I’m a kid. I am in bed. Mama is up late. The kettle on the stove is whistling. The sound wakes me. I look at the clock, it is two in the morning.
I walk downstairs to see my mother at our dining table. The tabletop is scattered with paper, envelopes, an empty mug, and a calculator.
She leans over a mess of bills that might as well be a tablecloth. She punches numbers on the calculator and makes a grimace. I know my mother. I know that look.
“What’s wrong?” I say.
She runs her fingers through her hair. “Oh, I’m just robbing Peter to pay Paul, go back to bed.”
“Paul Newman, who else? Now go to bed.” She buries herself in her hands.
“Have you been crying, Mama?”
“I’m not crying, now go to sleep.”
“But, I can’t sleep.”
She points at me. “I don’t wanna hear about your ‘but.’ I want you to go to bed.”
“I’m not tired.”
“Well,” she says with a sigh. “Then just pretend to sleep, I don’t care what you do. Go upstairs
and count your blessings.”
This is what all Baptists do. We do not count sheep, or listen to meditative sleep instructional CDs by Deepak Chopra. That stuff is for Methodists.
“Blessings?” I say to my mother with my trademarked rebellious tone. “WHAT blessings? We’re probably gonna STARVE to death aren’t we?”
I don’t know what has come over me, talking like this. I storm upstairs, slide beneath the covers, I stare at the ceiling. I can’t sleep because life has dealt my family nothing but lemons. And I’m worried. We have limited means, tall debts, and a car that leaks oil like a colander. And now my mother is having to pay this Paul fella.
My mother comes into the bedroom. She sits beside me. She touches my hair and doesn’t say anything.…