Read Boys in Gilded Cages Online

Authors: Jarod Powell

Tags: #meth addiction, #rural missouri, #rural culture, #visionary and metaphysical fiction, #mental illness and depression

Boys in Gilded Cages (4 page)

BOOK: Boys in Gilded Cages
11.16Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

It was the same. They go into the sanctuary
and sit far apart from each other, parallel to the magenta
stained-glass windows and they listen to Queen Frostyhair speak to
them like little cute-but-singed stuffed animals, as if obligated
by a child to acknowledge us as real humans. Sunday, Wednesday, all
the same, a sermon she didn’t listen to.



Sam,” Jenny called him
from the other side of their bed. He barely heard her.

Yeah, Honey,” he

Are you asleep?” She
asked timidly, through the black of the room.

Not yet,” he

Let’s talk.”


What should I know before
she comes? You’ve barely mentioned it. I feel like this is a bigger
deal than you’re letting on.” There was an uncharacteristic quiver
in her voice. The drunkenness of semi-sleep, she must have figured,
would be the best time to ask, relying on the weak defenses of the
bleary. And on the eve of a visit from his mom, she must have
thought, or hoped, he’d be eager to cry on a shoulder. Weird
timing, but he could tell he wasn’t sleeping until it was settled.
So he huffed and sat up.

You know about as much
about her as I do,” he said. This was untrue.

Yeah,” she said, unsure
of how many more questions would still be appropriate at this hour.
Her eyes were heavy, but she was forcing them open.

I don’t think I could
forgive my mom for leaving, if I were you,” she said, stealthily

Can we talk about this
some other time?”

Sure,” she said, “as long
as you promise that we will talk about it.”


Because you need

Okay,” he said, defeated.


He had barely gotten the door open. Not even
enough time to exhale properly.

Look at how skinny you’ve
gotten!” She was perched on the love seat, avocado-slacked legs
crossed, long red fingernails serving as a makeshift cigarette

Hey...Hey, Wilma,” he
said. She approached him with a steady stroll and careful
observation. She suddenly latched onto his torso with a clumsy

You need to eat, Honey!”
She loosened her grip so she could make eye contact.

He’s been working outside
this Summer,” Jenny said, in line behind mom. “He’s just more

Aw, he’s never eaten
properly a day in his life!” Mom scoffed.

You’ve got to baby him,”
she instructed. “You don’t put good food right in front of his
face, he don’t eat.”

He sometimes got the impression that Mom
only said certain things because she heard television

moms say them, so that must be what moms are
supposed to say. She stroked his face with her empty hand and
kissed him on the cheek. Jenny crept between them and kissed him on
the mouth.

All he does is eat,”
Jenny said, nervously laughing her off as she ambled back to her

That reminds me!” Mom
said excitedly, reaching behind her to crush her cigarette out.
“I’ve got these coupons! Let’s go to Ruby Tuesday’s right now! My
treat.” She reached into her purse and then waved her coupons for a
second like party streamers, dashing to the front door.

Come on, Y’all!” She
whined, looking back at them. “I’m serious! Get in the

Based on little available comparison, Mom’s
acting peculiar.

About five months before Sam turned
eighteen, Mom searched him out as part of her 12-step program. He’s
actually known her a lot longer.

He came out of his dealer’s house in a
neighborhood everybody calls Sunset one day, and she was pacing the
sidewalk in an oversized army surplus jacket.

Hey man, wanna Rolex on
the cheap? I’ve got Bulova here too,” She chattered, jerking her
left arm, which was strapped with watches, into the air. Her
deteriorated teeth were chomping like it was freezing, and she had
some bald spots on her scalp. “Real cheap,” she

No,” he said.

C’mon man! What’s the
matter, you don’t know how to tell time?” She squalled with a
twisted grin. “Twenty for the Rolex, Thirty for the Bulova. Real

He kept walking, making sure his eyes stayed
on his truck, which was parked on the opposite side of the street.
She followed him clear into the street.

What about head, Man,”
she said, lowering her voice to a gravelly, ghastly groan. “Throw
in the Rolex, man,” she said, speaking quickly and getting more
desperate. “Thirty bucks, man. You don’t want me, I know a girl
over yonder.”

He reached down to the front pocket of his
jeans, and she seemed leery at first, unsure of what he was doing.
He removed his hand from the pocket, in the shape of a fist. He
removed his eye contact from the

pickup, and towards her. He threw a quarter
at her.

Go buy yourself some
fuckin’ soap,” he said, diverting his attention away again. He got
into his truck and drove past her.

Hey, mother fucker! I
know your dealers, asshole! All of ‘em! Better keep your door
locked at night, ya’ queer!” She spit at his truck as it drove

You will see me again!”
He heard her screech faintly, from several blocks away.

Bend this fuckin’ corner,
again, bitch! You will see me!”

Two months later, she showed up at his

You Samuel Kirkpatrick?”
She said, one foot edged in the doorway.

Uh,” he hesitated. “What
do you want?”

Are you Samuel, or not?”
She growled.

Yeah, Lady. What do you

Um...I’m,” she hemmed and
hawed, rolling her eyes and neck around. “I’m your mother. Nice to
meet you.”


She comes and visits him every so often. It
was weird at first. Weirder now that Jenny’s moved in. For one
thing, what is he supposed to call her?

Mom” seems a stretch.
“Wilma” seems strange too. She is in fact his mother, but she’s
also someone he’s only been acquainted with for a year and two
months. For a while on her visits, she would stay for about half an
hour shooting the shit. Then, she’d ask him to take her to the Cue
‘n Brew, the dive her old boyfriend Billy Joe owns, and where she
can always drink for free. Then she’d leave with Billy Joe. Since
Jenny’s been living there though, she plays it straight. No bars.
Her “Southern” colloquialism has gotten thicker and a little hard
to handle, and she has erased all profanities from her vocabulary.
Sam noticed, as he was looking at her on the way to the restaurant,
her appearance has even improved. Her skin’s cleared up, leaving
only the aftermath of her invisible bug infestation, and her hair
and teeth are bleached. She’s lost about fifteen pounds since the
last time she visited.

Now, Jenny, what have you
been up to, Gal?”

Oh, nothing much, really.
Same old,” Jenny replied softly from the back seat, acting

Sam, where is my
grand-baby at tonight?”

He’s with Tammy tonight.
She said she’d watch her while we went out.”

Mom let out a sigh meant for the world to
hear, and turned her head toward her passenger-side window. “Looks
like it’s tryin’ to rain,” she said.



What are you guys
orderin’?” Mom asked, her nose buried in her menu. Couldn’t even
see her face.

I think I’m just gonna
have the Cobb,” Jenny said.

The what,

Cobb. Cobb

I don’t believe I know
what that is,” Mom said, distant. “Where would I find it on the

See salads? Under that,”
Jenny said it as if she were talking to a slow child. Sam thought
she might try to spell it for her.

Thanks, Hon,” Wilma said
through gritted teeth. She let out an uncomfortable, demented
cackle. “Duh!” She said through giggles.

I think I might have the
sirloin!” Sam said.


She was right. There was a bunch of rain.
And sleet. And lightning, and thunder. During the drive home, every
time the lightning would strike, Mom would let out a “Whoo!” and
then tell us a story about when Katrina hit Mississippi, where she
now lives. She claims to have helped with the clean-up, as her
sponsor said it might be good for her confidence to do some good
old-fashioned community service. If Sam were to tell the truth,
he’d tell you that he’s not sure he’s believe it, but he just lets
her go on.

Well, you know, the lines
at the Red Cross van just went on and on!” She rambled,
reminiscing. “And those colored people, Man Alive! They were the
most impatient. Now, I’m not saying they didn’t have it

rough, I remember back in the sixties, but
half of those folks weren’t even born yet! Just don’t understand
it. But the world buys into it! My friend Jolene said she lost her
job at the factory to a Black! For no reason! Well, not for no
reason. Affirmative Action. What a country!”

Uh-huh,” Sam said, trying
not to listen. Jenny was biting through her tongue by now. When
they finally got home, there was no electricity.

I’m gonna use your powder
room, if that’s all right,“ she said, holding her purse near her

There’s no water,” Sam
said. “Power’s out.”

Oh, that’s okay, just
need to freshen up.”

It’s kind of a mess in
there,” Jenny piped up.

Oh, Hon, it’s nothing I
haven’t seen before,” Mom said, sweetly.

Jenny scowled at Sam, glaring through the
corner of her eye. As soon as the bathroom door closed, she
whispered harshly across the living

room, “And just what does
she mean by


What is she doing in
there?” Jenny asked. “She’s been in the damn bath room…Oh, beg your
powder room,
for twenty minutes.”

Be nice,” Sam gently
reminded her.

Mom finally made a loud, clumsy, dramatic
exit from the bathroom, and Jenny’s face went from hostile to
saccharine in a split second. Wilma’s eyes were open about a
half-inch wider and she had a big,

goofy grin and a red nose.

My my, the power’s still
not on?”

Still off,” Sam said,
flipping through an old issue of
Bait and

Oh!” Mom erupted,
flailing her arms with violent animation, and holding an elated
pose. Towering over the couple on the couch, she bent a few inches
lower and murmured,


You know what we should

The two glanced blankly at each other, and
then at her.

We should play a word

They continued to glare blankly.

You know! A word game.
Like...Like I Spy!”

Wilma?” Sam lead her away
from her jacked-up stream-of-consciousness very gently. “Are you

Yeah, Hon.

You seem a little,” I
paused to choose the right word. “A little
, I guess.”

Okay, okay! Party
pooper.” She sat down, contemplating something.

She finally looked up at us with a
mischievous slant in her eye. “I have a joint in my purse.”



The smoke cleared, and they were sitting for
what seemed like hours, the humidity melting their bodies into the
furniture. Sam was paying attention only to the wind catcher
hanging and flapping from the latch on the opened window. He didn’t
want to notice anything. He was enjoying the silence while it

Jenny,” Wilma muttered,
staring off into space.

Yeah, Wilma.”

You’ve just got to get a
housekeeper,” she said, easing out of her stupor, head rolling
around on her neck, observing the piles of clothes and magazines
and VHS tapes on the floor. Her upper body became erect, and she
started with the hand gestures again. “Billy Joe...You know Billy
Joe down the road over there? He has a lady come once a week, and
his house is immaculate, just immaculate! And she speaks fluent
English.” She points to the East. “I’ll find out what her phone
number is! It’s that Mexican family that lives right down the

What’s wrong with the
house, Wilma?” Jenny asked, obviously irritated. She directed her
glare towards the ceiling in an attempt to mute her frustration.
Then she closed her eyes.

Nothing, Hon. I was just
suggesting it because the lady works for chicken feed, basically. I
thought you could use the help, that’s all. New mom, everything’s
crazy right now, right? I know how it is.”

You do?” Jenny tensed her
lips into a withheld grin.

BOOK: Boys in Gilded Cages
11.16Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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