It was humid more than it was hot, but that never mattered to Mimi. In the summers, she’d always be sitting on her porch, rocking gently, a paper fan made by one of her many grandchildren in one hand, a sweating glass of iced tea in the other. She always had company in one form or another, but most often, a flock of children spread in a half-moon rainbow of color on the porch in front of her. The stories she told captivated even the youngest child’s attention and had a way of turning the most active child into a churchmouse so no one ever batted an eye when the children gathered around. The scene set with such peace and beauty no one ever thought to question.
But maybe someone should have. They wouldn’t know what I know, but maybe if someone had taken the time to look beyond the serene setting, I wouldn’t sound so crazy. It was always on a Sunday, and it was only me. And so here are the aromas that conjure for me the beginning of the end: whiskey because thats the water she put in her tea; lilac because the bush overpowered the porch next to the chair she always sat in; and the comforting cherry Papaw always puffed from his pipe on Sunday, especially if it was raining. To this day, I still don’t know why he only smoked cherry on Sunday, or if it was something special he smoked just for me.
You see, some of my memories are hazy, as if someone had slipped me something, and I believe they did, at least in the beginning. In my clearest memory, I’m comfortable with my surroundings. They felt familiar, warm, soothing, despite the dankness of the soil around me.
It wasn’t the front porch, and I could never peg the exact location, even to this day. All I remember is waking up underground, with four dirt walls, dirt floor, and a dirt ceiling that was barely taller than Papaw when he was there. A dirt staircase disappeared behind more dirt but I never had a chance to see what was on the other side. I remember being alone often, a silver stacking shelf that stretched from floor to ceiling my only company. Mason jars lined many of the shelves, their contents as obscure and dark as the room was.Bad things happened in that dark place. Bad things a child should never experience.
I would fall into a deep sleep after bad things happened, and the aroma of cherry tobacco would tickle my nose, waking me. Soon after the lilac would overpower the cherry, and Papaw would saunter crookedly back into the house. Mimi would sit in her chair and rock, crick-crack, crick-crack, the same even pace, and sip on her tea until the whiskey would hit me. Her smile would turn upside-down and the sparkle she reserved for the children would leave her eye. She’d continue rocking, crick-crack, crick-crack, and watching, her eyes tiny arrows piercing my flesh. She’d pull me close, and run her whiskey tipped fingers through my hair.
“Run along home, now, Priscilla,” she’d say, patting my tender bottom as if everything was fine. She’d grab my wrist one last time as I started down the porch steps. “And remember, what happens at Mimi’s stays at Mimi’s.” She’d giggle in that drunkard way and point to her glass before lifting the same finger to her lips. “Shhh!”
As I walked down the steps, her chair would continue crick-crack, crick-crack, and the cherry would suddenly overtake the lilac as I watched the children crunch down the gravel driveway. With a tremble, I’d turn back to look at my abuser. Papaw would raise his pipe to me and exhale through a toothy smile.
“See you next Sunday, ‘Cilla,” he always said, for six summers in a row.
My seventh summer, the year I turned 16, Papaw no longer sat in a rocking chair on the porch next to Mimi. Papaw had taken his final rest in a box buried somewhere in the field behind the house. Uncle Ronnie sat there instead, a sick smile twisted on his fat ape-like face, puffing out cherry just as Papaw had done. Where Papaw was gentle, Ronnie was rough, quick, impatient. He cared nothing for anyone else. No longer was I allowed the sweet release of darkness after the bad things.
And the bad things, they got worse. Ronnie’s pride cost him, though. It was a mistake to leave me aware, because that meant I could escape my temporary prison. With only one jailkeeper, all my wrath mounted behind my fists and fell into my legs. For every bad thing Uncle Ronnie had ever done to me, I returned to him. When my fury was finally spent, I tied him up, just as he and Papaw had done to me for the past six summers and crawled up the steps into the daylight.
Mimi sat there with her glass empty just staring at me like she saw me for the first time. I inhaled deeply. No whiskey carried on the breeze. No lilac taunted my nose, but most of all, for the first time, there was no sweet, woodsy cherry tobacco to wake me from my dream.
They say I’m still dreaming.
I started with InMon challenge, letting the prompts marinate in my head (destiny in the gut), then I put my son on the bus this morning and my muse ran me over in her brand new semi (Did she borrow it from a trucker protesting in DC I wonder?) when I took a hard look at my front porch, and this story emerged, in conjunction with the Master Class assignment (from The Law of Similars by Chris Bohjalian: and so here are the aromas that conjure for me the beginning of the end: ________ because that’s the oil she put in the defuser) for this week. I took some liberties with the last line because it fit the story better (and it’s okay).
It’s been a while, and it felt soooo good to just sit and write and let the words flow.
So, I hope you enjoyed reading as much as I enjoyed writing. In fact, if you could share your enjoyment in a comment and let me know your thoughts (Critique, too) I would be grateful. I’m always open to honest feedback.
Thanks for stopping in!