Marks of a Mother

Trish heard the truck tear down their street and squeezed her eyes shut. She saw greens and purples, but could not stop the truck. She opened her eyes and her baby was crying. David stood at the window. The streetlight’s glow settled over his nude body like the moon. Trish thought nothing of it. The baby cried again. Trish watched the muscles in David’s back tense.

 

“You see them?” she whispered.

“Yeah.”

“What are they doing?”

“Looks like they’re having a good time,” said David.

David.”

He knew better. It was late, after midnight, and it was time only for whispers. The truck should know better too, the baby was sleeping. In her mind, Trish knew that babies cried, but instinct kicks logic’s ass every time. The last four weeks, the first four weeks of baby Clara’s life had been one long night like this one – words whispered, quiet footsteps, and sponge baths for the adults. Trish knew it was unsustainable like she knew many things now that she was a mother, but a mother’s knowledge resets every time her baby cries.

The truck’s engine roared. Clara wailed from her mechanical bassinet, the sound quivering as she rocked like the tornado siren on a Wednesday at noon.

“What’s it doing now?”

“It’s stopped up the road at the neighbors’ house,” said David.

“Well?”

“I could call the cops,” he said.

Trish was a high school math teacher and she knew boys. She knew that there were only two kinds – boys you could scare, and boys you couldn’t. But she didn’t know what kind of boys were driving the truck.

“What if you talked to them?”

“Trish,” said David, “come on.”

Trish slung her legs over the bed. Her nude body sliced through the darkness, each step landing on tiptoes and the place where she had been before trailing white behind her like a pale shadow in the darkness.

“My God, Trish. Get back in bed.”

She stormed past him. Despite the darkness, he could still make out the swaying of her heavy new breasts. Trish felt his stare on her chest and covered her self with both hands. They were heavy things, too heavy she thought. They had gotten so big, and so tight it was hard for Clara to latch on. Saggy, soft breasts like the ones you see on National Geographic would have been better. Those were real mothers, thought Trish.

She stormed into Clara’s room. Her crying was a physical force, a wall of sound. Trish had to hold the cell phone in the crook of her neck as she picked up Clara.

“I’m sorry, my baby is crying,” Trish said into the phone. “No I don’t know the make or the model of the vehicle – I think it was a truck?”

In a moment Clara was asleep. She cooed and made a sound that caused things inside Trish to loosen and fall away. Trish closed her eyes. She lifted her leg and slid the cell phone under her thigh. It was cold. She heard David’s feet in the hallway. She opened her eyes. He was leaning on the doorframe, smiling. She could make out the white of his teeth despite the dark. Trish smiled back.

Trish leaned down to put Clara in the bassinet and the truck revved its engine. Clara cried and Trish rocked her in her arms like she believed there were true pains in the world for babies like Clara, babies who knew only soft warm blankest and temperatures of exactly seventy-two degrees.

David.”

“What do you want me to do? Tell me what to do.”

Trish inhaled.

“You want me to call the cops?” he said.

“What would you tell them?” she said.

“What?”

“Do we even know it is a truck? The color, the make, the model?”

“Baby, I saw it drive around the block five minutes ago,” he said.

“So you know this for a certainty?” said Trish.

“Ok,” said David.

She heard him in the bedroom, then the thud of his feet down the hall. Trish walked to the window in the nursery and looked out. Their security light flicked on. David’s shadow was long in the light of it and Trish smiled. She was proud of her husband.

David walked to the mailbox. He opened it and dug around. He knew it was empty. He checked it every day after work. Trish watched as he cut his eyes over to the neighbor’s carport. The truck was there. She could see it from the window. But now David could see it too. Now they would know what kind of boys they were dealing with.

There was only darkness out near the mailbox. Trish couldn’t see him and for the first time, she worried about her husband as well as her daughter.

“Come on, David,” said Trish.

Clara cooed.

The neighbor’s porch light clicked on. Two men sauntered out of the front door. Clara saw that they were men and not boys and was confused. She knew boys from her classroom, but she did not know men. She knew David – a man who would walk to the mailbox without any underwear to look at the truck he could see from the window only because his wife insisted. But Trish did not know if other men were like this or if the boys she taught grew old and carried their boyhood tendencies on into manhood.

“That’s your Daddy,” said Trish in Clara’s ear.

David came forth from the darkness of the mailbox again in the range of the security light. It flicked on. Trish could see her husband’s eyes. The men on the porch waved their arms at David, beckoning him back to the mailbox, up to their porch, their arms bent like scythes slicing at the darkness. David did not look back. His step quickened though, and Trish noticed.

She heard the door and stepped to the hall. David rubbed his arms as if he was cold, but it was a warm December night.

“Well,” said Trish and rocked the baby.

“It was a truck, a white truck and two men.”

“My God,” she said, “what kind of men are out this time of night? I thought for sure it would be teenagers.”

David nodded his head. Trish watched him watch her. Despite his fear he still stole glances of her nude body in the darkness. Men liked breasts and naked women – men were just grown up boys. Trish smiled at the reassurance of such knowledge.

The blue and red lights tore through the dark house. Trish’s breasts were painted blue then red then blue again. She turned her back to the lights and rocked the baby.

David’s head rolled and Trish heard his neck pop.

“Did you call the cops?” he said.

Trish rocked Clara and offered no response.

“No, no. It must have been the neighbors,” David said answering his own question. “My God, Trish the men from the house are screaming now, yelling and pointing back this way. The cops have turned the spotlight off. It looks like they’re yelling back at the men. They’re both just standing there yelling at each other. Trish, my God.

“Are you sure, David? Are you one-hundred percent sure that it is the same men that were driving the truck?”

“Yes Trish, it is the men from the porch. I saw them.”

“Right, but did you see them driving the truck?” said Trish.

“The truck is at the house. It’s right there in their driveway.”

“Right,” said Trish, “but did you see them drive it?”

“No. They came from the house.”

Trish nodded her head.

“I know boys,” said Trish. “And that is what those boys are telling the cops right now. It’s just like at the high school – you cannot catch them doing anything, you can only hope to prevent it – hope they are the kind of boys that scare.”

David looked out the window, rose to his tiptoes and craned his neck.

“They’re leaving,” said David. “Trish the cops are just leaving.”

“Yes but listen, she’s not crying now. You did good, Daddy.”

Trish felt David turn and look at her. She closed her eyes. “You did good, Daddy,” Trish said again but whispered it in the baby’s ear.

 

David’s breaths told Trish that he was asleep. She knew he was a good man. It took a certain type of man to walk out in the darkness like he had done earlier and she was proud. But the night had taught her things.

She did not know men until tonight.

She imagined the shadows on their faces, the scars from the acne she saw fresh in her classroom – scabbed over, healed – now only muddled bits of skin that was once smooth. Trish could see their mangled teeth from the porch lights, the bits of black and yellow dangling from their bleeding gums. She knew boys liked their tobacco. She had seen all there was to see about men. Something about new life and death and women and the sound Clara made when she came out and sucked in enough air to scream, her little arms outstretched, her fingers clawing – you add all of that together and a mother starts to know things, feel them in her gut, in her nipples. Trish knows when Clara is about to cry, about to wake up hungry – feels like a lightning bolt just claps down on her breasts. Trish knows she knows things and is proud to know them. She is a mother.

Trish hears the short intake of breath from the next room, the loading of the cannon, then the boom of Clara’s cry tears through the house. Trish smiles in the darkness. Her baby is hungry. There is no truck. No men to worry about, just a mother and her baby. Trish smiles harder trying to burn the happiness onto her face – give me the marks of a mother, sag my tits down past my navel, and put me in a National Geographic, she thinks as she lies there smiling as hard as she can, the corners of her mouth working up to her earlobes. She hears Clara crying and it is a good thing, a good and natural sound. She doesn’t hear the men pounding first on the door and then on the window.

She doesn’t hear David ask her what to do. She doesn’t hear him rise from the bed, his bare feet slapping against the wood floor. She doesn’t hear the shells snap into the shotgun or the pump suck them into the chamber. She doesn’t hear the front door open but never close. She doesn’t hear the men right outside her window say “We saw you, man. We know it was you called the cops.” She doesn’t hear David tell them “No.” She doesn’t hear the shotgun. She never hears the shotgun. She doesn’t see a flash. There is no flash in the night. No sharp smell of gunpowder in the warm winter air. There are no gunshots. She doesn’t hear the sound of fist on flesh, the hollow sound that comes once the cheekbone has been broken. She doesn’t hear the boots of the men coming down the hall. She doesn’t hear anything but her baby crying.

 

ELI CRANOR played quarterback at Ouachita Baptist University while majoring in English Literature. By twenty-six, he was the head football coach of a small high school near the foothills of the Ozark Mountains. These days, he’s traded the pigskin for a word processor, writing from Arkansas where he lives with his wife and daughter. His work has appeared recently in the Arkansas Review and Eclectica Magazine, and is forthcoming in the Greensboro Review. He is currently at work on a novel. For more information visit elicranor.com.