Walter
JB Mulligan
Dorsal Winner
There are times Mamie looks like that still.  The smile like a snake contemplating a bird.  Eyes filled with diamonds and promises.  A shape she works at protecting like it was Greece and she was the last Spartan.  And then there are times that her mother shows up, brassy and powdered, a bold mask hiding nothing.

Maxine was a loving wife, if a brief one, and her daughter Mamie has some of the same qualities: that guilty innocent hunger, that heated insistence, as if all of her were a fist milking you dry.  Neither of them was especially trustworthy, but I couldn't cast stones on that account, not without bashing myself in the skull.  Funny how life is a boomerang.  Maxine is dead, and so am I, only not just yet.

Mamie's father left when she was a kid.  I've wondered lately how far he'd actually traveled.  There's lots of garden on the property.  Anyway, the widow was looking for company, and I was looking for easy, and things worked out that way, for a while.

Maxine had climbed a long way, through unspoken but hinted at pasts, and over a dead husband, to get to where she wanted to relax and enjoy.  And I helped her enjoy.  I'd eaten enough at the trough, now I liked feeding from gold-rimmed plates.  I figured I deserved it.  But Mamie was impatient in a way her mother never was, and wanted it all while Maxine still had it.  And we got that, and it was good.

Move two cities away and nobody knows you.  Yeah, she's young enough to be my – so what, pal?  You ain't getting any.

A lot of years got dropped on our plates, and we ate them all, Mamie and me, and wiped our mouths and ate some more.  And Maxine would show up sometimes, angry and pale and with her hair clotted, and I would wake up, and Mamie would keep sleeping.

Now there's this fellow Mark stopping around most nights, a financial adviser, a consultant, a young smooth fellow I recognize from long ago, and he and Mamie seem to need to consult a lot.  She gets to bed late and giggles sometimes in her sleep, probably from all that amusing advice.

  Mamie's getting on, and I'm getting way on, and I don't begrudge her one bit.  But my food tastes funny and their eyes keep measuring me in a way I remember, and I don't have anything left to fight with.  I don't know which of us will wind up deeper in the ninth circle, but I'm tired of burning, and that's all we'll be able to do.

First published: August 2015
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