When I Am 19, a Woman I’ve Called about a Job Starts Telling Me about Her White Trash Neighbors

Beer cans on porch rails, she says, beer cans on gravel, beer cans where hydrangeas used to flower each spring. I don’t tell her how for years in our own kitchen, my mother kept a photo taken by a security camera, in which the woman in the well-kept house by the river let herself into our yard with a stepladder, cut loose Momma’s cottonwood as if obliging a favor. When Momma returned from work, planted herself between the woman’s potted boxwoods, she waved the photo like she was planting the flag of a country the woman could not imagine, let alone place on an atlas. The woman did not say, “Sorry,” but instead had her own list of grievances: Beer cans on porch rails, beer cans on gravel. Momma explained how in other lives there are other kinds of nuisances, which is the difference between my mother and me: She did not want to be a bird of prey. She has made the best of it, learned to boil the blood down to a kind of sugar. Meanwhile, when the lady I called about the job asks, “Is everything alright? Are you still coming?” I stall. I haver. All my life I’ve been hiding behind the treeline, too timid to approach whatever I’ve trapped there. “Just eat me already,” something has always been begging me from beyond the tall grasses. And I want to. I need to, but I can’t.

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