For August, Emilio Pasquale provided the following photo that I used as inspiration for a story. If you haven’t already, you should check out his blog – he knows how to edit photos (I, on the other hand, do not!) The story begins after the photo…
Ramona Schmidt dragged her index finger through the inches-thick layer of snow on the truck’s hood. Like her heart, the snow had frozen, thawed, and been refrozen so many times. Like her soul, that rusty truck held enough memories to haunt several lifetimes.
“Mama, won’t you come inside?”
Ramona didn’t respond.
“She’s been standing out there for over an hour,” Paula said to her husband.
“Maybe she just needs some time.”
“She’ll freeze to death. It must be twenty degrees out there.”
“She’s wearing a coat.”
Paula scowled. “There’s no talking to her.”
Ramona frowned. Since her husband, Davy, had turned up missing sometime after the leaves colored and before the naked trees stood stark on the horizon, her daughter and son-in-law came to live with her. Whispers of dementia carried through thin walls; slow words delivered by raised voices. The way they talked about her like she wasn’t there infuriated her. She slipped a cigarette from the pack stowed in her right coat pocket. With her left hand she clicked the lighter and brought the flame to the tip of the cigarette pressed between her lips, taking in a long drag as the tobacco smoldered.
“Mama, I think you should come inside.” Paula draped an arm over her mom’s bony shoulders. She glanced at her husband- he nodded and headed toward the house.
Exhaled smoke escaped in tendrils. “I’m fine here.” Ramona fought the urge to shrug off her daughter’s condescending touch.
“The man is coming to look at the truck in about an hour.”
Ramona brushed her fingers along the exposed rust. That truck was already several years old when Davy brought it home. She’d never forget how he showed up that evening and said he wanted to take a mining job in Idaho. She didn’t understand why he couldn’t just mine copper in Arizona.
“If you’ve changed your mind about selling it, I can let him know.”
Ramona pursed her lips. “Winds change, minds don’t.” Eyes closed, she lifted her chin. As if on cue, another gust whipped a layer of fallen snow into the air. Her wrinkled cheeks, a topographical map of her years, stung from the latest assault. Her skin had grown dry from the hours spent outdoors at the mercy of an unforgiving winter. “My heart has gone dry from years of neglect.” She flicked her spent cigarette filter and ground it into the frozen hay with the toe of her fur-lined leather slipper.
“What?” Her daughter leaned closer. “What do you mean?”
“Thy will be done,” Ramona said with a shrug. She didn’t realize her ideas had translated to spoken words. She stayed immersed in the space between, where memories and new thoughts commingled in her brain. More and more, it became difficult to differentiate between real and manufactured history. The permeable line separating thoughts and words diminished with each passing day. She giggled. “Incontinence of the mind.”
“Okay, mama, you need to come inside. I think the cold is affecting you.” Paula tugged her mother in the direction of the house.
Ramona swatted her away. “That first winter in Idaho was hard. No family, no money, no friends, but lots of snow.” I didn’t realize it would get worse; that I’d lay awake and ruminate on those days with distant fondness. “Davy tried to be everything for me, but I still cried every night.” After a couple years, he gave up and took on two mistresses- Jim Beam and Nattie Richards. “By the grace of God, he blessed me with a daughter.”
“I love you, Mama.” Paula didn’t know what else to say.
“That truck brought us everything we needed, but it also drove him away. He promised he’d always come back.”
“Maybe he found his way to a neighbor’s house. He could still come home.” Even as Paula uttered the words, she didn’t believe them. He disappeared before the first snow. Now, months later, she knew better.
“I called my daddy and begged him to bring me home. He said this was my home now and I’d have to sleep in the bed I’d made.” I slept alone many nights, knowing full well that he warmed Nattie’s mattress. I pretended not to be shattered when she bore two sons. “Over the years, I wondered where the line fell between love and obligation. Still don’t know that one… don’t know…”
“Mama, I’m going inside to warm by the fire. I wish you’d come with me.” She waited several seconds before retreating.
Ramona’s thoughts stalled, momentarily dwelling on the fading footsteps.
“She won’t budge,” Paula said to her husband, who had waited on the porch.
“Maybe she’s not ready to let go of the truck.”
“She still wants to sell it.”
“What else did she say?”
“Not much. Just rambling about when she first moved to Idaho. Something about love and obligation.”
“Hmmm.” He furrowed his brow. “Did you ask her what she meant?”
“I don’t think she knows.”
Their voices stopped, abruptly cut off by the front door closing behind them.
Ramona smiled. I know. Too much. “They talk about me like I don’t understand.” Davy thought I was so far gone I couldn’t comprehend the obvious. Like a parent spelling words in front of a toddler, he figured I didn’t know enough to see her sitting in that truck. I’d never forget Nattie’s face, even as it aged throughout the years.
She lifted a rusted can of gasoline from the truck bed. “Like mistresses, secrets can only be kept for so long,” she muttered to herself. Her gaze lingered on the haphazard stack of hay. “No one listens to me anymore.” She turned and trudged through the snow toward the house. “But they’ll pay attention at first thaw, I’m sure.”
Voices carried through the single-paned windows.
“Don’t you think you’re being a little harsh, Paula?”
“Figures you’d take her side!”
“There isn’t a side to take.”
Ramona walked around the house, gasoline splashing from the spout onto the wood siding. When she came full circle, she emptied the remaining drops at her feet and leaned against her house. She dropped the gas can and it toppled onto its side. Hands trembling, she slipped a cigarette from her right pocket. She pulled the lighter from her left pocket, thumb poised to ignite it.
“Everyone’ll talk, but I won’t be listening.”
Inspiration for this piece: Obviously, Emilio’s photo 🙂 Being that that the truck in the photo is old (don’t ask me how old, or what kind of truck) my mind thought it would be a perfect ‘vehicle’ (haha) for a story full of memories.
My first idea was about a woman who had killed her husband (don’t read anything into this, folks!) Another idea was to write about two young sisters, one of which had killed their abusive father. I didn’t go that route because I was drawn to the idea of the woman suffering from dementia, which works better with an older character. I wanted to write a story where things aren’t as they seem. We (those of us outside the mind of dementia) don’t understand what the person is saying, so we make assumptions. A disturbing possibility is that what others see as dementia is really more of a coping mechanism.
The twisted ending with the gasoline, well, that just happened at the last minute. I hope my Google search of “will gasoline ignite in the snow” doesn’t land me in trouble. Perhaps they will offer counseling while I’m in police custody? 😛