A Story With A Different Ending, Category
Leona Charleigh Holman
Mom didn’t like to talk about her past—all her skeletons and disappointments bumping into each other and never saying excuse me. And she seldom spoke of her childhood, and then only in stories.
The stories, when they came, woeful and broken, slid from my mother’s mouth in bursts of ache or rage; the weight of their meaning crashing to the floor like thunderbolts. My brother and I categorized the stories according to mood, or feel, or touch. And in this way we learned to walk and maneuver through the rubble and ash of memory.
“But how did it happen?” I asked.
Mom drew in a deep, hand-me-down breath. “It was a long time ago,” she said.
I went back to the beginning. “You drove to town, stopped at White’s grocers, and then walked back to the truck,” I said, encouraging the whole thing over.
“Right. That’s when I heard it,” Mom said.
“You mean him. You heard him.”
“Yes, but I didn’t know it was a him. Not yet, anyway.”
The stories always started for the same reasons: an eviction notice had come, or the electricity had been shut off, or a mouse had eaten the last bag of flour. My brother and I’d open a can of creamed corn or pinto beans. We’d light misshapen candles and shove them into the necks of empty whiskey bottles and then sit, transfixed, at our mother’s feet. Mom would dust off something from her long ago and start in.
“What did you think it was?”
“A litter of kittens,” Mom said, “but when I got up close, I could hear its little coos.”
“And that’s when you jumped in?”
“No. A thing like that takes your breath,” Mom said, “it’s not every day you find a baby in the dumpster.”
The stories I knew by heart. I’d written them down in a composition book. Sometimes they had stick-figure drawings and dialogue bubbles. Some parts were encrypted should the book fall into enemy (read: social worker’s) hands.
“I stood on some boxes and bent into the dumpster, feeling around for something warm.”
“Where you scared?”
“Not until I saw its hand. Then I got scared the same way you get scared in a haunted house, so…”
“A haunted house?”
“Yeah, you know, not knowing if something’s going jump out but half expecting it to. Anyway, I saw its hand and then a leg and then it started crying.”
“You mean he. He started crying.”
“Right. So I picked him up. He was like holding a water bladder, cool and clammy. And there I stood, hip high in rotten egg shells and Styrofoam packages, screeching for help. All the while his rubbery lips suckled my neck.”
The stories have all their original endings. Except one—it has an alternate ending.
The original: My mother found a newborn in the dumpster behind White’s grocers. A crowd formed; the baby went from hand to hand. People climbed over each other to see the infant. Mom, lost in the crowd, faded to the edge of the parking lot.
The alternate: My mother found a newborn in the dumpster behind White’s grocers. A crowd formed, lifting her and the baby from the rubble and trash. The governor of Tennessee bestowed a certificate of good citizenship--a saint among malefactors. The newspapers hailed her a hero. The lights got turned back on, the landlord ripped the eviction notice into confetti, and the mice got a cabinet of their own.
About the author:
Leona Charleigh Holman appreciates what flash nonfiction/fiction can accomplish. She divides her time between whittling down longer stories and essays to fit the conventions of micro writing and her Native American blog.