© 2011, 2013 by Raymond Alexander Kukkee
Mum’s the word
The gray-haired man leaned toward me. He put his hand on my arm and whispered vehemently. “Mum’s the word” he said. “Shhshhh..”
“In our neighbourhood, Momma was the prime directive, by God! She was the word! She was the final word too, if there was ever anything to be settled, or a fight to be resolved, and everyone knew it! She scolded the guilty with that sharp tongue, she fixed broken hearts with love and sometimes a little chocolate cake! She guided a whole collection of children in her lifetime and nonplused those bratty neighbourhood kids too, -with a willow switch sometimes–but they reveled in her love. Every one of them! How is that possible?”
He leaned back, breathing hard.
“And how do things go so wrong?” He raised his hands in question, shaking his head.
The young woman was sound asleep in the restaurant, her head back into the corner against the ceramic tile wall of the booth. The tall collar on her blue woolen coat framed the pale, sickly face and brunette hair. On the table a baby sat in one of those little beds, the plastic kind with a fold-down carryinghandle. The blond baby gurgled and cooed. The young mother shifted in her sleep, head back in her dreams.
“She’s exhausted.” he said, indicating the girl. “Nowadays, I don’t know what’s so different, it’s just not the same, what’s the matter with people anyway? ”.
I shrugged. I didn’t know. I stirred my coffee carefully.
“ Without fail, Momma always seemed to get it right. She knew how to run this place too. She got everything right!” he said, looking around. “Now with her gone, I don’t do so good myself. We always got everything right back in those days, how can that be?” he whispered.
“How can that be?” he repeated himself, shaking his head.
“Mum’s the word” he said. He looked at me with a quizzical look on his face and watched the sleeping girl thoughtfully. He reached across the table.
“My daughter and my grandson.” he said, proudly, fussing with the baby’s blue blanket. “–George, named after me, – he’s a year and a half, I’m going to leave this business to him some day.” The man smiled proudly at customers whispering as they passed the table, admiring the child. “Shshhhhshh” he whispered. They nodded.
“Her preciosity was her guidepost, -Momma, I mean….it was her compass, just like the bible was her guidebook in life, she never let anything get out of control” he said. “Nothing!”
“It was different then.” He sighed. “Everybody did the right thing, at least it seemed that way”. He indicated the sleeping woman.
“I’m afraid this one didn’t work out, there’s always an exception isn’t there? Ten years ago, she ran away -when she was 16 -and married a boy she met only once. A Canadian boy from Alberta. He was 17. She told momma they were in love. They know what love is at that age?”…..he shook his head. “Momma was angry, I remember…” He paused. He shook his head.
“ -He was nice enough, he was good to her. I only met him once, a couple of years ago. They were married up in Canada. He had an Iroquois haircut, only one I ever saw, Canadian, I mean.” He studied the table and swallowed hard.
“He was a good man.”
“Now he got himself killed in Afghanistan, two weeks ago he was buried, so she came back home. He didn’t even have to join up, damn that war anyway. He didn’t have to go, but he did. They made me promise not to tell his folks.”
“ You know…I kept my word, I kept it to myself, I didn’t even tell momma, I told him ‘mum’s the word!’ -that’s what I told them. It made them happy”. He sighed.
“His parents don’t know yet, he sent them a ticket for a cruise in Florida, they just got back–and now I gotta go call them, I don’t know how to tell them.”
“I’m sorry” I said.
He looked at me, tears flooding his eyes. “I wish momma was here” he said.
Is that Incoming I hear?
tags: Afghanistan, war, mum’s the word