Get them bony elbows off the table, Celeste. You gotta have some manners, girl.”
I hate when Mama talks to me like that, but I can’t do a thing about it. I pull my hands into my lap and look down at the table.
“Look me in the eye when I’m talkin’ to you.” Mama shakes her head. “I don’t know how you turned out so mousy. Folks will never take you seriously if you don’t sit up straight and look at ‘em.”
“Okay, Mama, I’ll try to do better.” I speak through gritted teeth as I force myself to be polite to Mama.
“I gotta run to the store. When I come back, I expect to see every single dish put away and the cabinets wiped down.” She glares at me. “Do you hear me?”
“Yes, Mama, I hear you.”
As soon as I hear the door close behind her, I clean the kitchen and then head straight to my bedroom where my suitcase is packed and waitin’ for me. I’ve been plannin’ on runnin’ away since I was six, and now that I’m twenty-three, I reckon it’s time to finally do it.
Over the past month, I’ve been lookin’ at apartments in Hattiesburg, tryin’ to find one that’s furnished that I can afford. It wasn’t easy on account of Hattiesburg bein’ such a big city and all. But I couldn’t very well look in Piney Point ‘cause everyone in town knows Mama, and sure as shootin’, word would get back to her.
I sit down at the kitchen table and write Mama a note lettin’ her know that I won’t be back. As I’m slidin’ it under the saltshaker, I see a small envelope addressed to me. Mama must have brought it in ‘cause I didn’t see it until now.
My fingers are so long and skinny, I can’t even look at ‘em as I rip open the envelope. Once it’s open, I pull out the card.
It’s an invitation to my class’s five-year reunion. That’s a joke. Why anyone would ever want to go back to that kind of humiliation, I can’t even imagine. High school was one of the worst times of my life—right up there with middle school, nursing assistant school, and livin’ with Mama.
I shove the invitation into my oversized handbag that I bought at the thrift store and head on out to my car. I take one last look at the house where I grew up before sliding into my clunker. If I ever come back to this place, it’ll be as a guest and never to live here. And as I back out of the driveway, I don’t have a bit of regret. I might be ugly, bony, and socially awkward, but I still have feelings. The only way to get away from constant humiliation is to live on my own.
The landlord handed me the keys to the front door and mailbox when I stopped by on the way to Mama’s house from my private duty nursin’ job last night. He also handed me a list of what I’m not allowed to do.
“We keep a close eye on folks around here,” he warned me, his eyes narrowin’ to itty bitty beady slits. “’Specially when they first move in. We don’t tolerate noise after eight, and you can’t have a bunch of rowdy parties, except on Friday and Saturday nights.”
“I hate to disappoint you, but I don’t have rowdy parties ever.” I’m tryin’ to be funny, but he don’t laugh.
My stomach feels mighty queasy as I pull into my new apartment parkin’ lot. There are other beat-up old cars around me, so I feel right at home.
The apartment ain’t all that nice, but it’s clean and furnished. I still have to go pick up some dishes somewhere, but since I’m not all that hungry at the moment, I don’t bother.
I sit down on the sofa to watch some TV. That’s when I realize that when they say furnished, they only mean bare minimum furniture. Looks like I’ll have to get a TV. I have a small savings account, but it won’t last long if I keep burnin’ through it. Maybe I can do without TV for a few weeks, until I can save a little bit of money from my next couple of paychecks.
I pull out my cell phone and make the dreaded call to Laura, letting her know I won’t be able to make it to the reunion. I hate lying, so I decide to leave it at that and not make up any excuses. If she presses, I’ll just beat around the bush about how busy I am, and maybe she’ll give up.
Her voicemail kicks in, so I’m off the hook. I simply say I won’t be there and hang up.
Two hours later my cell phone rings. It’s Mama. I’m tempted not to take it, but I figure I might as well get this over with.
“Hey, Mama, I know I should have told—”
“It’s about time you did this,” she said, interrupting me. “I’ve been throwing hints out ever since you got out of high school. So where is your new place?”
She’s caught me so off-guard, I’m speechless for a few seconds. “Um, in Hattiesburg.”
“That doesn’t tell me much. Hattiesburg is a big place. Tell me exactly where you are so I can come help get your place all fixed up. Is there anything from here you need?”
I look at the empty space across from me. “I could use a TV.”
“We’ve got that old one in the guest room. If you want it, you can have it.”
The TV she’s talking about is at least fifteen years old and about twice as deep as the screen is tall. But it’s better’n nothing.
“That would be nice.”
“Do you need sheets? I’m assuming you got yourself a furnished apartment.”
“Yes, sheets would be nice too.”
“Celeste, you should’ve said somethin’ to me before you left. Now get on back here right now, and I can load up your car with stuff you’ll need.”
I go back out to my car to pick up the stuff Mama promises she’ll have waitin’ for me. As I drive, I go back and forth between elation and frettin’ over the fact that Mama is so happy to be rid of me.