Based on The Tent Delivery Woman’s Ride
Prompt: What do these texts suggest to you about the impact significant events have on an individual’s ability to determine their own destiny?
Mother was like a coiled rope thrown in the back of a truck – a mess of twisted fibres. Abrasive and frayed at the ends was she, but just as determined to bear unreasonable loads as her three-ply would allow. She was a sallow, wiry woman – hard to hold, harder to love, but easy to respect. And she liked the way she was just fine.
With her as the sole architect, our small family was pitched like a temporary building. Like a tent. It was only her taught-rope support that held the billows of familial canvas aloft. Perhaps she saved us with her rigidity, but perhaps she was the reason our fabric wore so thin, so fast.
All this reminiscence runs through my head as my Ford and I clunk across the border-line, back to Alabama. After twenty-five years I’m going back home. Home. Back to the untended acreage of my small, fragile childhood. To the place where I last saw my mother’s heel sweeping out across the house’s threshold.
I think of that moment often – scuffed suede ankle-boots, a ripped storm-door clanging, an engine turning over, a cloud of dust issuing from a storm moving further and further from me. I was fifteen.
I don’t know how long I waited at the kitchen table, looking past the porch through grimy glass, half-hoping to see her dust storm reverse its steps up our driveway, half-hoping I’d never see it again. I never did see that cloud roll up to the house, even after two months of growing desperation. And after exactly two months, I finally made a choice. Taking my destiny into my own hands, I thought. I locked the door behind me.
Right after one of our arguments, I always felt so alive. Hot blood coursed through my temples and my usually ice-cold fingertips were radiating heat like an engine after a long drive. But after my pulse ebbed, regret always began to flood my veins. Usually that too faded, eventually, but this time, regret flowed through me like cold syrup. I felt gummed up from the inside, cold and stiff. And that damned sludge in me never left. Even still, I think, only in the heat of argument does that molten lead in me thaw out. Perhaps that’s why Maggie and I are always –
My thoughts stop short. As if pulled here by an invisible rope, one steadily tugged by a ghostly pair of hands, my truck had found its way right back to the old driveway. This was the spot my mother used to park her Corsica. The grass underneath in that patch is still dead, I see. Something like a flying ember lodges in my throat. After twenty-five years you’d think the grass would grow back.
I pull up beside the dead patch and shift into park. Sitting in the dark like that, I suddenly hear how quiet the night is without an engine running. My mind is blank; I realise I am not breathing. I should go inside. Yes, I should. So I pull on the door handle and step out into the night.
Once I’m up on the porch, I kick my suede boots off at the door step – out of habit I guess. I try the handle, expecting it to be locked. After twenty-five years- but it swings right open.
I’m in the kitchen now, overcome by a feeling don’t understand. Moonlight streams through the window, casting four little rectangles upon the kitchen table. Dust dances around me like an army of ballerinas, caught up mid-performance by some great tornado. I see, on the corner of the table, a small piece of yellowed paper with faded writing on it. Apprehensively, I approach, pick it up, see the date, the name at the bottom and suddenly something tangibly thick snaps.
I am on my knees sobbing and sobbing and my hands shake so hard I can hardly see the paper in front of me. With hot, molten fury tears splatter on the letter. It is from my mother. And my hands knead at my face as I struggle to read the words she had written. She came back. Her words are running through me like lava and I am heaving, choking on my own tears. Her letter said she was frantically looking for me, that she had regret, such regret. She had come home and found me nowhere. She had left the note there, hoping I’d come home and find it. It was dated. Two months and one day from when I had last seen her walk out the door. I had missed her by a day. One day and then a lifetime after that. Looking up from the taught letter, stretched between balled fists, I see my own suede boots on the porch outside through the open front door and I am awash with guilt.
Right then, my own baby, my Maggie’s face comes to me. I see her back at home, all alone. She is only fifteen. I left her, all alone. I told myself it was just the heat of the moment. I’ve been gone for a week. A week to make this pilgrimage back to the place where I think I lost my soul. I am no different from my own mother. I tried so hard to forge something different for my girl, something new – our own destiny. And now I see mother must have tied a rope around my ankle. When she and her Corsica stormed out my life, she must have dragged a part of me in tow. She has been dragging me my whole life; I’ve never made a decision without conceding to a tug from her ropes. Maggie, my girl, I am so sorry. A dread begins to fill me – what if I come home and she isn’t there.
I rush to my truck, leaving my own suede shoes on the mat – there is no time. I must get home to Maggie – Oh God. As I rev the engine, I feel as though something around my heart has loosened, like some kind of knot unravelling. With each mile closer to my baby girl, I feel a new cord pulling me forward – more strongly that before. This, finally, is my choice: I will not be this tangled woman any longer.