An expanded universe story from “Whilst we wait for you”
Part 1 - Mother
Part 1 - Mother
Doris was standing behind the counter, wiping down the surface that was perpetually greasy. Her grandson gurgled in his sleep from his pram, clenching and unclenching his little chubby fists, podgy little feet kicking in his socks. The door swung open and a chill blew through the café. The toddler stirred and Doris wrapped the blanket tighter around his sleeping form. An elderly man stood at the door. The man, aided by a walking cane made his way across the dilapidated café, weaving in between the ramshackle tables and chairs. He swung himself heavily into the bar stool, cane resting against the wall and gave a subdued smile in Doris’ direction. “Morning Mr Jay. The usual?....” Doris asked, turning towards the coffee machine. A very strong black coffee with one sugar; she’d been making the same cup of Joe for the past twenty years every weekday lunchtime. Mr Grayson Jay was the man in the barstool; tall, with silver grey hair and dark brown eyes hidden beneath a hat, he was a distinguished yet subtle figure that was ever present in the café.’
Mr Jay was the last of a long line of Jay’s who’d lost his cause in life. He’d lost all that he held dear; except from one thing he hoped in vain would return. He knew that it wasn’t very plausible that the person he waited for would ever return; but hope kept the ticking of time out of his head and the looming shadow of death at bay. Another customer entered the café and a breeze blew yet again. The child stirred and began to cry. Doris picked him up and soothed him, gently holding him tightly. ……… I had never been able to stand a baby's cry; not even my own child's. It clenches my throat, makes me clammy and uncertain.
So I left.
As I walked, I remembered that there was a time, distant in my memory, when I was held like Doris held her little grandson. My last memory of this was on a chilly night on the veranda of my childhood home… Appaloosa Plains was the town where that veranda was located. It was a small town with a population in those days of 57 people. Located on the cliffs above the largest river in the south, you would have thought that the earth would have been green and fresh. However it was perpetually autumn here; the southern sun cast low in the sky, the days warm but the ground was parched; water didn’t flow up cliffs after all. I grew up on the largest plantation in our county on the flood plains bellow Appaloosa Plains; the Cottonwood Ranch, which had been in my family for generations. As the successive heir to the Jay family legacy, it was my duty to learn from an early age the ropes of the family trade. My father, Grayson Jay Senior, was a heavy handed man who couldn’t see past his next glass of nectar. But he was a steel headed business man, who had propelled the family business into the stratosphere during the Great War and the past one, providing food for our troops overseas and the large restaurants in the posh cities. My mother, Lilly, on the other hand was a gentle beauty. With fair hair, fair skin with a smattering of freckles and deep brown eyes. She had a southern look about her, but was a born and raised city girl. Her father was a compulsive gambler and lost all their families money. He owed debts to my father’s father, who took the daughter of the gambler, my mother, for his son and his prised car as repayment. My mother never forgave her father for making her marry the brute that was my father and the car had sat underneath the Cottonwood tree in the yard ever since. My parents had two children; myself, Grayson Junior, the younger child and my older sister Lisette. My sister was like my mother, well-educated and beautiful. She knew all of the past presidents and could recite the alphabet in French. She was destined for greater things, like university, which was beginning to grow popular with the women of our county. It was the summer of 1949, hot, dry and the pond was dipping below the full level. Little did I know that that was the summer that my life would change forever. The Jay birds nested in the trees and sung their nosy song, chirping to their mothers and the horses snuffled and stamped in the pasture behind the big barn, rolling on their rubber ball. My father had made me distribute the hay around the paddock to feed the horses. The pitchfork was heavy for a nine year old boy to carry and I lunged and lurched with the accuracy of a drunkard playing darts. A car, smart, sleek pulled into the drive next to my father’s beat up old truck. A smart man dressed in a suit stepped out of the car and straightened his travelling hat. He was tall with tanned skin, well-built and had light brown hair with a red tint to it. My father, upon hearing the car stop on the asphalt outside the behind of the barn appeared at the barn doors, wiping his hands on a rag. He strode confidently with the gait of a man who’d spent a few too many years in the saddle.
“Can I help you?” He asked, placing a filthy oil rag in his back pocket. “Yes, this is the Cottonwood ranch, isn’t it?” the man asked, looking at the horses and faded barn behind him.
“Sure is. Can I help you any further or are you going to waste more of my time?” My father asked rudely.
“My name is Mr Roy Strell. I’m here about the room. The one that is up for rent that appeared in the Chronicle.”
“My wife deals with all of that. Hang on a minute. BOY!” My father bellowed his traditional summoning to me; he’d never addressed my sister and I by our names just ‘boy’ and ‘girl’.
I ran across the yard and stood, panting in the sunshine.
“Look sharp boy we have a guest.”
“He don’t look like much of a guest Pa, he look like one of them city slickers you always cursin’.”
My father glared at me.
“Take the NICE man to see your Ma you ungrateful little brat.” He snarled at me, spittle hitting me in the face.
I led the city man across the yard, his shiny shoes getting covered in the dust and grit, colouring the black a funny rust colour. It made them look like the colour had run. I hurried up the veranda steps to where my mother and sister were sitting; Lissette reading, mother simply staring into the distance.
“Ma, there’s a man here about the barn room.”
The city man watched my mother as she rose from the beaten up wicker chair. At a young age, you never appreciate the beauty that is your mother; she’s just your scruffy old ma in stitched rags and ripped skirts. But to a stranger, regardless of her outward appearance, you can see the radiance that a beautiful woman causes. And Mr. Roy, well, he was smitten at first sight.
My mother and Mr Roy started to talk adult business and I left, bored out of my little skull.
And so Mr Roy became our lodger. He paid the rent directly to my Ma; he was wise to my father’s habits at the local watering holes and wasn’t keen to feed that fire. Mr Roy helped out on the farm, he was quick to pick up a brush and care for our overworked and tired work horses; father hated tractors and our last one that had broken down still lay rusting beneath a cottonwood tree in the paddock. Mr Roy took a particular fancy to Stee, my father’s arch nemesis of a horse. Stee was of a racing breed and was no good for farm labour, too scrawny with no shoulder muscle. But Mr Roy loved racing Stee to the upper lake on the outskirts of the town; they would often be seen riding into the sunset after Mr Roy had finished work for the night. My mother often made me take food packages up to the barn for Mr Roy. Mr Roy spent his evenings stopped over a pad, chewing the end of his pencil working on his next piece. Mr Roy was a journalist, a good one, from the city and had been sent to the plains to create a series of articles on horses; competitions, breeding, racing and rustling rings. Mr Roy wasn’t too happy at being demoted; apparently there had been an argument in his office over his political views and his boss had sent him here, to the middle of no where’s middle of nowhere.
One evening, I was sent up to the barn with a package of stew in a big old pot.
“Evening Mr Roy!” I called as I carried the pot up the stairs, slopping some in the process.
“Evening Gray! Set that pot in the corner and take a seat, I’ll be done in a minute.”
I sat quietly on the rickety chair that had come with the apartment; we called it an apartment but it was just a singular room with a bed, desk, table, kitchen space and an indoor toilet located above our hay barn. Sparely decorated, my mother had attempted to cheer the bleary and bleak space with a rug and Mr Roy had place a few books, leather bound and old, on the desk. It still wasn’t the best area, but it supplemented my mother’s measly allowance given to her by my father.
Mr Roy put down his paper and pushed his pad to one side.
“Gray, are you happy?”
For a nine year old this was a very serious question and made me uncomfortable; normally we talked about Mr Roy’s work or automobile or how Lissette’s French was doing.
“I think so Mr Roy. I like looking after the horses, Ma gives me cuddles and Lissette and I play in the yard. I like being at home. It makes me happy. Pa makes me do lots of work and sends me to school which I don’t like too much. And Pa drinks a bit too much, don’t make Ma too pleased with him. They fight a lot. That makes me sad.”
Mr Roy frowned.
“Does your Pa hurt your Ma?”
“I dun know Mr Roy; but Ma cry’s a lot.”
Mr Roy nodded. After that, Mr Roy started spending a lot of time at the house after his evening ride on Stee. Ma would give him a glass of water and they would talk about grown up issues like politics and the weather. Ma started to look at Mr Roy in the way that Mr Roy looked at Ma. Mr Roy came home one day with a big glass cage and a fluffy grey rat like thing poking out the top of a cardboard box. Turns out that he’d caught Lissette a Chinchilla which she called Rodeo. I’ve never seen my sister smile so much, her normally serious face full of joy and happiness as she spent hours with Mr Roy learning how to care for Rodeo. Mr Roy came to me one day and led me into the barn, behind the haystacks beneath the stairs to his apartment. He told me to be quiet or else we’d startle what he’d found. Next to the window there was a perch and on that perch sat a giant black bird.
The bird turned its head towards and let out a faint cry; the cry of a crow.
“I got this for you; I caught him trying to eat your father’s apples the other day.” Mr Roy chuckled to himself. “My did he put up a fight. Hold out your arm and he’ll jump straight on it.”
Tentatively, I held out my arm. The crow jumped straight onto it and busied himself preening his feathers.
“Now, make sure to feed him every day and keep him out of sight from your father.” Mr Roy warned me. I nodded quickly, in awe of the bird. “Put him back now, before he tries to fly away.”
I put my arm close to the perch and the bird simply hopped back onto it, giving a cry to show his disgust at beginning moved.
“So he’s mine Mr Roy?”
“Yes Gray, he’s completely yours, just make sure that you keep him out of the way of your father.”
Before I knew it I was hugging Mr Roy.
“I wish you were my Pa Mr Roy.”
“I know son, I know.”
Mr Roy had been living with us for 2 months before he was invited to dinner by my Pa. When he got to the house, letting himself in by the back door, he washed his hands and sat next to myself at the dining room table. From the dining room you could hear the muffled shouting as my father screamed at my mother.
“Children,” Mr Roy asked, “does your father shout at your mother often with you in the house?”
“The whole time Mr Roy.” Lissette replied.
We heard the door open and the sniffs of my mother crying. Mr Roy excused himself and went to console my mother, whilst my father continued to stomp about in his study. Even though my sister and I saw the signs, as innocent young children we didn’t realise how much consoling Mr Roy had actually been giving our mother. One night, about 6 months after Mr Roy had come to live with us, I as awoken by a noise outside. Mr Roy had left the light on by my bedside from where he’d finished reading me my bedtime story; my father’s drinking had got worse and I was having regular nightmares about him shouting at my mother. Groggily, I swung my legs over the side of the bed, wondering what had awoken me. It was two hours before my father would even consider coming home from the town, so it couldn’t have been him returning home. I suddenly remembered that I hadn’t fed my crow. Silently, I opened my door and crept downstairs. I stopped at the veranda, shocked at what I saw. My mother and Mr Roy were saddling up two of my father’s horses, saddle bags swinging gently as the horses pawed at the ground and shifted their weight. My mother was talking gently to her horse.
“Ma?” I called out into the darkness.
My mother turned, looking visibly shocked.
She nodded to Mr Roy, who started trotting off further into the darkness.
“What’s wrong Gray?” my mother asked as she walked across the yard and climbed the stairs to the veranda, looking worried. She touched my forehead gently, checking for a temperature.
“I had a nightmare and I forgot to feed my crow. Where are you and Mr Roy going?”
“We’re going away for a little while darling. Just a little while, then Mr Roy is going to come back and get you both, you and Lissette. Don’t worry about your crow; you can feed him in the morning. Go back to bed now.” My mother reached down and embraced me tightly. Minute’s passed, and she detangled herself from my grip.
“Whatever you do Gray, don’t tell your Pa you saw Mr Roy and I. Ever. Do you understand?”
“I love you my little Gray. Tell Lissette that I love her too. Look after her. Keep out of your Pa’s way. We’ll come and get you soon. I promise.” She kissed me on the cheek and ran down the veranda, mounting her horse and riding quickly to where Mr Roy waited. And I was left on the veranda, suddenly realising that my Ma was gone. I began to cry as the wind rustled the dust and leaves in the yard, coating my nightclothes in rust coloured dirt.
Neither Mr Roy nor my Ma ever came to get us.
The call of the lost Jay - Mother
Mar 23, 2012 by Milii454
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