We delivered newspapers together. She’d drive the car. I’d fling. I’d aim for doorsteps. Seldom did papers land on doormats.
Sometimes, I’d hit cars parked in driveways so hard I’d set off burglar alarms.
Mama would laugh until she choked.
It bears mentioning, that in my life I’ve shoveled cow pies, cleaned chicken coops, baled hay, and unclogged septic tanks. Throwing papers remains the worst damn job I’ve ever had.
Before the sun came up, Mama and I would arrive in an empty parking lot. A truck would deliver a pallet of newsprint with a forklift. After I signed for them, the delivery man would give me a look of sympathy.
We’d deliver roughly seventeen trillion papers to half of Florida. On Sundays: triple.
In the winter, Mama and I would sit in the vehicle, the heater blasting, stuffing newspapers into plastic bags. Often, I’d have a pissy attitude.
Not Mama. The woman could detail outhouses while whistling Dixie.
Thus, we’d canvas the city with a vehicle so packed with newspaper, the rear bumper scraped the pavement.
Our route: four high-rise condominiums, three subdivisions, two trailer parks, a hundred newspaper vending machines, churches, whorehouses, space-stations, and one partridge in a pear tree.
When we’d finish, we’d watch the sunrise, eating donuts, drinking coffee. Then, I’d go back to my apartment and sleep for eight years.
Mama and I worked each day. Rain, sleet, or World Series. Weekends, black plague, holidays, Christmas Eve, even her birthday.
On her birthday, the roads iced over. And just when I thought things couldn’t get any worse, I locked the keys in the car. My first reaction was to beat on the windows—I don’t know why.
The sheriff deputy got a kick out of that.
Our deliveries were all late, the boss was fuming mad, he threatened to let us go.
We ate lukewarm fried chicken in the Winn Dixie parking lot. I sang “Happy Birthday,” then gave Mama a card.
She read it and fell silent—which is unusual behavior for her.
“What’s the matter, Mama?”
She looked at me with serious eyes. “I want you to write our story one day.”
“Don’t be ridiculous, Mama.”
She didn’t laugh. “Dammit, listen to me. One day, you’re gonna write it down, and it’s gonna be good. You hear me?”
It was absurd.
She went on, “And when you do, I want you to look back on everything. Your daddy’s death, the god-awful jobs we’ve done to pay the rent… The good and bad. And I want you to make it seem beautiful, somehow.”
She started crying. “One day. Promise me.”
Yes ma’am. I’ll do my absolute best.
Happy birthday, Mama.