None So Blind by Donna D. Vitucci

"You'll kill a plant if you touch it when you're bleed­ing," she told me. "Leaves will shriv­el, fruit drop from the vine. Not just any blood. Mind me, I'm talk­ing the month­lies."

Mama raised me up with super­sti­tion. In the way flow­ers strain to the sun, I grew in her direc­tion of sus­pi­cion and doubt. Famil­iar shel­ter, all her spit-shine and coun­try lore. As a girl who'd skipped her month­lies, too ear­ly for her own good at fif­teen, I was dulled to shame by my error, so I caved to Mama's aggriev­ed face and capa­ble arms.

"Learn from one who's been down that road," she said. Her point­er fin­ger tapped her chest, hint­ing at a woman and a secret I'd not before con­sid­ered. I glanced at the wed­ding band she wore.

She said, "We don't need peo­ple with their ques­tions nosey­ing in. Best to keep your con­di­tion under wraps."

Pre­ston com­plained that Mama was hold­ing me hostage, but don't you know her cap­tiv­i­ty appealed to me? Half the time I want­ed Pre­ston so bad my bel­ly ached; the rest of the time I shud­dered at what he and I'd set into motion. Such see-saw­ing made me sick. The doc­tor ordered bed rest my final months, he said Mama and I bet­ter enact a truce or there'd be hell, and extra hos­pi­tal bills, to pay. The one time in her life she must have suc­cumbed to out­side demands. Our unsaid peace wob­bled only when Pre­ston rang from the Nation­al Guard and she dis­con­nect­ed his calls.

I reached out my arm and protest­ed as she hung up the phone, "He just wants to offer what­ev­er he can."

She arched her eye­brows. "I'd say he's labored over you enough."

Preston's ghost loomed in our door­way while what he'd giv­en grew inside me, most ten­der of ten­der shoots. Along with my womb, he quick­ened my blood. We weren't mar­ry­ing, but for me, there was no for­get­ting.

Mama wouldn't let us dri­ve to the JP. She said, "You must be out of your mind, with that boy going over to the desert. You'd be wed­ding a corpse. Mark me."

Her pre­dic­tion scald­ed me, and know­ing how she banked on pre­mo­ni­tions, I thought maybe this time she'd had some word from the oth­er side, and so I told Pre­ston, "Wait. Just let's wait."

Already on his way out of North Car­oli­na, what could he do but lean into my plea and nod yes? He had a body lan­guage that super­seded every­thing else the world threw at me.


***

"Cold hands warm heart," Mama said, chaf­ing the bot­toms of my swollen feet while I lay list­less and lovelorn in bed, use­ful for noth­ing but the nurs­ing to come. At my low­est, she sparkled her most cheer­ful.

She boiled the essence out of any root veg­etable, turnips and rutaba­gas, in par­tic­u­lar. Made the house stink for days, and only she ate it. God knows I had no appetite. What she didn't boil, she fried. Fried chick­en, fried white­fish, fried oys­ters, fried pork chops with bread­ing from crushed up saltines. In the refrig­er­a­tor, a Crisco can held re-used grease she'd dip into.

I lay in bed, trapped by the fumes. Each day, some assault­ing smell she brought to me on her skin: lin­i­ment, or Vick's Vapo-rub, Ivory soap, ammo­nia, scorched but­ter, moth balls. It took half the win­ter for our wool coats to shed the pep­per­mint-dead odor from when she'd packed them away dur­ing sum­mers. I wor­ried my own child would suf­fer the shame of a smelly coat fes­ter­ing in his lock­er dur­ing win­ter school days. At dis­missal, "What's that smell?" some kid would say, while he stood wrig­gling into stiff sleeves and mit­tens darned like socks. And, "Pee-you"my baby tak­ing it per­son­al, the way I had.

When the time of my "con­fine­ment," as Mama termed it, reached its end, the hos­pi­tal set me pan­ick­ing for no oth­er rea­son than anti­sep­tic pinched my nose in the way moth balls did.

Non­sense, I know, but my mind linked moth balls with steril­i­ty. I waxed a lit­tle hys­ter­i­cal and they wouldn't give me any­thing for calm­ing because of the baby.

After twen­ty-two hours labor, my hips were clear­ly not going to slide apart enough; they put me under, and cut. Mama act­ed like surgery can­on­ized me. This was the one break in her life­long relent­less­ness. To my mater­ni­ty bed she brought daisies from the yard atop a wick­er bas­ket of bel­ly bands to tie around my newborn's mid­dle. "So his bel­ly but­ton doesn't pop out when he cries too much," Mama said. As if she expect­ed me to let Luke lie there and wail, instead of grab­bing him up to me every time he fussed and offer­ing him my breast, which I alone could give.

Her eyes flick­ered while the baby latched on and my milk let down. "What?" I said. "It's what new­borns cry for."

"That, or a chang­ing," she said. She chipped at my moth­er­ly ini­tia­tives. We were back home, where she act­ed queen, and her words churned the bit­ter­ness in my abject heart.

***

When Luke, as tod­dler, suf­fered his grandma's scold­ing, she said, "A lie will black-spot your tongue. Boy, you remem­ber I told you so." Half the time she wouldn't even use his name.

He gagged from hang­ing his mouth open too long, watch­ing for his tongue to dark­en in my hand mir­ror off the dress­er.

She gave me an eye­brow raised, imply­ing, "See? He's got some­thing to hide. Deceit­ful from the start."

She said, "You've got to be on watch with a child, or she'll pitch over to the devil's side with the first whiff of temp­ta­tion."

"He," I said. "He."

I feared a lit­tle that Luke would grow up like me, lured by things requir­ing a lie: mon­ey left in plain sight, an open door, taste of fire. For me, the final blow had been the breadth of a man's shoul­ders, he and his warm prox­im­i­ty blot­ting out the sun. A sweet and final blow.

"Hell-bent," she said, "pure and sim­ply."

Mama was the stake train­ing my vine. I was tied to her, impris­oned or freed from my bed, ever direct­ed by her strong will, twist­ed by choice not my own. I didn't have the gump­tion to get out from under her since my baby and I stayed with her while I worked at my GED. Once Pre­ston returned from Iraq, I snuck out to him when I could with Luke, to let the dad­dy know his boy, to let me and him re-acquaint.

Dot­ing on Pre­ston and Luke, and fak­ing out Mama when I had to, I didn't have it in me to seek employ­ment, too. We sur­vived on her social secu­ri­ty and my aid for moth­ers with depen­dent chil­dren. I learned to com­plete all the gov­ern­ment fil­ings applic­a­ble. That alone took for­ti­tude. Luke start­ed string­ing sen­tences around about the same time can­cer robbed Mama of her voice box. "A bab­bling child can dri­ve you crazy," I bet she'd say, if she could talk. And she'd declare me "sloth­ful," watch­ing me work a pen­cil on the forms across from her there at the kitchen table instead of accom­plish­ing some­thing more indus­tri­ous with a clean­ing imple­ment or a yard tool in my hands.

When it got to the point she no longer walked, she rang a bell, the same bell she set beside me dur­ing my post natal recov­ery. I'd rung it into all man­ner of song and she'd still take her good natured time attend­ing me. "Did I hear you call­ing?" she'd say, final­ly appear­ing, sweat on her brow and short of breath like she'd been run­ning the laun­dry through a wringer when we both knew a per­fect­ly good Whirlpool sat in the base­ment. Exas­per­at­ed, I'd prob­a­bly fall­en into sleep by the time she showed up, maybe even wet myself. She'd cuss me up one side and down the oth­er while she fresh­ened my post-par­tum linens.

Now I changed the sheets. First her voice. Then her blad­der and bow­els. Work­ing around a stub­born, unfor­giv­ing, voice­less woman—there's a dif­fi­cul­ty. Fac­ul­ties robbed from her one by one, you'd sup­pose she'd shrink with each loss, but she smacked me when­ev­er I stood with­in reach. I ducked and dodged, final­ly got her bed prop­er. br />
I had help.

She couldn't talk but I heard her. What's he doing here, she want­ed to know.

Luke's father, her most unwel­come guest, moved my mama's bones on the mat­tress. She was so weak she couldn't shrug him off as I knew she'd dear­ly love to. She saw Pre­ston now anchored my vine, and her eyes blazed damna­tion.

"He keeps my knees from drag­ging the ground," I told her, still feel­ing like I had to make excus­es but breezy in know­ing she couldn't object.

The man beside me in this sick room stood stal­wart to the very last. We held hands against the air, bad for breath­ing, puls­ing errat­ic from Mama.

Know­ing final­ly this was the time she couldn't fight and beat me, I said, "We have the Chapel of the Holy Spir­it reserved sec­ond Sat­ur­day in April."

Maybe she thought I meant for last rites, but Pre­ston and I were plan­ning a wed­ding, with the sick room door clicked shut and her behind it, hang­ing on. Her eyes took the glazed and far-off look. I prayed aloud at her bed­side to the angels she used to blas­pheme. Her lips moved when mine did, the lines around her mouth engraved, her cheeks shiny over her bones. She was wear­ing her death mask and I want­ed to let her know I would be all right.

I said, "Preston's here and he's stay­ing."

She reared up like a cat in reverse, scari­est thing I ever saw, her boney chest ris­ing, her head deep in the pil­low, neck noth­ing but ten­dons, her fin­gers grip­ping the sides of the fit­ted sheet. She could hiss, and she did.

"Yes, Pre­ston," I said, stroking her down, hiss­ing then myself. "Shh­h­hh."

She stayed rigid on the bed. Her drenched night shirt began stink­ing worse than usu­al. We didn't let Luke in until after the preach­er and the doc­tor both pro­nounced it and the top sheet had been drawn. Then we sang hymns as fam­i­lies do.

***

After we mar­ried in the spring, Pre­ston shoul­dered Mama's spade into the dirt where she rest­ed, where I pledged to bury the seeds she saved. I shook them in their enve­lope, rel­ish­ing them a lit­tle longer, with my boy, antsy as any tod­dler had a right to be, stomp­ing my shoes.

"Quit your danc­ing," I said, hold­ing Luke still by his slight shoul­der.

Pre­ston paused his work, cut the shovel's blade in the clay so the thing stood all on its own. He grasped the han­dle and stood tall—he might just have been stretch­ing his low back, eye­ing me with a need and judg­ment that shaved at the resis­tance she'd plant­ed. We both knew Mama's every cau­tion had become a flea trapped in my ear. He'd work no fur­ther, he said, until I released our boy.

Luke hop-scotched while I scat­tered seed by the hand­ful. Pre­ston enveloped him in a wrestler's hug, dad­dy and son shout­ing and cut­ting up in the over-watered grave­yard grass, and I want­ed to cross Mama to the both of them, but I froze, until Pre­ston looked up from where he bent over Luke like a horse to his oats, and I swear, chan­nel­ing a lit­tle of my mama's bite, said, "You got two strong legs. Now walk on over here."

Born and raised in Cincin­nati, Don­na feels very near­ly south­ern, what with that Ohio Riv­er and Ken­tucky prac­ti­cal­ly part of her back yard. On her mother’s side of the fam­i­ly every uncle and male cousin has been a truck dri­ver. Before trucks they drove wag­ons, most­ly ice deliv­er­ies to the bars in Over-the-Rhine, an inner city neigh­bor­hood in the heart of down­town Cincin­nati.

Donna’s sto­ries have appeared or are forth­com­ing in dozens of print and online pub­li­ca­tions, includ­ing Nat­ur­al Bridge, Hawaii Review, Merid­i­an, Gar­goyle, Broad Riv­er Review, Hur­ri­cane Review, Front Porch Jour­nal, Beloit Fic­tion Jour­nal, Sto­ry­glos­sia, Inso­lent Rud­der, Turn­row, Night Train, Juked, Smoke­long Quar­ter­ly, Anoth­er Chica­go Mag­a­zine, and Ginosko.

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