Keeping Time (Short Story)

This is the short story that I’ve been working on over the weekend. It ties in to another short story I wrote a few months ago called The Final Humiliation. I’m participating in the Camp NaNoWriMo this month that fellow blogger Penelope told me about. I’ve set a 10,000 word goal for myself, which means I’m hoping to come up with a couple more short stories that tie in with these two.

I kinda struggled with an ending to this one and may end up changing it later if something better comes to mind. Anyway, if you’ve got some time to kill and like to read a little very amateurish fiction, here ya go:

“Tell the little one to keep his feet off the furniture,” Delores snapped at her son, Donnie, from her recliner. “I just paid to have the couch reupholstered, and that’s probably the last time I’ll have it done before I die. Then one of you kids can have it and spill Coke on it or let the kids jump on it, whatever you want.”

Donnie successfully kept himself from rolling his eyes. “Davey, pull off those shoes and leave ‘em over by the door, son,” Donnie instructed his five-year-old. “MawMaw doesn’t want her couch getting dirty.”

“Okay, Daddy,” Davey said. “Cannonball!” the little fellow shouted as he lept off the couch and onto the carpeted floor. He kicked his feet out, one at a time, to sling the shoes off by the front door. Each one bounced off Delore’s front door with a thud.

Delores clenched her teeth. “Ain’t you taught the boy nothing? Y’all never woulda done that when you were kids. Woulda had more respect for your elders than that.”

“Not now, Momma,” Donnie said, waving her off. With three kids, he was used to his mother’s parenting lectures by now, but they were by no means welcome.

He heard all about how he was coddling his oldest, Riley, when she was a baby because he or his wife would pick her up when she’d cry. “You’re spoiling her,” Delores had complained. When his second daughter, Laney came along a few years later, he’d caught hell for the organic cloth diapers his wife Lisa had insisted on using. His momma called it “hippie nonsense.” And now that Davey was here, his mother was constantly offering pointers on how to raise a respectable young man.

“Fine, but don’t blame me when he ends being up a little juvenile delinquent,” Delores muttered and picked up the pace rocking in her recliner.

“Momma, I’ve told you not to refer to him as a ‘little juvenile delinquent.’ Lisa and me both have told you that. He’s a little boy. He does things that little boys do,” Donnie said in a strained voice. He glanced at his watch–twenty minutes into the visit and Donnie could already feel his blood pressure raising.

Delores folded her arms across her chest and lifted her chin. “When did you get so big in the britches to go around telling your momma what to do, Donald? Seems like all you young’ins think you can go bossing me around now that you’re grown. I ain’t fit for the nursing home yet.”

A heavy sigh escaped from Donnie. It never failed for any visit to his mother to end in disagreement. Well, if it didn’t end in disagreement, one sure as hell happened, anyway. This is the way it went for his older brother and sister, too, so he knew there wasn’t just something fundamentally wrong with himself, his wife, his kids. It seemed like the older Momma got, the more combative she became.

“No, you’re not, Momma. We just want you to be respectful is all.”

Davey chose that precise moment to throw one of his plastic dinosaurs in his grandmother’s direction. It landed behind the recliner. “The T-Rex is gonna eat you up, MawMaw!” Davey squealed and bounded behind the recliner to retrieve his toy, bumping it in the process.

“See?” Delores gestured to Davey, who had already bounced back to coffee table in the center of the living room to continue playing. “You’ve got this one acting like a wild animal and then the other two either have their noses stuck in a book or on a phone. I don’t know why y’all even bother driving out here.” Delores patted her hair to make sure the curls her girl down at the Beauty Barn had done up for her yesterday, to make sure they were all still in place. The last thing she wanted to do was show up at church tomorrow with her head looking like a rat’s nest.

“Well, they aren’t aggravating you at least,” Donnie replied.

“And that wife of yours couldn’t even be bothered to come see me. I guess she’s off with one of her friends again. Doing that painting and wine drinking nonsense that she tried to get me into, I suppose.”

“No,” Donnie responded. “That’s tomorrow–she’s just catching up on some stuff around the house today.”

“Tomorrow?” Delores asked. “Tomorrow is Sunday.”

Donnie nodded. “Yeah…it is.”

Delores started shaking her head. “I never seen such a thing in my life. Like it’s not bad enough that she’s going out drinking and painting, but she has to do it on the Lord’s day? That’s a sin. I knew this is what would happen when y’all stopped going to church.”

“Momma, Momma,” Donnie groaned, burying his face in his hands. “It’s just a way for Lisa to relax, to get out of the house and have a little fun. There’s nothing sinister about it. That’s why she wanted you to go to one, so you could find an outlet to relax, too.”

“Relax?” Delores snapped. “What’s she doing that’s so important that she needs to relax by skipping church and going out drinking and painting on the Lord’s day?”

“You know she’s at home with the kids every day, all day long, Momma.”

“That’s her own fault,” Delores responded. “Holding the kids out of school to home school ’em. No wonder they act the way they do, not getting any socialization.”

Yet another deep sigh escaped from Donnie. He wanted to point out that his kids weren’t the ones who had difficulty making friends, but he didn’t. No point in bring that up again.

“I wouldn’t be seen at one of those Paint Nights, and I’ll appreciate it if you don’t try to get me tied up in that nonsense and tarnish my reputation again,” Delores said.

Donnie and Lisa had found out the hard way about his mother’s opinion of Paint Nights when they bought a gift certificate for Momma’s birthday. Suffice it to say, his momma didn’t use it, and the headache they’d been given over it guaranteed never stepping outside the ladies’ section at Belk for gifts again.

“I promise you, that’ll never happen again, Momma.”

They sat in silence for a bit, watching Davey play. Donnie loved how easily his son could escape to his imaginary worlds of dinosaurs and race cars and dragons, completely oblivious to the bitterness that exuded from his mother.

After a couple of minutes passed, Delores spoke up. “Donnie, I got a bone to pick with you.”

Not again. His momma found a bone to pick at least once every couple of months or so, and it never ended well.

“What’s that, Momma?”

“Trudy told me she saw something that your wife put on the computer. Something just plain awful.” Delores paused for effect.

“On the computer?”

“On that Facebook thing.”

“Lisa and Trudy are friends on Facebook?” Trudy was a friend of his momma’s from church. She had helped his momma throw a wedding shower and baby showers for the kids, but otherwise, Lisa didn’t really know her.

“They are now, after I called Lisa up a few weeks ago about not taking Trudy on as a friend. Trudy told me she’d sent her a number of requests and never heard anything back. That wasn’t right, you know. Downright disrespectful, if you ask me.”

“Well, what was it that Trudy saw?” Donnie asked, wanting his mother to get to the point.

“A picture touting that ‘marriage equality’ nonsense. I never thought I’d live to see the day when they allowed the gays to get married, but now they are. It’s just unholy. Is this what you’re trying to teach your kids?” Delores asked, leaning forward towards Donnie, clearly agitated.

“Ah, Momma,” Donnie said. “Maybe Trudy shouldn’t be on Facebook with Lisa if she doesn’t like what she posts.”

“Trudy ain’t the problem, Donnie,” Delores snapped. “It’s that wife of yours. Putting stuff out there like that for the whole world to see. Just boasting about her sinful beliefs. Lord knows what they’re saying down there at the Women’s Circle about me–I’ve been too ashamed to show my face down there the past two Wednesdays.” The Women’s Circle was the church group Delores attended every Wednesday morning. The ladies did everything from bible study to crocheting.

“If those old girls at the Women’s Circle are gossiping about you, maybe you need to find a different group of friends,” Donnie suggested.

Delores shook her head. “It’s time the two of you got yourselves straightened out, before such sinfulness starts rubbing off on your kids. Y’all need to get back in church. Keeping the kids out of school is one thing, but out of church? That ain’t how I raised you.”

Donnie shrugged. “We aren’t about having the kids in church every Sunday, Momma. It isn’t necessary. We’ll teach them what they need to know.”

A long silence passed. “You need to talk to your brother and let him set you straight,” Delores said. “Him and Dana and Michael just joined up at a new church, and it’s all they talk about. They have activities for kids of all ages, all sorts of study groups, even sports teams.”

“Are you talking about New Life Transformation?” Donnie asked. “That mega-church?”

Delores nodded. “Yeah, that’s it. James tried to get me to go one Sunday, but I told him ‘No thank you’ because I don’t care for all that rock music–that’s a sin in a church. But it’s better than not going anywhere and being a heathen.”

Donnie chuckled. “We aren’t heathens, Momma. We don’t want them growing up learning all that hateful fire and brimstone stuff.”

“What’s a heathen, Daddy?” Davey interjected.

“That’s what y’all are gonna be if you don’t skip the wine-art classes and lazing around on Sundays and get yourselves into church!” Delores answered.

Momma!” Donnie snapped. “Now you know good and well that isn’t an appropriate thing to say to my child. Davey, don’t pay any attention to MawMaw–she’s just trying to be funny.” Davey shrugged and dug through his little backpack for some new toys.

“Going to hell ain’t funny,” Delores said under her breath, but Donnie chose to ignore it.

“I’m gonna get a fresh glass of sweet tea and check on the girls in the kitchen,” Donnie said, rising from the rocker he had been sitting in. It was the same one his Daddy sat in all the time when he had been living, and Donnie always preferred it when he visited. “Do you want anything, Momma?”

“Top off my glass while you’re in there,” Delores answered, handing him her glass. “And cut me a slice of that chocolate pound cake. Get some for yourself, too. The boy can have a slice, but he’ll have to eat it at the table. I reckon the girls have already dug into it by now.”

“Want some cake, Davey?” Donnie asked. Davey shook his head.

Donnie headed into the kitchen, where his two daughters were sitting at the very table he sat at as a kid. “How y’all girls doing?” he asked when he entered. “Want anything to drink or eat?”

“We’re good, Daddy,” Riley said. “Will it be time to go soon?”

Donnie peered at the clock over the stove. “Yeah, soon. Maybe another half-hour or so.” That would put them right at staying a little over an hour; any less, and his momma would complain.

After Donnie freshened up the tea glasses and put two large slices of pound cake on plates, he carried the refreshments and a couple of forks back into the living room. His mother was still in her recliner, watching Davey play. She’d always been a pill, but things had gotten a lot worse since his daddy died. It was like Momma couldn’t find a way to enjoy something to save her life.

“Thanks,” Delores said, putting her glass of tea on a coaster on the end table next to her recliner, while balancing her plate on her knees. “Now don’t get your hopes up on this one,” she said, referring to the pound cake. “I left it in a little too long and it kinda dried out.”

“I’m sure it’ll be just fine, Momma,” Donnie said and then took a bite. It tasted perfect, just like always, and he told her as much.

“Aw, hush,” Delores said, waving a hand at him. “I’ve made ’em a lot better than that. You’re just so used to eating bad food all the time that you don’t know a dry pound cake when you see it.”

Donnie ignored the comment. He didn’t bother defending Lisa’s cooking anymore. It sure wasn’t the Southern comfort style food he grew up on, but it wasn’t bad, either. This was one of the many reasons Lisa usually didn’t come with him on the hour-drive to Byrnam every couple of weeks–she had no patience for his mother’s criticisms.

“I’m surprised you haven’t said anything about the grass getting so high,” Delores told her son. Donnie peered out the window–it was definitely higher than normal.

“Something wrong with your lawn mower?” he asked. Donnie and his siblings had all went in on a lawn mower a couple years ago for their momma. She was too old to be messing with a push mower, and she refused to pay anyone to cut it.

“I’m getting to old to ride on that thing, Donnie. It’s so jerky and always leaves me sore. I thought maybe you’d take care of it for me.”

Donnie checked his watch. “Well, Momma, I would, but we’d planned to head back in a little bit.”

“Wouldn’t take you but an hour,” Delores told him. “Well, that’s what it takes me, but I put it on the lowest speed. Probably take you even less time.”

Donnie shook his head. “I really don’t have time today, Momma. Maybe one of James’s boys can take care of it. Or I can call Freddy Miller up, he’s got his own company, you know. I’m sure he’d cut you a good deal since you’re my mother and all.”

“That’s what you always say, Donnie–that you don’t have time.”

“Well, I don’t, Momma. You know it takes us an hour to drive over and an hour to drive back. By the time we spend an hour visiting, that’s three hours out of our Saturday.”

The recliner became very still. Delores felt tears stinging her eyes, but damned if she’d let them fall. “Well, then. I didn’t realize seeing your momma once or twice a month and spending three hours with her was so much to ask.” She pursed her lips together to keep them from turning down.

Donnie could have told her that wasn’t the case. He could have told her that he’d cut her grass, or that at a minimum, he’d call his friend up to take care of it for her himself. He could have explained that between the late hours at work and getting to the girls’ soccer games, that he’d been plumb exhausted lately.

But he didn’t.

Because if he did, then she’d expect more later. And he didn’t want to give up more of the time he could be spending at home with his family.

Donnie pulled his cell phone from his pocket and pretended to read a message. “Ah, Momma, this couldn’t come at worse timing, but Lisa just sent a message saying there was a leak in the bathroom. I gotta get the kids loaded up in the van and head back.”

He called the girls into the living room and told them and their brother to give their MawMaw a kiss goodbye.

Delores didn’t bother getting up from the recliner, so Donnie gave his momma a kiss on top of her head. “I’ll call you later. We’ll see you next time, love you!” And out the door they went.

Donnie checked his watch again. He felt kind of bad about leaving so abruptly, but at least now he’d be back before halftime of the football game was over. It would end up being a nice Saturday, indeed.


14 thoughts on “Keeping Time (Short Story)

  1. Quite a common issue – visiting the parents but not really wanting to, feeling guilty if you don’t, wanting to leave early and then feeling guilty about that…
    She’s not making it easy, mind!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This is such a great start to building this story and I can’t wait to read more! 😀❤️ You capture the freaky fundamentalist ways ever so well and the atmosphere of fear and paranoia that lingers in the south in general as a result of extreme evangelical Christian attitudes. Beautiful capture of these interactions- please keep them coming! 😎

    Liked by 1 person

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