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Backseat

I sat in the back of my sister’s car so my mother could sit in the front passenger seat. I can’t tell you what type of car it was except inside and out it was clean and white. I was in my thirties, my sister was in her early forties, and mama was seventy-something. As soon as mama got into the car she didn’t waste any time complaining about daddy.

“I don’t know what I’m going to do with your father.”

“What are you talking about?” my sister asked.

“I said I don’t know what I’m going to do with him. He won’t leave me alone.”

“Well, what’s he doing?” I asked.

By that time mama was getting a little irritated that her daughters couldn’t read between the lines. She came from a generation that considered certain subjects taboo. Mama’s teeth were clenched behind her pursed lips as she looked in my sister’s direction. When her eyes narrowed, what eyebrows mama had left, due to years of excessive plucking, grew sternly together creating “the look.” You know the one; all mothers get a certain look albeit stare on their face that says you are pushing your luck, you’re not listening, I’m not getting what I want.

“I said he won’t leave me alone.”

Just then my mind went where I wish it hadn’t — to my parents’ tiny bedroom with only enough space to walk around the bed. In the old farmhouse rebuilt in 1929 that we call the old homestead, you had to walk through the bathroom to get to mom and dad’s room. The basement door was in the bathroom, too. What were contractors thinking back then?

I looked in the rear-view mirror and saw only my sister’s eyes.  I could tell she was smiling because they were squinty. It’s a trait my Polish family has; smiling produces squinty eyes. My eyes were big with surprise.

“What am I going to do?”

“Well, mom, you could just make up a reason why you can’t,” my sister said.

“You know your father.  He always gets what he wants. He doesn’t care about anybody but himself.”

I kept silent in the back seat. My sister’s eyes returned to the mirror except this time they were pleading for my help. My thoughts were still on the bedroom. How do you do it when you’re that old? Do they keep their teeth in? Aren’t they afraid of breaking a hip?  How wrinkled are they? My sister’s eyes were still in the mirror.

“How often does he bother you?” I asked.

Mama’s head turned past her left shoulder to glare at me. She didn’t like my question.

“I thought you girls could help me, but maybe I was wrong,” mama said.

“You could fake being sick,” I said.

“Make sure you’re never in the same room with him,” my sister added.

“Tell him you’re worried one of his fake hips will pop out,” I said.

My sister started laughing, which made me laugh, and as Mama glared at both of us she broke into a laugh. Being older, my sister knew when the laughing subsided it was the perfect time to change the subject.

— Lois Heise

Lois Heise, the mother of four young adults, grew up on a grape farm in Pennsylvania and worked beside her husband for 22 years at his full-service automotive garage. At 52, she graduated from college. She’s been published in the Ultimate MMA Magazine and helped write Lara’s Gems, a Build-a-Book production by Bayla Publishing.

Reflections of Erma