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Excuses

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It was not the first time we had dealt with something like this before. No, it was far from the first time. Not even close to the second, third, fourth or even fifth. It was more like the sixth time we had gotten the same call with the same droned voice at the other end which lead to the same fifteen minute drive.

No, it was not the first time Davey had gotten arrested.

“It’s not really arrested,” My mother had told me the fourth time, Deirdra the police receptionist whom we had gotten to know quite well, called us on a warm April evening. After hanging up the phone, her lips pursed, she had gestured towards the car where she proceeded to lecture me on the fifteen minute drive to the station on the differences between getting arrested and what the police kept dragging Davey in for.

“Then why’s he always locked up?” I asked with fake innocence. Knowing that my mother was just putting on airs, like she did with everybody, regarding Davey’s situation. In my eyes, if he was locked up in a jail cell with mug shots and finger prints taken, he was arrested. My mother’s ignorance or feigned ignorance over this situation frustrated me beyond words so I felt that by the fourth time Davey had been “arrested” I had some right to mock her.

She frowned, her eyebrows crinkling in the middle. Frown wrinkles were the only wrinkles that ever appeared on my mother’s youthful face. “Don’t mock me,” She muttered.

I threw my hands up in the air, “I’m not mocking you.”

“Yes you are.”

I sighed in resignation, “Come on Mama.”

“Come on what?”

“You don’t have to lie to me. I’m not Misses Cleary or anybody else,” I whispered softly. She kept her eyes focused on the road, her mouth in a firm and unbudging line. When she didn’t speak, I pressed further, “Why do you lie to me? About Davey?”


She took her eyes off the road for a split second, “Lie to you? Luanne, I think you best reorder your thoughts.”

I bit my lip, “But Mama, you are lying to me. I understand lying to Misses Cleary, her being a judgmental witch and all-” Mama laughed at this, for it was the truth. The slight sound of her laughter caused me to press on, “But I’m Davey’s sister, so why lie to me? I aint’ gonna judge you or him for that matter.” Satisfied with my case, I leaned back into my seat and watched the familiar thicket of trees pass us by as we drove through the reservation.

“I’m a good Christian woman, Luanne,” She said sternly, “I don’t lie. Not to Misses Cleary and surely not to you.”

Good Christian woman, a hilarious and fickle thought, though I never said so. I couldn’t help but be a little irritated, so swallowing hard, I said, “Well gee Mama, telling people Davey wasn’t arrested when he really was is lying, isn’t it?” All mock innocence had disappeared from my voice and I now found my self sounding cutting and accusatory- a tone I rarely took with Mama for I never had too.

Her fingers gripped the steering wheel turning her knuckles slightly white. Her voice strained as she hissed, “I’m not lying. It don’t count as an arrest if he aint’ done nothing.”

Her words hung in the air between us. My mouth shut. The way she spoke those words was so sincere and so frank. For a second, I truly believed that Mama sincerely thought Davey wasn’t even remotely guilty of the crimes the police claimed he was.

The rest of the drive continued in silence. With me staring out the window at the all to familiar scenery en route to the station and her looking ahead through navy eyes that had been sewn shut by love.

The sixth time Davey was “arrested”, I was home alone. Mama had gone out grocery shopping and I was sitting on the front porch reading a battered copy of A Tree Grows In Brooklyn by Betty Smith. It was a classic that my grandmother, who worked part time for a small wage at the public library, had snagged off the damaged book shelf.

“It’s about a poor girl,” She had said two evenings ago during our typical Wednesday night dinner.

Mama had snorted, “Like she needs to read about poverty.” She gestured grandly around our tiny and shabby kitchen with it’s faded cabinets and cracked tiled floor. She shook her head at my Grandma, “Ma, she lives it.”

Grandma had frowned and with her tiny grey eyes as she watched my mother get up from the table and huff into the other room. Once she was gone, she slid the book across the cracked linoleum table towards me.

“But Grandma-”

“Shh,” She said quietly. “You’ve always wanted to see New York City, haven’t you?”

I nodded slowly.

“Well, here you go. The books set in New York City.”

I looked at her skeptically.

“You, you’re mother, and Davey aren’t the only ones who are poor you know,” She said leaning back in her chair and crossing her arms. “There’s an entire world of poverty that spans the length of time.”

“Why does this concern me?”

“Because you need to know it doesn’t last forever,” She said softly, her grey eyes watering. “Because you need to know that it doesn’t have to make you into somebody you’re not.”

I looked at her warily, knowing she was speaking of Davey.

She seemed to have read my mind. “There’s no excuses, you know that. Being poor doesn’t make you a bad person-your actions are what makes you a bad person.” As an quick and guilted after thought, she added, “I’m not saying that I don’t love Davey or your mother.”

I swallowed and looked down at my knees, not knowing what to say.

She cleared her throat, “It’s to late for your mother and it sure as the Devil is to late for Davey.” She shook her head at the mention of his name. I bit my lip and swallowed hard. “Child,” She whispered, “Just read this book, won’t you? You’ll see, I promise, that poverty is not the end of the road for everybody. I can tell you that you’ll see you don’t have to end up like...” She trailed off, not wanting to finish her sentence for she knew the words would be to hurtful.

I looked up and quickly grabbed the book from the table, “Okay, Grandma. I’ll read it.”

A contented smile had spread across her face.

So for the next two evenings I had read the book, finding myself not really burdened by the words, but more enlightened by them. I enjoyed the heroine of the novel; she was much like me and we shared many things in common besides our desperate poverty. I loved the book so much and was so immersed in it’s text that the sixth time the police called, I didn’t hear the phone until the fifth ring.

Alarmed I quickly jumped off the porch and ran inside, scrambling towards the phone.

“Hello?”

“Is this Kayla?” the voice asked. No introduction was necessary. I was so used to hearing the voice on the other line, I knew it was Deirdra.

“No it’s her daughter, Luanne,” I responded, twisting the phone cord around my finger nervously. Dierdra’s voice suddenly made me intensely anxious.

Dierdra’s tone dropped from firm and commanding down to sweet. I guessed she realized she was talking to a child. “Oh, well is your mother there?”

“She’s out getting groceries,” I responded.


“Oh,” Dierdra remarked softly, “Well, will you just tell her I called when she gets back? She needs to drop by the police station to, well, pick up Davey,” She finished awkwardly.

I sighed, “Davey got picked up again?”

Silence.

“Hello?” I asked hollowly into the phone.

“Y-e-e-s,” Deirdra responded slowly.

“For what this time?” I asked and continued to list the various things Davey had been “arrested” for previously, “Petty theft? Harassment? Drug dealing? Vandalism?” When she didn’t responded I snickered and added haughtily, “Or is it a combination of all them?”

I heard Dierdra swallow. She managed a faint chuckle that sounded like the bleating of a desperate sheep. Her laugh caused my stomach to bottom out. “Well sweetie,” She said in a syrupy voice, “Why don’t you and your mother, when she gets home of course, just come on down to the station, alright?”

Feeling oddly sick I swallowed and nodded, even though I knew she couldn’t see my nod, and proceeded to hang up. As soon as the phone was back in the cradle I found myself slowly backing away from it as if it was some ticking time bomb that would explode if I stayed near it any longer. Once out of the vicinity of the phone I collapsed onto a beaten up chair in the TV room and pulled my legs close to my chest, breathing heavily and feeling the nerves uplift the acid in my stomach, I closed my eyes and waited.

Mama
arrived home at around eight. Grocery shopping seemingly always took my mother a very long time which was funny considering the meek amount of groceries she came home with. Her lack of groceries and long amount of time made me believe that “grocery shopping” was up there with Davey’s “arrests”, meaning, it was simply my mother’s way of avoiding the true situation lying right in front of us. In this case, she was sleeping with a man, probably another married man because no woman put on their nicest dress and fanciest color of lipstick to go to the grocery store. She never wanted me to know when she was involved with a married man, but somehow, I always managed to find out.

She dropped the two bags of groceries down on the floor and I could feel her eyes direct themselves over towards me. “Lue?” She asked curiously. “Honey, are you alright?”

I swallowed hard and it hurt because my throat was so dry from the heavy breathing I’d been doing to calm myself down. Slowly, I craned my neck up from my arms to see her standing in front of me in the nice red dress my father had bought her, the fancy pearl earrings married lover number three had gotten her and of course the reddest and fanciest lipstick she owned coating her lips. Her soft brown hair which shown no tinge of grey was tucked carelessly behind her ear. She was so pretty, my mother, so pretty and so thin but at the same time so tragic. She’d never had a steady man in her life and now she was stuck raising two kids all alone because a careless man, while foolish enough to cheat, was not foolish enough to leave his wife. Sometimes I wondered if she pretended we weren’t her children.

This was what made it so hard for me to speak up and tell her of Dierdra’s phone call. I hated for those words to make wrinkles appear and start the steady flow of excuses that just conveniently denied the truth. I hated to cause her pain, but I didn’t have to. The phone rang again, it’s shrill call splitting the silence between us, and I ducked my head back down in between my arms, squeezing my eyes shut and thanking God for not making me the messenger.

“Hello?” I heard her ask brightly in the other room, for a split second I wondered if it was maybe the man she was seeing while “grocery shopping”. But then I heard the characteristic thump as she leaned against the wall. Her voice lowered, “Oh, hello, Deirdra. What can I do you for?” There was a pause, “Again?” More silence, “Uh huh and what is it this time?” She asked with restrained anger.

Silence.

“Wait, what?” My mother asked quickly, her voice jumping from angry to now desperate. “You said what?” Her throat clicked loudly. “No- I heard you. But, what? How? When? Where? Why am I just hearing about this now?” Her voice was reaching the highest I’d ever heard it, cracking towards the end of her sentence, she was struggling now, trying to get everything together, “But that’s not Davey. That’s not my son he would never do anything like that. They know that, right? I don’t care, he aint’ done nothin’ you hear me?” Heavy breathing filled a pause. “You’re goddamned right I’m coming down!”

Her sharp words were followed by the aggressive slam of the telephone.

Our sixth ride to the police station was filled with her angered and desperate silence and my confusion. I so badly wanted to know what Dierdra had said, but couldn’t bring myself to speak. I kept sneaking looks over at my mother trying to decipher her facial expressions praying they held the clue to what Davey had been brought in for. Reading her was much more difficult then I had anticipated so I was forced to drown in her sea of confusing silence until, with a sudden jerk, she pulled the car over to the side of the road.

After the car had jerked to a stop with the key still dangling in the ignition, my mother collapsed onto the steering wheel her body suddenly racked with sobs. Her cries echoed through the car piercing my heart and causing my stomach to painfully drop.

“Mama...” I said slowly cautiously reaching out to touch her.

She let out a violent sob.

“What’s wrong?”

After a few more minutes of crying, she looked up at me through her make up stained eyes. “Davey-” She blubbered, unable to get the words out, “Davey-Davey has...been arrested...for...” She paused, crying even harder, “...murder.”

My heart dropped and I fell back against the seat. “What?”

Her crying suddenly stopped and she sat up and rubbed her eyes, trying her best to wipe away the smudged make up. She swallowed and placed her hands firmly on the steering wheel, “But it’s crap, pure crap. Murder, I mean, that’s crap. Davey would never do anything like that...” She shook her head, “Those police, those idiotic police, I swear they just have it out for him!”

“Mama-”?
“No, Luanne, no. I aint’ lyin’ Davey would never do anything like that. Nope not Davey. You know that, I know that and the-”

I reached over and grabbed her arm tightly, forcing her to look into my eyes. “Mama!” I cried desperately, but firmly. Once her scared eyes were resting on mine my heart began to pound and I thought of everything Grandma had said. The years of Mama’s excuses bubbled up in my thoughts and with tears in my eyes, but boldness in my heart, I whispered, “You’re only lying to yourself.”





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