. First, though, we’d go to Graceland, pay our respects. That Elvis, he could sing anything. She’d break into “Love Me Tender.” Then snort from behind her curtain of hair, no longer able to hold her head up over her whisky. What the hell we all been waiting for? She’d raise her smudged glass and point with her trigger finger at my scarred ass. Cowboys.
In the hospice, shortly after I’d turned eighteen, the nurse said women were dying too young nowadays with the breast cancer, said she thought it had to do with all those nuclear reactors, said Mama was calling out for someone by the name of Caroline. Nurse laughed, said Mama was calling out, too, for Neil Diamond and Loretta Lynn and Elvis Presley. She said Mama had bruises since she’d last turned her three hours ago, said it wouldn’t be long now. The aerosol hissed the fake smell of flowers. After the nurse left Mama and me alone, I sang “Burning Ring of Fire.” I swear Mama smiled.
The next year, out back of a bar in Austin, inside a blue Honda, the guy sang the first line and chorus of “You Picked a Fine Time to Leave Me Lucille.” He said, That Kenny Rogers. Said, a blue car for a girl named Blue. He laughed and triggered a coughing jag. He apologized, said he couldn’t remember the words of the song, couldn’t get it up neither. I sang the Kenny Rogers song in full. He wiped at his eyes, said people just don’t sing like that anymore. I said Mama taught me. His leathered fingers stroked the bullet scar on my arm, said he reckoned those neighbor boys liked me. Jerks. He said he wanted to keep me. I closed my eyes, let his words ring.