Excerpt from The Good Nearby










                                                                       
    Mama sat on the bed, going through her wallet. She pulled out a piece of money, looked at it, then wadded it
    up and threw it down. “This is ridiculous.”

    I stood at the foot of the bed and watched. I put my thumb in my mouth, then pulled it out and hid it behind
    my back. It wouldn't do no good to get Mama mad about that too.

    She turned her purse upside down. A comb, lipstick, keys, cigarette case, and some coins fell onto the sheets.
    She shook it hard. A few more coins came out. “Ah, come on...”

    Money. She was after money. I ran after a few pennies that had rolled onto the carpet and brought them back to
    her. “Look, Mama. Here’s more.”

    She glanced at the coins and flipped a hand at them. “Worthless. Just like everything else in my life.”

    I tried to think of something to cheer her up. “I can count.”

    Mama started looking through the drawer of Daddy’s bedside table. “I would certainly hope so.”

    “Want to hear me?”

    With a sigh she sank onto the bed and lit a cigarette. She took a long puff before saying, “Sure. Why not? Go
    for it.”

    I took a deep breath. “One, two, three, four, five, ninety-six, seven—”

    Mama blew the smoke out. “It’s six, Gigi, not ninety-six. You’re almost four now. I can’t have you being dumb.
    You know how it goes. Four, five, six, seven.”

    I shook my head. “Ninety-six.”

    “No, it’s—”

    I stomped a foot on the floor. “Mama! Ninety-six!”

    Mama raised an eyebrow and for a second I was afraid I’d get hit. But then she said, “You are a stubborn little
    thing. Just like your father.”

    I didn't know what stubborn was. I didn't care as long as I could count—my way.

    I skipped out of the room. “One, two, three, four, five, ninety-six, seven...”



                                                                                 ONE

    I was happy.

    Sitting between Mama and Daddy in the pickup, driving to Great-Grammy’s for Thanksgiving dinner... I wondered
    if Grammy would have a turkey with funny legs on it, with even funnier socks like I’d seen in pictures. My friend
    Susie had told me what her family was having for dinner, and though I didn't know what yams were and couldn't
    imagine eating a pie made out of a pumpkin, I nodded and said, “Me too. I can hardly wait.”

    From the sounds of Mama and Daddy arguing, Grammy had been asking us to come for years, but we’d never gone.
    I wasn't sure why we were going this year, except I heard Mama say something about Grammy being gone soon
    and us needing to get in good with her. Was she taking a trip? I’d sure like to go with her.

    They also talked a lot about an in-her-tence. Daddy said we shouldn't expect one of those, but Mama said we’d
    better get it because she’d married him to move up in the world, not down. “You promised,” Mama said way
    too often. “You promised me the world and I’m tired of settling for less.”

    Daddy got real quiet when she brought up the promise-thing. He’d been kind of sad lately. He’d gotten laid off
    from his office job. I did like having him around more but it made Mama huffy. Last week Daddy got a job as a
    gofer for a house builder. Now, when he comes home from work he’s so sore from lifting and moving things he
    can barely move. Mama says it’s beneath him. I just wish it wouldn't make him so tired.

    Mama may have worried about getting in good with Grammy, but I didn't have to worry about that ‘cause
    Grammy always smiled when she came to visit me. And today, going to her house for the first time, I imagined
    her giving me one of her very biggest hugs. “I’m ever so glad to see you, Gigi-girl. And my, my. Seven years old
    and getting so big!”

    I couldn't remember ever seeing my parents hug Grammy. I liked hugs a lot, but I knew Mama and Daddy didn't
    care much for ‘em because whenever I tried to hug them, they’d pull away and say, “Go on, now. There’s no
    need for that.”

    There was, but I couldn't argue with them. At least I’d be hugging Grammy soon.

    I dug in my coat pocket and got out a slip of paper to look at Grammy’s address. Daddy had made Mama write it
    down: 96 Maple. When I first saw that number, that ninety-six, I got all excited. Grammy lived in a house that
    had my special number on it? I knew right then this was going to be a good day.

    Mama was reading one of her fancy fashion magazines, Vogue. The clothes were way too weird and fancy for
    anything she’d ever wear so I wasn't sure why she liked looking at it. Besides, she didn't need many clothes.
    She sold makeup at a department store and wore a pink smock every day. And we never went anywhere that
    made us get dressed up. Except today. Today Mama had told me to put on my red jumper and a blouse because
    Great-Grammy was old-fashioned. I didn't know what one had to do with the other, but I was glad enough to
    wear it. ‘Cept it was hard sitting like a lady in a truck, in a jumper.

    Mama liked helping the rich ladies who came in the store spend tons of dollars on face cream and eye shadow.
    I thought spending that much was dumb, especially when they could get a lipstick at the drugstore for cheap.
    But what did I know? Chapstick was enough for me. How I loved the smell of that stuff...

    Even if Mama would never be wearing the magazine-clothes, she did know how to use makeup. Her skin was
    soft and creamy, the color of a fresh-peeled potato. Her eye shadow was blue and she had a brown line drawn
    around her eyes, and a red line around her lips. I loved watching her put her makeup on. She was an artist. I
    thought she was every bit as pretty as the women in any old magazine. Especially when she was all done,
    when she smiled in the mirror and posed. She looked happy right then.

    I looked out the window at the world whizzing by. The snow peeked through dead plants in the fields and
    was piled along the edge of the road. Part of the road was covered with it, and I liked watching the snow slip
    across the highway in front of us like it was running to get away from the tires. I’d run too. We were going
    really fas—

    S-l-i-d-e...

    The back of the truck went right.

    The front left.

    We headed into the other lane—

    “Watch it!” Mama yelled.

    The car got straight again with a jerk like the road had reached up and grabbed the tires.

    “You’re going to get us killed,” Mama said.

    “Don’t even start.” But then Daddy flicked his cigarette out the window and put two hands on the wheel. That
    made me feel a little safer. Daddy usually drove with one hand on the top of the steering wheel, not really
    holding it, but just resting there, bent at the wrist. I wasn't sure how a wrist could drive a car, but Daddy
    seemed to make it work.

    But now he was using two hands and was sitting up real straight. I saw the muscles in his jaw twitch. Mama sat
    straighter too. I held onto the corner of Mama’s coat, but I don’t think she noticed. Anyways, she didn't tell
    me to let go or anything.

    “It’s this stupid truck, “ Mama said. “No weight in the back. I will never understand why you traded your car
    for this piece of—”

    “I need a truck for work.”

    “What you need is different work. Office work. You do not need to be a delivery peon.”

    “A job’s a job.”

    She huffed. “You going to tell your grandma about your new job?”

    “Maybe.”

    Mama laughed. “That’ll impress her.”

    Suddenly, Daddy slammed on the brakes, making the truck slip and slide some more, until we stopped right
    there in the middle of the highway.

    “Jay!”

    I looked over my shoulder and was glad to see there was no one behind us.

    Daddy glared at Mama. “It was your idea to go to my grandma’s today. We've never gone before. I don’t know
    why we have to go now.”

    She slapped her magazine shut. “You know very well why.” She tapped a pink-painted fingernail on the
    model’s face. “If I’m ever going to get a life like in these magazines, we need some real money.”

    “I’m working my tail off.”

    “So am I.” She shook her head. “But it’s not enough. You need to be a vice president or a manager to make
    the bucks we need.”

    “Things like that take time.”

    “Gigi’s seven. She needs the best schools. Private schools.”

    “Since when?” Daddy started driving again. “I’m doing the best I can, Joyce.”

    I was glad Mama didn't repeat her line, “It’s not enough” even though I knew she was thinking it. Nothing
    was enough for Mama. Ever.

    After a few miles Mama sat up straight and pointed out the front. “Look! Lights. There must be an accident.”

    I saw the lights too. Red spinning lights on a cop car and a white van.

    The cars on the highway in front of us slowed down and we had to slow down too. There was a blue car
    upside down in the ditch. People in dark coats were bent over a person in the snow.

    “Ewwwww,” Mama said. “That one’s dead.” She pointed to a person lying every which way by the edge of
    the field. The snow was red.

    I sat forward and leaned on the dash to see better. I wasn't interested in the person with the people around
    them, but the dead one off alone, by themselves. “Why isn't anyone with her?” I asked.

    “Because she’s dead,” Mama said.

    “You shouldn't be so blunt,” Daddy said. “She’s just a kid.” Daddy pulled on the back of my coat. “Sit back,
    Gige.”

    But I didn't want to sit back. I had to see the person who was dead. “What does dead mean?” I asked.

    Mama snickered. “Dead, dummy. Not alive. Gone. Outta here.”

    “Cut it out, Joyce,” Daddy said.

    “You want me to lie to her? Tell her some baloney story about being asleep, or being up in heaven, or turning
    into an angel? Give me a break.”

    “You don’t have to be so crude, that’s all.”

    “Where’s heaven?” I asked.

    Mama snickered again. “Not anywhere near here so don’t think about it.”

    But I did think about it. If the lady was dead and dead people went to heaven, then heaven had to be close.
    Didn't it?

    The line of cars was moving now and I got on my knees and turned around to see out the back window. I looked
    past the lady all crumpled in the red snow, and looked for heaven. Shouldn't I be able to see something going
    on between here and there?

    Mama yanked on my coat. “Sit down! Little girls aren't supposed to want to see things like that.”

    I sat.

    “Stupid crash,” Mama said. “Now the traffic’s all bogged up. Stupid crash.”

    “They didn't do it to make you mad,” Daddy said.

    Mama called him a nasty name and told him to shut up.

    Mama was right. Heaven wasn't any place close to here... (continued)

                                                                                            



                                                              Copyright 2014, Nancy Moser