Your house smelled as if bathed in Pine-Sol. Ebony and Jet magazines cluttered the coffee table. You didn’t care that they were twenty years old. It reminded you of when Junior was young and your husband, Manny, was faithful and alive.
“How you been, Mom?” Junior asked. Cheeks puffy. He sat in the chair next to the sofa.
“I’m fine, Junior,” you said, adjusting your auburn-colored wig. “Nice of you to ask since I haven’t seen you in months?”
His face, the color of sandalwood, flushed crimson. “It’s only been a couple of days.” He fiddled with the papers in his hand. “You’re all set to move next week.”
You stared at his fingers as if they held a ticking time bomb. Months ago, you’d walked to the corner store and couldn’t remember what you went for and how to get home.
When it happened again, Junior insisted you wear a bracelet that tracked your every move. One night, it pinged your location miles from home near the store where police officers had murdered Alton Sterling. Now, anytime you opened your front door, between the retired nosy neighbor and motion detectors setting off all kinds of alarms, you couldn’t leave even if you tried.
They marketed the Cozy Oaks Retirement home as a playground for seniors living out their golden years. When Junior took you to visit, with the beautiful view of the Mississippi River, you would’ve thought it was a condominium in some resort town instead of on the south side of Baton Rouge near LSU. But you knew better. Lysol masked the scent of mothballs. The residents seemed listless, their stares blank. You didn’t belong there. But Junior felt otherwise and had gotten doctor’s statements justifying guardianship and the right to make decisions on your behalf.
He’d signed the papers for you to move into Cozy Oaks, sealing your fate.
“I’ve been searching for an animal shelter that will take George,” he said. He walked to the back door and looked out the window. George, your peacock, strutted as if he owned the place, spreading his iridescent brown tail feathers spotted with orange and dark blue circles.
You found George a year ago at a neighborhood park. The same day you picked up Manny’s ashes from the funeral home. You believed it to be a sign from God and Manny. When one spirit departs, another shall arrive to comfort you. Only Manny would do something as far-fetched as sending a damn peacock to keep you company in his absence. Gripping Manny’s urn with one hand, you’d beckoned George with the other.
The next day Junior took you to the doctor who’d performed a battery of tests. They’d come back normal.
Junior returned to the sofa.
Your lips pursed into a frown. You’d put up the fifty dollars down payment on this house you and Manny bought forty years ago. You gave birth to Junior in the tub thirty-five years ago when you didn’t have time to make it to the hospital. Manny had cut the umbilical cord as if he’d done it all his life.
Early on, summers comprised of barbeques and spade games. For holiday block parties, Manny dressed as Santa Claus.
Throughout the years, longtime neighbors scampered as blight and crime invaded nearby areas. Manny ran the streets more. You’d kick him out, only for him to return, begging for forgiveness with his tail tucked between his legs.
Manny’s heart had given out. That’s what the woman whose bed he was in when he’d died told you. Your mother said having a piece of man was better than not having a man at all. On his best day, Manny was a piece and a half.
“Wedding plans are coming along great,” Junior said, bringing you back to the present. You stared at a rerun of Blackish. Junior had impregnated his girlfriend Regina after two months of dating. “Weddings and babies are expensive, aren’t they, son?” You said.
Frank at Frank’s Automotive had fired Junior after smelling beer on his breath. Junior lied and said Frank had downsized and he would receive unemployment. But gossip trickled in Baton Rouge like a car’s oil leak. It started small, but eventually oozed its way across the city.
Manny couldn’t keep a job, either. Excuses galore. I didn’t steal money from the register. I didn’t sleep with the boss’s wife.
You wouldn’t put it past Junior to move into your house once he shipped you off to Cozy Folks, or whatever the hell it was called, but Regina would never live in north Baton Rouge. At least that’s the impression you got when she visited. Her nose remained in the air, and she kept asking Junior if the popping noises she heard were fireworks or gunshots.
George lay asleep in his cage. What if Junior couldn’t find a Cozy Oaks for George? Would he bring him back to the park? What if George lived trapped in a body with a mind that betrayed him?
The rifle’s butt sits strong on your shoulder. You aim the barrel at George, close your eyes, and pull the trigger.
Erica L. Williams received an MFA in Creative Writing – Fiction from the Vermont College of Fine Arts. Her writing has appeared or is forthcoming in The Rumpus, Blood Orange Review, Entropy Literary Magazine, Necessary Fiction, Vol. 1 Brooklyn, Cutleaf Journal & elsewhere. She currently resides in Baton Rouge, LA. You can find her online at www.ericalwilliams.com and on Twitter @ericalwilliams3.