1. Claire Mays: March 9, 1967- October 14,1997
Graduate teaching assistant at University of Texas at Dallas; she is survived by her husband, Glenn Mays, her two sons, Brandon (18) and Matthew (10), and her daughter, Lindsey (6).
2. I am six years old peeling bark off an oak tree. My best friend Lindsey sprawls out over a sun-bleached map of the United States painted on the blacktop, her honey hair burning into the cement. She rolls over Texas and Oklahoma and muses about animal crackers in the sky. I put the bark in my pockets. My overalls are covered with dried chocolate milk and grass stains. Mama will be mad. Lindsey’s mom is picking us up today for our weekly play-date, but she is latelatelate. I watch the sun seep over the sea of brick houses and oversized Texas flags. It must be four o’clock. The sun always looks like a pricked fried egg at 4. The teacher with the hairy upper lip barks at us. Who-is-picking-you-girls-up?! It-is-latelatelate-and-I-have-a-BINGO-game. We are scared of this woman. She is the only teacher to throw balls during dodge ball (she always picks the overly pumped orange balls). She smells like pickles. Mrs. Mays does not come; the clouds are turning purple and cleaning up the runny egg in the sky. It is 5 o’clock. Teacher must have called my mom because I see her roly-poly van. We climb in the backseat, wiping our clammy hands on the fading blue fabric. I pull the bark from my overall pockets and put it in the cup holder under my sticker collection. Mama will never find it. Lindsey asks why her mom didn’t come. I see my mother’s chestnut hair turn to gray as she pulls the van over, throwing us forward into the back pockets of the bucket seats; maps and magazines poking our salty faces. Lindsey rubs the hurt off her forehead. I see mama cry for the first time.
3. Lindsey and I were baptized with bleach and placed in thickly insulated bubbles of piety. We lived subject to faith with no gray area, a faith that left no room for spots. We weren’t allowed to believe in the Tooth Fairy. We couldn’t celebrate Halloween or listen to non-Christian music; if we were good enough, god would save up treasures in heaven for us, and if we were bad we would suffer the consequences. The god we came to know was the love child of Santa and Zeus. He was all-powerful and all-knowing—a god with a white beard and fists full of coal and lightning bolts. We revered him with all we had, but our reverence was birthed from an all-consuming Fear. He knew we stole the glitter pencils from Mrs. Smith’s desk. He knew we cheated on number three of our spelling test. He knew we practiced saying bad words in Lindsey’s closet when we were supposed to be asleep. All we knew was that we would be punished. So we waited. Everyday, we waited for the whip of the god almighty, until one day, it came. Under a blaring red light and a set of shitty brakes, he fulfilled his wrath. Our eighteen-wheeler killer god, our ambulance too late god, our peach pit in the throat god—he brought us to our knees. We never questioned her death because we believed in our visceral souls that it was our fault—god was simply giving us the receipt for our sins. We—with our endless list of unforgivable iniquities, pre-dinner cake stuck in our pigtails—killed her.
When I was thirteen, I stopped writing letters to the Santa Claus god. I found a new God and a new zip code. Goodbye bloody sun, goodbye Lindsey. Hello rock and roll.
4. Mama is holding a toothbrush in one hand and a bucket of bleach in the other. She is talking at me so I won’t notice she is crying again. The-floors-are-just-so-filthy! I-don’t-know-why-you-bring-those-doggone-cleats-into-the-kitchen-after-I-have-repeatedly-told-you-not-to! Hiccup. I say I am sorry and run to get my toothbrush. I am going to make her laugh. I am dancing and yodeling and beating my chest with my cowboy toothbrush. Mooaaaooaaammuhh-louooouuk-whaauut-Ieee-hauuuve—my feet catch a wet tile of linoleum and I am flying. When I open my eyes, my mama’s face is a strawberry crying. I think she will be mad at me for running in the house, but she reaches for me instead. I curl up in her lap on the kitchen floor. The bleach is so close to my face that my eyes are blooming tears. She whispers a prayer. Mama’s knees have little white diamonds in them that match the tile. She is shaking like she’s cold, but beads of sweat crown her forehead. We go to the living room and she paints my nails and gets the baby pink polish all over my skin, but I don’t tell her. She looks happy. Daddy calls and he tells me it is snowing where he is. I miss him, but I know I don’t miss him as much as Mama does. I think that must be why she shivers so much lately. She just loves him so much that she wants it to be snowing here too. I have never seen snow. I write about this in my diary tonight next to a magazine cutout of a snowman.
5. Two summers of popsicle chins and monkey grass safaris after Mrs. Mays died, Lindsey and I turned death into an elaborate joke. Backyard murder mysteries and fatal Barbie car crashes, we laughed at the Reaper Grim. Lindsey faked her death on the living room carpet for every nanny who tried to unpack her suitcase or bat her eyelashes at her superman father. A heart attack mysteriously seized Lindsey on the right side of her chest, a blood bath of ketchup dripped from her temple. There was no end in sight for our well of deafening laughter. If Death was a joke, we could never see it as Fear. Shoveling dirt over Death’s grave, we buried him deep with a cackle and a snort. But we were not deaf to his rattle.
6. I see now it was Fear that kept me small—not the god I cowered beneath, not even the jarring realization of death. I lived a quaking nightmare, acutely aware of the unavoidable darkness that would meet me. Somewhere between the folds of my brain and the crevices of my heart, there was a searing stamp of disapproval. I could not hide from this Fear—I was god’s redheaded stepchild. And it wasn’t just Mrs. Mays’ death that proved my suspicion. I could stain everything good—my bony fingers always dipped in soot. There was—and still is—something that stirred violently inside of me wanting to do bad. My mother once told me that she envied me for being little. She said if you’re small, the smoke that rises to blind men from goodness can never reach your eyes. Stay small, Little One, and death will never find you.
7. It broke my heart to learn Your home was not in the clouds, the heavenly host of marshmallow bolsters that the architect in me so loved to see. It was easier to understand You in the shape of a super-glued cross than to see salvation in a heap of metal, to hear Your voice in a low autumn sigh, to feel grace in the lock of hair dancing between my eyelashes. God of the battered, used, and bothered – You are much closer than the lofty pulpit. In every grain of sand, every speck of dust, gold, and cotton sifted, You are there. When my burning heart sings at the rushing of the water, and the smoke rises high in front of my firecracker eyes, You kneel to meet me—alabaster jar trembling in my hands. You are deeper than my mother’s well of tears, more infallible than death — You are bigger than Fear.
Kate Click is a Creative Writing student at Valdosta State University in Valdosta, Georgia. She is the chief editor of her university’s literary magazine, The Odradek. Kate was recently awarded the Creative Non-Fiction Award for the Gulf Coast Writer’s Association undergraduate competition for her piece Bleach. She plans to attend Georgia State University for her graduate degree next fall.