“Smoking Demon,” by Leslie C. Youngblood

Inside our lime-green Buick Regal, Mama hid from God. She had promised the Holy Rock Baptist Church and sworn directly to Him three weeks before that she’d stop smoking. On the night of her vow our short, stocky pastor jumped like he had caught the Holy Spirit right there in the center of his ring-cladhand. Then he smacked his palm across Mama’s high forehead, drenched with honey-colored sweat, to rebuke her “smoking demon.”

“Out! Out!” he demanded while the first lady, an easy five inches taller than Pastor Tuttles and draped in white, loomed over the two of them, her arms flapping like a trapped bird’s wings.

Mama’s neck snapped back and her arms flung up above her head. She was trembling, as if the spirit had leaped from his hand and burrowed its way through her full, winding frame; she chased it as though she wanted to leave us and go to God that second, springing in the air, her beige slip peeking from underneath a peach-colored dress.

“Hallelujah,” she yelped each time her feet hit the floor. Mama was the halleluiah type. “Halleluiah!” she cried to her girlfriend two months ago when Daddy was called back to work after “laying his lazy ass around all day.” “Halleluiah!” when she stuffed his gray metal lunch box with a tube of Ritz crackers and two cans of Dr. Thunder cola and thick bologna sandwiches, not bothering to remove the red tape from the edges. “Halleluiah!” after she forced me to take a pregnancy test because I’d vomited one morning from her meatloaf, though I pleaded with her that a boy had never stuck it in. As I peed on the stick in our bathroom that smelled of Daddy’s Magic Shave and Comet, she slammed pots around and mumbled her mantra of “I’m not raising no babies…” that I’d learned long before memorizing the Pledge of Allegiance. “Halleluiah!” she hollered when she saw the minus sign, plucking it from my hands began fanning the air with it like an impatient nurse shaking down one of those old mercury thermometers.

When the first lady and a deaconess had mollified Mama, she wrapped her arms around herself like a straightjacket, her breasts oozing up, and she screeched God’s name with such crescendo that He would be unjust not to answer. As if that wasn’t enough to close out the scene, she kicked her leg up and collapsed on the emerald green carpet that it had taken the church nearly two years to save for, another six months to install. I tipped forward in the pew to make sure not too much of her breasts were exposed. With her silver cross necklace thrown to the side, the silk dress we’d picked up from Marshall’s the night

before was trying to contain her breasts. Though they bubbled from the scooped neckline, just the fleshy part was visible, round and smooth like a baby’s bottom. Then I checked to see if the bun she’d pinned to the back of her head that morning was intact, and if her stockings were free of runs. I knew she’d want to know.

As I took mental notes my six-year old brother, Noah, with his eyes squeezed close and his lips tooted up to his nose, steadily drummed the air with his stubby fingers clanging imaginary cymbals along with the drummer boy who was tucked away in the corner of the church bouncing in his seat mouthing words that didn’t fit with the sanctity of the occasion. During most of the service Noah had been rocking side to side like Ray Charles bumping against my shoulder each second. When I was used to that, he switched to a back and forth motion, knocking his head against the pew in front of him. Like a steel bar I flung my skinny arm across him, and he went back to his drumming and Ray Charles sway.

As usual Daddy was unaffected. Randomly flipping through his Lucky Numbers Dream book, which he had tucked inside the pages of the hymnal, he slouched his six foot one frame in the pew with his head tilted, the too-short sleeves of his overcoat exposing his hairy wrists.

Not even glimpsing as Mama curled into a fetal position, and the pastor hawked that was a sign of her being born again, my father ran his index finger along each line of the Lucky Numbers Dream book. He did it in a jerking motion. The same start-stop way he’d examine the household bills Mama slid in the kitchen table fruit bowl, the envelops sticking out between our wooden bananas, apples and pears.

Even after one of our neighbors, Sister Hansen, let out a whoop that went swirling through the church like a cyclone; choir members were whirling around like out-of-control tops; drummer boy began kicking his beats up a notch; most of the church was bouncing around like jacks, and Noah was banging his head against my shoulder on an offbeat, my father simply sighed, clicked his red, Welcome to Piggly Wiggly’s pen, with its picture of a pig wearing a chef’s hat, put an asterisk on the number 654 and dog- eared the page.

“Won’t the Buttericks join us? Come up and help us pray over your loved one,” Pastor Tuttles shouted. I grabbed Noah’s hand out of the air and nudged Daddy, who snatched his dream book out of the hymnal and jammed it halfway into his pocket. The three of us held hands and went slinking along the aisle like linked paper-people cutouts to the altar, where Mama was still squirming on the floor, a stark white blanket with a red embroidered cross thrown across her “show stoppers,” her black patent-leather pumps pointing upward. The pastor raised his hand above his head. Brimming with sweat his V-shaped hairline glistened, the thinnest parts dotted with three pimple-sized moles. With every word he spoke his arms flounced about, the maroon, crush-velvet robe wrinkling like loose skin.

“Dear God, look after Sister Madeline Butterick as she releases to you her every fault, every weakness. Help her know that a life closer to You, more pleasing to You, is the only life worth living. We pray that anything impure in her life You take out, and do with it what You will. Oh God, in Your name we pray that her family embraces, supports and comforts her as she tries to shake the smoking demon and any other impurities that may be dwelling in her heart but didn’t fall out of her lips this evening. All this we pray in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen,” he said and scratched the furlike mustache that nearly hid his top lip.

Although I wanted Mama to stop smoking Daddy was the main reason we were there. He’d been on her case for years, saying we needed to save on medical insurance. Some days she’d do well, only smoke one or two cigarettes, orange glow lighting my way around the house. But without one she was jumpy, fidgety, had no idea what do to with her hands. When she smoked she fluttered her arms, the smoke curved and round like her body. As a child I used to imitate her smoking with paper-wrapped gum cigarettes that left my jaws sore and my pink and brown lips looking as if someone had outlined them with white chalk. Never as sexy or beautiful as Mama but wanting to be.

Mama was standing now and two deaconesses had their swollen arms around her and were swaying, crushing her between them. Pastor Tuttles stepped up and hugged Mama, then did an about face and started marching down the aisle toward me. Rivulets of sweat darkened his maroon robe and made it look like corduroy rubbed the wrong way. Daddy let go of my hand but Noah held on to me tighter, as if

he was afraid we’d be sucked into the maroon cloud headed our way. Noah had come into this world two and a half months early and left a brother behind. The day Noah and Mama were released from the hospital she swaddled him in one of the dozens of sky-blue jumpers from her baby shower and carried him home. The closet in Noah’s room was stacked with unworn clothing, unopened gifts—since Mama had

been expecting twins, she got twice as much of everything. “I’m Nicky. I’m sorry. I mean Pastor Tuttles. I’m Nicole Butterick,” I stammered. I released Noah’s

hand and shook the pastor’s. He pulled me close. “You don’t have to introduce yourself young lady. Been knowing you most of your life. Just help

your daddy here, look after your mama, now,” he said, and reaching sideways rustled Noah’s wooly hair. After Pastor Tuttles acknowledged my “Yes, sir,” with a nod of his head, he went strolling over to

Daddy and shook his hand. But after he shook it, he grabbed Daddy’s shoulders and pulled him close to hug him, too. Towering over Pastor Tuttles, Daddy stooped over and the Lucky Numbers Dream book with its cover of a smiling leprechaun, holding a four-leaf clover and clicking his heels atop a glimmering pot of gold, went floating to the green carpet, eventually landing in a spread-eagle at Pastor Tuttles’ feet.

*** “You stupid ass! Why in the hell would you bring that damn dream book to church?” Mama yelled

on our way to the Golden Corral. Holding the steering wheel like a newly minted driver, Daddy kept his eyes on the road while Mama hurled insults at him that whizzed by quicker than road signs. “How in the hell am I supposed to show my face back at Holy Rock again, huh? They talking about it right now. Right now,” she said and folded her arms with a huff. “Who picked up that book anyway, Frank? Tell me who picked it up?” Turning up the radio, Daddy made a sharp left turn into the herd of cars outside the Golden Corral. “I’ll tell you who picked it up, the pastor himself, that’s who. The pastor, Frank. Don’t that beat all? You couldn’t at least been quick enough to catch it or put your big, clunky ass feet over it. You let Pastor Tuttles pick it up.” Her head whirled around to me in the back seat. “And you weren’t quick enough either, huh? Just let it lay on the floor like it was a handkerchief or something. Are you listening to me?”

“Yes, ma’am,” I mumbled. She paused, then swatted her forehead.

“Oh Lord! Did Sister Hansen see it? She turned back to me. I shrugged my shoulders. “I know Sister Hansen saw it. If it wasn’t meant to be seen, she saw. You better believe she’s gonna tell folks who ain’t even born yet. Jehovah Himself could have come down here, picked it up and less people would have heard about it.”

“This is where you want to eat, right?” Daddy said.

“Now you’re talking? That’s all you got to say? ‘This is where you want to eat,’ that’s it? You embarrass me to the point where I can’t show my face around there no more and that’s it?”

“Maddy, you ain’t been to Holy Rock in three or four months. I see half that church playing the numbers when I go to cash my check on Fridays. Let’s eat.” Mama flipped down the mirror on the visor and patted her face with a chestnut-colored sponge, then raked her hand across her hair, forcing a few loose strands back into her bun.

“That’s beside the point,” she said and puckered her lips before gliding on reddish orange lipstick. “Is this okay?” Daddy said again and shifted the car in park. “We’re at this pig’s trough now. What’s the difference? You knew when you turned down Gilbert

this was where you were heading,” she said and flicked the visor up. It hit the roof as Daddy shoved the door open.

“Nicky, check your brother’s nose,” Mama shouted back to me. As soon as she said it, he snapped his neck backward as if it were broken, pulled the skin down around his lips and flared his nostrils. “And put some lotion on his ashy face. No, matter of fact, use this. Here,” she said, opening the glove compartment and poking a tub of Vaseline at me. “I nearly fell out again when I saw how ashy his face was. What you let him do before ya’ll left home, waddle in a tub of flour? For goodness sake, you’re old enough to get him ready and meet me at the church without him looking like Casper the Ghost. Did you even try to pick out his nappy hair? It looks like he’s been wandering through Jerusalem or something. Here,” she said again. This time jabbing a black pick at me with metal teeth. Noah rammed his head at me like a bull.

“Let’s go, Maddy, place gonna be closed ‘bout the time you finish nagging.” He was standing in the newly paved parking lot, shaking his pants leg.

“You ain’t heard nagging yet,” she said, jiggling her breasts in her bra, slapping them underneath and doing another quick jiggle before opening the door. The end of the silver cross I gave her last Christmas nestled in her cleavage. No matter what she wore, it had to have a vent for them to “breath.” Once, Mama left the bathroom at Holy Rock while I was still in one of the stalls. Sister Hansen, who kept her blouses buttoned up to her chubby neck, then pinned them with a rose-shaped broach, said “She don’t ever put those things away.” When I came out of the stall I only saw the back of her wide behind, though some evenings, she didn’t know, I saw more than that.

Within minutes we were in what looked like a gymnasium with rows of steamy glass-covered food receptacles and gaggles of unsupervised children piling mounds of food on their plates for fun. Adults schlepped heavy stomachs and thick thighs toward the food banks, their faces glistening with sweat.

“If she looks at you funny, don’t you say nothing,” Mama snapped at me.

“Two adults, two children,” Daddy drawled to the cashier who had a dirty blonde beehive of hair. I tucked in my shirt and puffed my chest out. She smacked her gum and plunked the total key without a second look. I was three months shy of fourteen. Just once I wanted a cashier to call for a supervisor to dispute my age. Rummaging through her purse for some coupons, Mama didn’t notice my attempts to call us out. Had she, it probably would have just produced a laugh. A few weeks back she’d caught me poking my bare buds in the mirror.

“Nick, might as well get used to not having a big pair. You take after your father’s side. Them tight-fisted heifers can pass for boys from the neck down.”

We gravitated toward a square table in the back of the restaurant, no highchairs or booster seats in sight and as far away from the restrooms as possible. Conveniently, Daddy had hurried off to the bathroom before Mama could bark any more orders at him. As I hauled Noah up to fix his plate he rotated his head taking in the people as if he were in Disneyland, though he’d never been. He was only beginning to do well around crowds. One year at Country Road Buffet he threw a tantrum grand enough to rush a candy-bearing manager to our table. When Noah and I came back to the table, a waitress with thin lips and a red rash across her face like a brushstroke was wiping down our table with disinfectant per Mama’s

instructions. That was nothing new. Mama lugged a can of Lysol in her purse and never hesitated to whip it out.

“What is the purpose of sending you up there with him?” she said to me while Noah crammed an entire baby chicken leg in his mouth. “You plop more food on his plate than you can carry.”

*** Saturdays Daddy worked overtime, or “under-time” Mama said. After he was laid off from Piggly Wiggly’s

meat department, we’d take a family drive on Saturday mornings and eat a picnic lunch. Watching the town mosey by, Mama would frown at Betty the six-foot red-lipped dancing fish balanced on a curled fin, as if it hadn’t been the landmark in front of Nate’s Bait and Tackle before I was born. Sometimes she’d ask Daddy to drive us to Atlanta, but he griped about the traffic on I-85 and the price of gas and came up with a myriad other reasons not to go before concluding: “You know, the boy can’t stand to be in the car too long.” So we usually ended up driving to Lakebottom, even though there wasn’t a lake there anymore. Our grandfather was on the team of men who’d drained it, Daddy reminded us.

“How many times you gonna tell us that same damn story, Frank? My God, didn’t your daddy do more than just drain water out of some piss-poor lake?”

“Just reminding them of history is all. Which is more than I can say you do when you cart them off to Atlanta to do whatever you do there. Did you pack the ham?”


“You know I did. You saw me slicing it seconds before we left. What else would I have done with

“I’ll be ready for a sandwich as soon as we find a spot.”

“We go to the same damn fly-infested pavilion every time. You act like you’re paying rent there. We can’t try some other place?”

Despite their bickering, I still enjoyed our family outings. The white, freshly starched and ironed table cloth would cover the picnic table like the altar linen on Communion Sunday. All of our sandwiches would be halved with the edges of the bread skillfully shaven off. Mama brought cans of Dr. Thunder. We knew not to drink out of them, but to peel the newspaper padding from our tumblers, made of thick glass with tear-drop-like air bubbles frozen inside, and pour the soda in them.

After eating Daddy and I would toss the Frisbee while Noah gawked at the flying saucer and went after it. Trying to rip it out of the sky, he looked like a golden retriever in his khakis and a white Izod shirt with a cola stain spiraling down the front. Nearing the end of our game Mama would unveil her Mile High chocolate cake. It was stored in a professional white cake box complete with a white string bow that she had tied as patiently as when she first tried to teach Noah to tie his shoes and he wouldn’t do anything but snatch the laces out of the loops. Before she was pregnant with “the boys,” as Daddy called them, she’d had a closet full of cake boxes from the time she was going to start her own catering service. That plan had fallen through, and for some reason the fault was Daddy’s. To hear her tell it, he wouldn’t know how to make money if it came alive and told him.

*** In Columbus, Georgia, there wasn’t a fancy section of town. So after Daddy went back to work, Mama re-

directed our Saturday drives back to Atlanta. She, Noah and I would cruise through neighborhoods where the front lawns sprawled like private golf courses and all the trees were the same height, the same inches apart, the same shade of green, and possessed the same uniform unnatural beauty.

She kept her promise not to smoke for the first couple of weeks when Daddy was around. But as soon as Mama was in the car with us alone, she gave in. There, under the Regal’s roof with the gray lining hanging low, Mama lit up.

“Don’t tell your daddy about this,” she said as the cigarette bounced at the corner of her lips, the oily lipstick bleeding into the filter. “I’d never hear the end of it.”

That was just one of millions of things I wasn’t supposed to tell Daddy about: the sequined dresses, the embroidered silk robes, the complicated juicers, and other “nonessentials” she ordered from QVC and stacked in my closet; the money she put me up to ask him for, then took from me to buy lottery tickets; the fact that she was offered a job at a Value City during his layoff but turned it down; the reality that half the time he’d call for her to bring him dinner, she’d make me say she was asleep or busy with Noah, but wasn’t doing anything at all; the knowledge that as soon as he went back to work, while Noah was in his after school program, the owner of Jerry’s Motor Garage continued his backdoor visits and I was supposed to be at cheerleading practice but got cut from the squad. After the first “don’t tell your

daddy,” I just assumed that meant for all the other times as well that Jerry trotted out of our guest bedroom, zipping his fly, tucking in his shirt and acting as if I was invisible.

When we went on these drives, I would always sit in the front; Noah, wiggling in his seatbelt, stretched along the backseat, his greasy hair smearing one of the back passenger windows. The car lighter wasn’t working, so she’d fumble for matches at the bottom of her QVC limited-edition kid-leather purse, until a driver behind us finally lost his patience and leaned on the horn, whereupon she’d toss her purse over to me and jerk the car into motion. Our driver’s window didn’t completely roll up, but Mama only complained about it when it rained, or when she wanted to jab Daddy with the fact that her daddy, even back then, could afford a two-car family. Other times she rested her left elbow on its edge, expediting the Virginia Slim’s trip to her lips and to the outside, where she let the wind flick the ashes.

She quelled the smoking for as long as she could. I guess it was something about Atlanta and Tuxedo Drive that made the demon take over again. I don’t think quitting was anything that Mama wanted to do, but when Daddy brought up the medical insurance, it made her feel guilty. Like when he’d ask her what she wanted to do with the unused car seat some days, usually after she’d been on his case for too long.

As we reached Atlanta’s Tuxedo Drive Mama would stub out her blood-tipped cigarette in the open-mouthed ashtray and lean into the steering wheel, craning her head from side to side as if searching for an address. She’d creep along the drive, the sun a gigantic yellow, flashing caution light, taking in the multi-tiered houses with their four-car garages and winding driveways. Cars in back of us didn’t blow, but respectfully allowed Mama the time she needed. Houses with windows as wide as walls ignited a look of familiarity in her eyes, as though she alone had ordered the drapes that were tied back to showcase for outsiders, for passerbys, for people like us. At the end of Tuxedo Drive she’d mash her foot on the gas and head back to Atlanta’s never-ending Peachtree Street. A labored sigh escaped from her lips and a limp strand of hair floated from her bun and lay along the corner of her eye. Afterwards she’d take us to eat.

“Red lob. Red lob,” Noah would shriek as we’d approach Red Lobster’s gray sign with the giant claw snapping at us.

“I’ll just have a salad,” Mama would say to the waitress, and then turn to me, with the waitress still in earshot, and say that the seafood at Reb Lobster wasn’t fresh enough for her. Each time I waited for her to tell me where the seafood was fresh. She’d fall silent and I’d order fried shrimp and French fries for Noah and catfish and baked potato for me, though I wanted crab legs. Each time crab legs had been brought to our table in the past Noah would scream; in due course I gave them up. The waitress stuffed the pad in her apron and came back with a few more Crayons, Noah having popped the few we had. Until our food was served, I busied myself trying to get him to scribble on the paper and not on me, the table or himself. Mama just sipped her too-sweet iced tea and faded away.


“Been driving down rich folks’ streets again,” Daddy’s voice crackled from behind a newspaper when we burst in the living room. Though Mama had doused herself with the Charlie perfume Daddy bought her for Mother’s Day, he sniffed her.

“Maddy, I guess you don’t care nothing ‘bout no lower premiums, huh? You know we got to save money someway ‘round here.”

“What else is new?” she said and sucked her teeth, glaring at our living room as if its walls were made of crumbling paper.

“Don’t know why I’d think you’d stop smoking now, you couldn’t stop then. Three months pregnant and couldn’t stop.” Mama rushed past him, the sway of her hips causing ripples in the sales circulars he had strewn across the coffee table of slick, stimulated wood. At that point he could badger her for hours and she wouldn’t fight back. Although I loved Daddy, when we returned from our Atlanta drives was when I loved him least, and Mama most.

“How much gas you burn up?” he whipped the paper back.

For the rest of the day she chased any traces of dust out of our house. She started in the bathroom and began to get a sense of herself back as she pestered Daddy about the drip in the rusted faucet. The only reason I could think that Daddy didn’t fix things around the house is that he knew that if everything was perfect, if everything was the best he could make it, it still wouldn’t be good enough.

It was always like this after the Saturday outings with just the three of us. Dressed in her sea- green nylon jogging suit, Mama would whoosh around as if on a vendetta against our home, cleaning it until it acquired an unwelcoming shine. If I interrupted her she wouldn’t say a word, would just stare at me until I could see dust settling in her eyes. On these rampages she never ordered me to do anything. It was just understood that I would keep Noah out from under her. So I’d gather him and we’d sit on the porch and watch cars zip by. When one slowed down Noah would wave, as though it had come to see him. I’d help him hold up his hand and wave like, at least, a six year old would, not the two or three year old his mind and body sometimes reneged on him and told him he was.

Though he was bouncing on out crooked step and flapping his arms passengers never either bothered to reciprocate, not even for the sake of a little squirming boy who should be in the yard chasing cats or dogs or playing with other little boys, not rocking on the porch for the amusement of strangers. Children in the cars would squash their noses against the window and point to us as if we were hitchhikers flagging down a ride. He couldn’t discern one expression from another and just the sight of people inside their cars sent him on a violent rocking spree that I couldn’t contain. I just cupped my hand in the back of his head to stop him from bursting his brains out against the splintered wood.

These rocking sprees would have been worse if we’d had more traffic, but our house with its peeling, pale-yellow paint that looked like fish scales was lodged on a side street, which Mama referred to as an alley because there weren’t even any decent trees. On days that we were out the house it didn’t seem to miss us; its doors stuck whenever we came home and turned the key in the lock. We were sandwiched between a pea-green house whose loud music rattled our windows panes and Sister Hansen’s pale pink house whose upstairs bedroom was directly across from mine. Some Tuesday nights around

eleven, I gaped as Sister Hansen, who’d throw tiny green copies of The Daily Bread in our Trick-or Treat bags, would forget to draw her curtains when her new “renter” made his way upstairs.

Columbus was not the town Mama was promised; Lawndale was not the street; and certainly number 364 was not the house. But how could Daddy have kept any promises to her at all when he realized that he was not the man she’d envisioned? He had to know that—I knew. After six years with Noah, and close to my fourteenth year, I was certain that we were not the children she wanted. Nor was Noah’s twin brother, Nicholas, who didn’t survive the premature birth but often talked to Noah. For a few minutes some evenings, Noah stopped rocking, stopped moving at all and perked his ear toward the sky as one might do when an angel spoke.

One night, when I arose and slogged down to the kitchen, I heard Mama in our unfinished half-bath mumbling. I just imagined that she was sitting on the toilet with the crack in the seat pinching her behind, and was listening to the slow drip that came from our sink. The lights were off so she didn’t have to see the brown stain underneath the drip that she hadn’t been able to bleach away.

As the smoke filtered from underneath the bathroom door, I knew that the smoking demon had won. She was no longer trying to hide it from Daddy. And I knew it would be awhile before we’d go back to Holy Rock Baptist Church, if at all.

Never trying to get close enough to hear what she was saying—it was a private conversation between her and God—I turned and went back upstairs and crumbled into my bed and cried. Like Daddy, I knew that I was not enough for her. Perhaps, if Mama had not had me maybe she’d be whatever she didn’t see when she looked at herself. I wished Daddy would take a drive with us down Tuxedo Drive. If he could witness the light in her face when she gazed at those beautiful palatial homes, maybe he’d think she was beautiful again too. I often wished that she thought I was beautiful, or even our pale yellow house, with its fence set like uneven shoulders.

Maybe Daddy had driven down Tuxedo Drive many times before with Mama. Maybe he drove there when we’re sleeping or when Mama was cleaning, or thought he was doing overtime at Piggly Wiggly.

Maybe he drove to Atlanta, cruised down Tuxedo Drive, imagining a different life, imagining a different fate, but the only difference is he always comes home.


A whole year went by, but I had been expecting it for so long that it seemed to happen in just a matter of days. My father used some savings to purchase a rust-colored Monte Carlo with a black door on one side, and a trunk that was tied shut with twine. He gave Mama the lime-green Buick Regal but didn’t bother to fix the window or replace the fuse in the cigarette lighter. She didn’t complain.

One Saturday I was getting ready to clean and dress Noah who had made a slimy beard of his applesauce, flopped one of his hands in it, and used the other to turn over his bowl of Fruit Loops. He watched in stunned silence as the milk seeped over the edges of the table. I was lugging him upstairs when the Regal coughed five or six times, then died. Noah was still light enough for me to throw on my hip; when I did, he smeared the applesauce like a necklace around my throat. Holding him tightly, I jetted off to the hallway window facing the street. Gazing at the lime-green Buick Regal from behind our spotless curtains, I saw smoke curling from her broken window, escaping in the heat like cold breath. Mama was staring straight ahead. She flicked a couple ashes out of her window, then started the car again. It rumbled as if the Holy Spirit was in it.

I squashed my nose against the window. My brother put his applesauced palm on the pane and left a print that would remain for more than two years. I wanted to rush out to her but my legs were numb. With a gracefulness that only Mama had she rested her arm on the broken window, the orange glow piercing through me. The Regal glided out of our unpaved driveway; it eased by Sister Hansen’s house with its drawn curtains, then it cruised past all the mismatched off-colored houses that lined the street; it snaked by yards with broken porch swings, dilapidated cast-off toys, piss-colored grass, garbage pails brimming with pizza boxes and plastic milk jugs, overturned pails left on the curb too long, unshaded by the bare, limp, unevenly spaced trees. And with a stream of smoke trailing it the Regal floated away from 364 Lawndale Drive without the weight of Daddy, Noah, or me holding it down.


Printed with permission by Leslie C. Youngblood, copyrighted by Leslie C. Youngblood @ 2009.

Author: A Room of Her Own

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