If I Didn’t Know You Better I’d Call You a Friend of Mine

by Mercie Metcalf

They Were Called Pack Rats Back Then…

She kept everything. Or at least she tried to. Pictures, chipped plates, magazines, clothes that shouldn’t have even been worn in 1931, broken furniture…everything. It’s all going to be worth something someday. Her mother’s ripped and bug ridden cookbook? Vintage. The pieces of her father’s broken pipe? Keepsakes. Creepy and depressingly naked Cupie Doll? A collector’s item. She was sitting on top of a fortune she just knew it.

He Was No Ol’ Yeller, That’s for Damn Sure…

It was a hunting dog, a hound dog. Her father had been very clear that she and her brothers were not to play with him. They still had to walk him and give him baths, but they couldn’t take him inside and she wasn’t allowed to let him sleep on her bed. With a coat as shiny and red a newly pressed penny, he would sleep outside in the small wooden box her father pieced together. He liked the peanut butter crackers she’d sneak him from her lunchbox. One Thanksgiving he made off with half a turkey while the family slept off their full bellies.  Tiptoed the bird down to the basement and ate it bones, beak, stuffing and all. Somebody stole him.

Brother Job Was Sick So Long, the Flesh Fell From His Bones…

She’s always cooked. Cooking was how she made many of the friends she had today. It was always a curious thing that no one rung her bell or darkened her door until dinnertime. Learning wasn’t a choice for the only girl-child in a house of six. Her grandmother would take her home every weekend and they’d sew and bake teacakes for the entire family. To this very day she can’t get them to taste as good. Her mama showed her how to make hog’s head cheese once, only she didn’t know that the head part wasn’t just a clever name. It wasn’t done until the eye popped out easily with a fork. Remembering how she used to sit in a hot kitchen, listening to her mother and grandmother gossip about all the unmarried, unwed, churchgoin’ girls while watching her food stare back at her still makes her eyes go a little misty.

Eatin’ Peas With Your Hands

Her father was a carpenter. In the many piles of newspaper clips she kept because she was certain someone would find them as interesting as she did, was a  picture of a man with caramel colored skin and huge hands guiding a saw through a piece of wood as easily as any captain could steer his ship through a calm and unbroken sea. She had five brothers that were supposed to follow in his footsteps. Her oldest brother, who once out danced James Brown at one of his own concerts, ended up in Vietnam using war tools instead. The one after him preferred reading romance novels to the pretty white girls he worked with, that is until a dark road and a few police officers reminded him that it was still 1969. The meanest one that liked to take just one sip out of every cup before her tea parties, told the government he could walk on water to avoid his brother’s war and they made him take anti-crazy pills until he believed it. She asked her father to teach her how to use his tools and he told her no girl could. Even though they’ve rusted, she keeps those too.

Rufus King

Feminism didn’t make it passed her front door until college. Her brothers were big and handsome, free to come and go at they saw fit once they reached high school. They were football players that made all the local papers and made her parent’s chests swell with barely contained pride. Always the Rudolph to their reindeer games, they never let her tag along when venturing out after the streetlights came on. She used to listen outside their doors while they talked about dirty things like the girls they had sex with in the lockers of the mostnotorious high school in Milwaukee and she couldn’t wait to taste that kind of freedom. The summer before her freshman year they told her mother she had to go a school across town.

You Wanna Write a Movie?

There were a million things a woman as smart as her could’ve done. She started college with nothing more than a $50 dollar contribution from her parents and confidence that being smart was all it took. When she wasn’t working or studying, she would daydream about her graduation day. Her mouth practically watered with anticipation for becoming a world famous seamstress, whose clothes were worn by the likes of the dearly missed Miss Monroe and the ever elegant Diahann Carol. She out sewed the girls with the better clothes and the better pocketbooks and never let the care packages her mother would send to her younger brother but not her be a distraction. She minored in psychology to better understand why a man as smart as her second oldest brother would jump off the roof and run down the street naked, but her heart was in her clothes. In her junior year she met a man who didn’t know what Rock and Roll was and gave her heart to him. He moved to California and she dropped out nine months into her senior year.

A Real Pity

There had been times when her home was filled top to bottom and she couldn’t get through her front door without a bit of fancy finagling. She buys things to prepare for the mansion on the hill that her children will buy her because they were supposed to. She took care of her mother who forgot her name and how to go to the bathroom and she’d take care of her father if he thought she could. She has a way with words, nurtured by Sunday sermons and long nights with a six-pack or three, that few others could touch. The minutes on her phone are used to regale her youngest with slurred tales of how she could have saved the world. Her voice rises until the tiny speakers start to crack in protest. The thirst for being right has outlasted all of her lovers and talents, leaving her nine sewing machines dusty and the rooms that overflow with fabric, bought with  rent money, untouched.  Nearly six decades old, she’s sure that if she waits long enough, speaks loud enough, and owns just more than enough, the world will hit the reset button she never found. Memories of being a mother, daughter, Black Panther, and savior help the whiskey keep her warm while her children put more miles between her and them. She still hasn’t realized that all memories are the past, every single one.

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