Dirt Farmer by Mel McCuddin
Take It or Leave It
We were dirt farmers.
The littlest kids wore hand-me-down clothes. Four boys slept head-to-toe in one big bed. Being the only girl, I had my own room.
Sunrise to sunset, Daddy worked the fields. Mended fences and pulled wrenches. He always had busted knuckles and furrowed brow. There wasn’t a night, however, that Daddy didn’t sneak in to kiss our sleepy heads before retiring to his chair with his pipe and steaming mug of tea.
Mum kept the root cellar stocked with shiny glass jars of pickles, beets, carrots, jams, and sauces. We didn’t realize as kids just how lucky we were to eat home-grown food. Have freshly-baked bread at each meal. If any of my siblings dared to be picky about food, Mum had a ready reply that ended any further argument:
“You kids have got two choices: You can take it, or you can leave it.”
I was up early on a Saturday morning as it was my turn to milk cows. Mum was standing in front of the kitchen window, kneading bread dough. Faraway look in her eyes. The golden sun was just stretching over the horizon and gilded her wheat-colored hair. Her face was suffused with a rosy glow.
I saw, for the first time, just how beautiful my mum was. I realised, too, that she was not entirely happy with her lot in life. This deeply unsettled me. Bernie Bartleson’s parents divorced last year and he had to move away to the city with his mother. I hated the city.
I wanted to throw my arms around Mum’s thick waist and press my face against her bosom like I did when I was little. I wanted to reassure her and be reassured. I didn’t hug her, though. Now, of course, I wish I had.
A limp-necked hen, still dressed in feathers, was on the kitchen table waiting to be plucked and roasted. Its glassy eye stared at me in reproach when I whined at Mum: “Chicken for dinner again?”
I knew what Mum’s reply would be. She’d been saying it to herself for years.
Art by Mica Angela Hendricks
The Good Daughter
Her mother’s house was always cold, but tonight it felt especially so. Emma didn’t bother removing her parka upon arriving. January’s deep freeze had settled into the bones of the old house.
Emma always stopped by her mother’s house on the way home from work. There was little enticement for doing so, like a plate of freshly-baked cookies or a warm hug, but it helped her to sleep at night knowing that she had at least checked on her aging mother’s welfare.
Typically, there was a fifteen-minute bitch session as her mother complained about the neighbour’s dog pooping in her yard.
Then, five minutes of fighting to take her mother’s blood glucose test.
Another ten minutes spent looking for bottles of scotch she may have hidden around the house.
Five minutes to heat up her dinner in the microwave.
Take the trash out when she leaves. Don’t let the door hit her in the ass on her way out.
The floorboards creaked under Emma’s feet as she walked through the kitchen. The 1970’s era refrigerator murmured something unintelligible.
At 6:45 PM, it was dark. No beacon of light shining from the TV. The cigarette smoke clinging to the air smelled stale. Odd. Her mother was a chain smoker. Pack-and-a-half a day habit.
Emma flicked on the ceiling light. The ashtray on the coffee table was only half-full.
She sighed at the thought of her mother passed out drunk somewhere in the house. It wouldn’t be the first time. Up the creaky stairs to check the bathroom.
No plump woman wearing a floral polyester muumuu dress could be found hugging the porcelain in the gaudy green bathroom.
That ghostly feeling that had been haunting her manifested. Emma’s skin broke out in goosebumps that had nothing to do with her chill. Her stomach griped and, for a moment, she contemplated using the toilet.
She had not enjoyed a close mother-daughter relationship. Theirs was one of mutual tolerance and only because the arrangement was of benefit to them both.
Mothers Day was always a dreaded farce. She could never find the right card that said “Happy Mother’s Day. Here’s a card to say how grateful I am that you pushed me out of your vagina. Thanks for reminding me every day how much you hate being a parent and what a pain in the ass I am.”
Emma supposed it was quite normal to feel like vomiting at the prospect of finding one’s mother expired in her bed. As Emma stood outside her bedroom door, she took several deep breaths before calling out: “Mom? You in there?”
She held her breath, waiting for her mother’s raspy reply. Emma hoped to hear her tell her to go away and leave her alone.
Nothing but the sound of her own rapid pulse.
‘Just give me a squeak of bed springs. A snore, a fart – any noise would be reassuring,’ Emma thought.
Her hand trembled as she pushed the bedroom door lightly. It swung open with a squeal of dry hinges.
In the faintest streetlight coming through the open curtains, she saw a pile of strewn polyester lilies on the bed.
Emma crept into the room. The urge to vomit had subsided. Now her chest felt like it was being squeezed. She sat gingerly on the side of the sagging bed.
Her mother’s lips appeared black in the faint light. Eyes like black marbles.
“Goddammit, Mom,” Emma whispered.
There was a large photo album beside her on the bed. Her mother’s pale hand across it.
Emma’s breath was shallow. Her chest burned. Golf ball in her throat. She took a deep breath in and let it out slowly. Her mother’s powdery fragrance wafted to her nostrils. She focused on that familiar and comforting scent before turning on the bedside lamp.
The album was open and a picture was partially pulled away from the sticky backing. A black and white photo of Emma and her mother. She must have been about five or six years old. Riding carousel horses. Huge smiles. Her mom was pretty back then. Emma touched the black and white faces. She didn’t think she had smiled like that since. Certainly not with such obvious pleasure in her mother’s company.
Her vision blurred with tears and blurred memories now came sharply into focus. She had a noetic revelation: It wasn’t her fault. It wasn’t even her mother’s fault. Generations of family dysfunction had come full circle. Her mother had loved her the best she could, in her own way. Her mother had just been one of those sad and broken human beings. Life had not been kind to her. Her ex-step-father had not been kind.
She had not been a good mother, but now instead of blame, Emma felt sorry for her. Tears fell hot down her cold cheeks as she sat in that cold house beside her cold, dead mother. She grieved for herself, too, for the little girl who tried so hard to be Mommy’s good girl, yet always seemed to fall short.
She could forgive her mother now. And maybe now Emma would be good enough.
M. Irene Hill is a former newspaper reporter/social worker/chief cook and bottle washer who writes prose from her little home on the Canadian Prairies. She collects cats and enjoys writing haiku. Her flash fiction and poetry has been published in print anthologies and online at Flash Fiction Magazine; 365 Tomorrows; Speculative 66; The Drabble; Drabblez Magazine; Paragraph Planet. You can follow her on Twitter @_Irene_Dreams_.