Christina Brockett
and Maureen O’Donnell

Shades of Gray

By Christina Brockett

The Point
By Maureen O’Donnell

Inspiration Piece

Thank god, it was finally raining.  Mom’s mutter floated through the narrow channel between kitchen and the living room that morphed into his bedroom at night.  She said it again, and the words twisted their way through his ear, slithered into his mind and burrowed until they were part of his own thoughts.  Finally raining.

Jay sprawled on the fold-out couch, felt the ridge that ran along the center bisect his body.  His feet hung over the side, and if he scooted down an inch or two, they would be flat against the wall. He was nearly as tall as their home was wide.  He couldn’t hear the rain, only the soft hum of the box fan, the creak of the floor as she stepped over it, the quiet pop of the toaster.  She was getting ready for work.

Her breath tickled his ear as she leaned over him, pressed a dry-lipped kiss to his forehead.  He smelled toast.  One eye opened, and he saw a bagel perched on the splayed fingers of her free hand.

“I’ll be back for dinner, Jere-bear,” she said.  He squirmed at the nickname, to no avail.  “Three pages, you hear?  I’ll check it.”

Sometimes she checked, sometimes she didn’t.  Sometimes she was so tired that she tossed a box of cooling pizza on the dinette table and went right to the bathroom, from the bathroom to bed.  But gambling on her weariness was a bad idea.  It came like snowdays – a break only when you were well-prepared for the next day’s test.

Jay pressed his face into his pillow.

“Three pages.  Be good, don’t bother the neighbors.  Call the office if you need me.”  Then she was gone.

She called it a cabin, but Jay knew better.  Cabins were made of log and stone, set deep in rustic woods where white men with beards and stovetop hats taught themselves to read and then became president.  Cabins were snug and cozy in the winter, with roaring fires, and cool in the summer, impenetrable to the beating sun.

They were in a Terry Travel Trailer, the nearly-mobile ’93 edition, which featured an air-conditioning that rattled and barely coughed cool air on the hottest days of the year, and a roof that was patched with surprisingly durable electrical tape.  When Jay stood in the bedroom, static crawled over the radio, rendering it unintelligible.

The camper still reminded Jay of a long tube.  He could sit on the sofa, or against the headboard in the bedroom, and see the whole space, end-to-end.  Instead of slide-out sections, which would have made the camper fat but roomy, the front door opened to a deck surrounded by a screen-porch.

Just as his eyes began to drift closed, rain began to ping audibly on the window above him.  Raindrops fell like minutes, a beat that kept him awake. Finally, he rolled completely over, sat up, and nudged the blinds open with his index finger.

Raindrops dotted the glass, stretched out in thin streaks, but he had a clear view across the campground.  The lot behind them was empty.  Yesterday’s brown grass, which broke, sharp, and crunched under bare feet, had evolved a feather-coat of green overnight.  Beyond the lot was the road, a ribbon of gravel that stretched between old, carefully spaced trees.  An RV, brown with several red stripes, had appeared since yesterday and joined the line of trailers.  Jay watched a man unload square pavers from the back of his truck, two at a time.  At the farthest campsite, the Confederate flag hung limp in the rain, shameless scarlet slashed with blue.  He pulled back his hand and the blinds snapped shut.  5:53.

Jay slathered the remaining side of the bagel with cream cheese.  Mom had left the coffee pot on, and he turned it off.  After a moment’s hesitation, he pulled a mug down, poured himself a cup.  Steam curled over the edge.  He took a sip, and nearly spat it out.  It tasted as bad as it had yesterday, but unlike the other days, he didn’t pour it out. After breakfast, he grabbed his backpack, stuffed his math workbook inside, and let the door slam shut behind him.

Beneath the awning, his bike was still dry.  He flicked the combination lock open, bounced the bike down the steps, and swung a leg over the top tube.  Then he was off, careening down the gravel road as he took a lap around the camp ground.

Cody’s Point, the place was called, was laid out in a pattern that reminded Jay of a clover-leaf.  Three wide loops met in a central road, two jutting out along the water of Cody’s Creek, the other looping into a field.  Before this summer, Jay had thought creeks were little things, tame bodies of water that ran over rocks and existed for wading on a hot summer’s day.  Cody’s Creek was wide, very wide, and deep enough for boats bigger than any he’d seen.  Despite the bad weather, a sailboat motored along as he rode, the steady putter of its engine huffing over the water.  It looked bright and clean against the gray sky and steel water, and Jay wondered if it was one of the ones his mother had worked on.

He rode the first loop, and then the second.  Within the hour, the rising sun would prod people awake and melange of bacon, woodsmoke, and creek brine would hover over the point.  For now, he had the world to himself.

The road split, and he cut right, circling the island that stood opposite the gate.  A wooden playset, fashioned into the shape of a pirate ship with a gangplank slide and crawl-holes in the hull, was grounded in the grassy divide.  An orange-haired boy stood beside it, fishing pole in hand.

“Hey Quentin,” Jay said, bringing the bike to a stop. “Creek, or pond?”

“I’m thinking the creek today.  Want to come?”  Quentin shoved the pole at him.  “Hang on.”

Jay took the fishing pole and waited, awkward, straddling his bike with the long rod in hand.  When Quentin returned, he was carrying a smaller rod, barely the length of his arm.

“We can swap out,” he announced proudly.  “Come on.”

“Alright.”  Quentin carried the rods, and Jay fell into step beside him, walking his bike.

Today was a tired day.   He could hear the low roll of Otis Redding through the camper door as he trudged across the porch.  He caught the screen door just before it slammed, and peered inside.  Photos scattered like escaped inmates from their albums.  He’d seen them before.  The old house he didn’t remember.  The man in uniform, Jay didn’t remember him in three dimensions either.  The crew-cut he’d always fought until his mother didn’t try anymore.  She snored on the couch, her shoes still on.

He moved quietly, back outside.  He found a bucket and a knife, and though she’d always told him to wait he carefully cleaned the fish he and Quentin had caught.  He found the foil and wrapped the croaker up with some limp vegetables he found in the bottom bin of the refrigerator.  Carefully Jay piled the coals, lit them, waited for the slow gray burn.  When he felt the glow of heat on his face, like a desert might feel.  The rain had tapered to a fickle drizzle, hissing over the coals when he adjusted the lid to put the fish on.  He wiped his hands on his jeans, covered the grill, and went back inside.

One by one, he picked the photos up.  He brushed them clean and slid them, out of order, between the plastic covers of the album.  He put away the glass and the bottle, stowed his backpack beneath the table, and turned on the fan.  When he did so, Mom stirred.

“Honey?”  She spoke in a mumble to the pillow.

He leaned over and kissed his mother’s forehead.  “I’m home for dinner, Mom.”