I’m sharing an excerpt from Winter Seedlings. This is a small part of Chapter 3 when Jute confronts her mother for abandoning her for four days. Winter Seedlings focuses on the effects of childhood sexual abuse and the difficulty of overcoming them. It’s a journey fumbling toward self-love with a broad range of diverse characters.
In this scene, Jute has been up in the woods behind her house collecting kindling. It is the first week of January and bitter cold. On the way back to the house, she sees her mother getting out of a GMC Jimmy driven by a man Jute doesn’t recognize.
As long as it takes me to walk to her, she never stops smiling. She is like that when people are around. Even when she shouldn’t be. She makes it hard to stay mad at her.
“Jute, this is Jerry.”
She turns to him and smiles, then looks back at me grinning. She lowers her voice seductively, “We’ve been sleeping around.”
“Momma!” I glare at her. She is trying to be funny but it makes me mad.
“What?” She says, batting her lashes at me and still grinning. “I’m finally free of that asshole. I can do whatever I want.”
She shrugs and walks past me like she’s Marilyn Monroe walking into someone else’s run down shack.
“Momma, I don’t care what you do or who you do it with. Just keep the details to yourself. Okay?”
I follow her up the porch steps and drop the kindling in the cardboard box by the door. Instead of going inside, I head back to the wood pile and pick up two small logs, leaving the largest for tonight. When I enter the house, Momma is in her bedroom talking to me through the door as if I have been there the whole time.
Ignoring her, I open the wood stove door. The heat is heavenly warmth on my face. I grab the poker and jab at the ashes and burned pieces of wood before throwing on the logs. I hear the snapping and cracking and try to focus on that instead of how angry I am at Momma for being gone so long. I can’t keep the door open any longer or the room will fill with smoke. I reluctantly shut it and hear Momma saying, “Jute, are you out there?”
I stand up and take my hat off. Jerry is standing by the couch, rocking on his heels and toes with his back to me. His hands are in his pockets and he’s looking at a picture of Jesus. It’s the only picture in the room, left here by the previous residents. This must be an awkward moment for Jerry. I don’t plan to make it any easier.
Before he has time to gawk at my shaved head, I walk through the kitchen to Momma’s room. She is sitting on her bed in her underwear. Her back is to me, bent slightly forward as she puts one leg into her black pants. Her olive skin stretches over her bony spine. Everything about her is not enough. Even the blanket on her bed looks threadbare. It wouldn’t even keep a dog warm.
A sigh escapes me. “Momma? Momma, what are you doing? We’ve been here a couple of weeks. You can’t run off with the first guy asking if you have change for a dollar.”
She doesn’t turn around. She looks drained. Her voice lacks all the entertainment qualities it had when Jerry could hear her, “If you had been listening to me a minute ago, you would know he isn’t just any guy. I don’t know what I would do without him. I have been a prisoner for too long, married to that crazy man. So, don’t tell me now that I should still think about that psycho before I make my decisions. I’ve snagged a nice man this time. He bought us those groceries, you know.”
My words come out quiet and empty, “That was nice of Jerry.”
Memories of the last week flash through my mind: The day I scraped the mold off the bread and ate it with mustard. I missed the bus Thursday. Missing school meant missing a free lunch. The next day Allie had to pick me up after school so I could make up the Chemistry test. Allie has always made up for Momma’s negligence, but Allie graduated early and is moving to Ohio tomorrow. I don’t say any of this aloud. Momma doesn’t care. If she knew how I felt, she would just use it to hurt me. She didn’t even want me here.
I pick up the hair brush and start to brush through the tangles in Momma’s hair. I gather it in my hand, turn it in a twist, and pin it. She stares at herself in the mirror. I’ve always loved to play with Momma’s hair. It is bittersweet to do it now. She picks up a small mirror and moves it so she can see the back of her head. She kisses the air and snort laughs.
“Oh, my heavens, who is that wretched old woman?” She giggles before pushing up her nose with her thumb and crossing her eyes.
“Momma, you are beautiful. Shut up.” I smile at her reflection, failing again to stay mad at her.
She winks at me.
I tell her, “Now, put on a shirt. And not that red and gold shirt with the clocks all over it. I hate that damn thing.”
I leave the room and find Jerry standing at the fridge with the door open. He’s pulling a container of cottage cheese out of a grocery bag and putting it in with the other items. There’s sliced cheese, bologna, a bag of apples, and a can of peaches. I see bread on the kitchen counter. I pick up the bread box from the kitchen table and carry it to the counter. We can’t leave bread out or mice will get in it.
“Got a mouse trap?” I don’t look to see if he smiles. It was a bad attempt at humor. I sigh.
Finally, after closing the bread box, I look over at him. He’s staring at me, mostly my stubbly hair.
“Is Jute your real name?”
“It wasn’t. But, it is now.” I don’t offer details. I don’t tell him that Momma named me Judy after herself. I don’t understand why she did that. The name Judy is bad enough without it implying that I am also my mother’s replica. I’m nothing like her. When I started kindergarten, I insisted everyone call me Jute. It stuck. We changed it legally when Momma married Earl and he officially adopted us.
“What do you think Judy is doing in there?” I see his eyes land on my tiny scar, then shift around my face trying to find a soft place to land. He gives up and looks away. My face might be full and round, but it isn’t a place to find comfort.
“She has trouble making up her mind,” I say as though I’m not being mean. “I’ll check on her.”
Opening the bedroom door, I see her shoving her folded up blanket into the top of her closet. She’s wearing the clock shirt. There is a suitcase open on the bed, full of her clothes. Her dresser is cleared except for a bottle of baby lotion.
She turns to me and forces a weak smile. She walks toward me as if she is on a t.v. screen. She is just walking toward the camera.
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