Vivian’s voice chirped along the yellow walls, to the kitchen, where a woman finished loading wet dishes onto the drying rack. The drip of the water bells plopped lightly against the soap bath as the front door closed. And the moment a whisper of familiar auburn curls swayed into the living room, it set a smile over Mama’s face.
Not half a second later, Vivian walked into full view.
Tall and lean with the softest features across her freckled face. The most beautiful girl that Mayfield had seen in 22 years and getting more beautiful with every passing day. The doctor had said it himself on March 6th, 1940 when she was born and every one in town confirmed it the years she was growing up. Any other sunny afternoon, Mama would’ve been the happiest woman in the world to see the long lost girl that time was inevitably taking away with each day, but this time — Vivian wasn’t alone. Her hand attached to another. The boy’s.
The one Mama had heard about but never seen. He stood in front of her as she dried her hands. His fingers gently gripping her daughter’s, probably for dear life at the thought of meeting a woman as fierce as Mama. Vivian didn’t even notice the smile drop from her lips; her own as wide as a Carolina sunset. Saying something about the boy and how she’d written him a hundred letters and they’d met at the dance hall in June. Mama didn’t know Vivian was bringing him this time. A year had passed, but she thought she had more of it. More time to prepare; more time to convince Vivian he wasn’t the one, couldn’t be. There was better out there than games during your university years. But here he was. Bad as they come.
Mama took a seat at the dining room table. Her aging hands gripped her temple. The boy’s voice cut through the static of her toil —
“I’d like to talk to you, ma’am. If that’s okay.”
Mama looked up at him. Silence the only response she could manage. Vivian’s eyes implored so deeply. “Mama… did you hear him?”
Give us a minute.”
Vivian sucked in a quiet breath of hopeful air and kissed the boy on the cheek before she went onto the front porch. Picked a spot on the swing where she could still see inside if she leaned enough to her left. It’s the spot she’d been eavesdropping on secrets and grown folks business from the time she could hoist herself up.
Mama never took her eyes off the boy. How he swayed under her gaze. Fiddled with his pockets as he picked from a thousand thoughts running through his head. He might actually feel something for her if the nerves were rocking him this much — but it wouldn’t be enough. Feelings would never be enough for Mama. Not for her Vivian.
“If you need to take that ring out your pocket to sit down, go ahead.”
The boy’s eyes shot up as his hand grabbed at his right pocket protectively. He waited… then he fished out a simple gold band with no diamonds or clarity. A poor man’s ring. Nothing near what her Vivian had desired all her life, but one she would take — if Mama let her.
The boy didn’t even put it in a pouch or a box; he set it down on the table by it’s lonesome and it didn’t make a sound, it was so lowly. Mama could usually hear a pin drop on this table, but the boy’s ring… it was silent.
He sat down and scrapped the floor’s Mama mopped yesterday with his chair. He looked at her.
“I love your daughter more than anything in the world.” The silence echoed inside as birds chirped outside and Vivian laughed. The sound was like honey to Mama’s ears. But her shoulders didn’t let go.
“I read her letters. How fond she is of you.” Mama’s lips pursed, “I also talked to the neighbors. Asked around about you. You’re from the next town over.”
He nodded, “Yes, ma’am.”
“It wasn’t a question.” Mama replied. “I’ve read those papers and heard the gossip. Seen about the troubles you’ve been in. The ones you’ve caused. I remember hearing about them once or twice from the neighbors throughout our town. Even as a child, havoc and chaos in a tiny frame.”
The boy’s face fell as his uncomfortably heightened.
“And then you grew up. And the child become a boy that made the same mistakes, but somewhere along the way, you found something different from what you’d always known. Someone who found an ounce of good in you and it made you think you could be better.”
“I wouldn’t ever do anything to hurt her, ma’am. I’m not the same as I was a boy.”
“That’s what every boy says.” Mama almost smiled fondly, “That’s what her father told told me… and then he died.” The pain is almost unbearable as Mama’s brow creased. “And that hurt me more than any of his stupid decisions ever could have…you know that’s how she lost her daddy? Thinking his stupid mistakes wouldn’t come for their own.”
His face says he knows. Of course he does. Vivian loved her daddy more than anything in the world in the nine years she had him. Mama’s eyes seared with tears. But after so many years, she does well to keep them at bay.
“I loved him so much. And I know you may love her, in some capacity. Maybe even more than most. But I also know that your past doesn’t unfollow you simply because you’d like it too. Her daddy wanted that so desperately. To leave it all behind. He was my own kind of trouble; and I devoted my life to him. But I won’t allow my daughter to make the same sacrifices only to experience the same inevitable pain. So no.” She slides the ring an inch toward the boys chest.
He stares at it. The weight of it seeming particularly heavy. Holding something between the world and two potential broken hearts. Nothing and everything all at once. “Do you know my name ma’am?” He asked.
The boy leaned forward in earnest. “You don’t know what my mother calls me but you’ve heard enough about me from strangers that you’ll allow it to define how I could ever love your daughter. Do you think you could know me so well?” Mama turns her head away. Her mind set. Even as she remembered the same words her mama said to her the day she’d married Vivian’s daddy. But they couldn’t all be him. They couldn’t all have a heart of gold buried beneath the heartache of the world, if only he could be given a chance to show it.
The boy slumped into his seat but his eyes never fell from Mama’s. He’d need her rejection to his face. Again. Just one more time if she was so certain.
Mama looked out the window to see Vivian watching from the porch swing. It was immovably still as hot tears clouded her eyes. The way of the conversation evident even from where she sat. So still. The heartbreak somehow familiar as Mama saw the younger version of herself, doing everything in her power to convince her own mother that Vivian’s daddy was a good man. Even with his reputation, and what everyone thought they knew of him. Marrying him anyway, even though it broke her mother’s heart. And saying goodbye to him, the love of her life, when her mother’s fears came true. Mama’s cheeks stained with the same pain Vivian was feeling. A pain she wouldn’t ever change, even if she knew the ending, because that kind of love is a once in a lifetime kind of love.
A love that brought Vivian to her. Mama’s cheeks ran wet as she looked at Vivian and whispered, “Why is he the one you want?”
Vivian touched her heart. Her fingers gripped over the locket that held her favorite picture her daddy, one she’d never taken off a day in her life. He held Vivian and Mama in his arms at their favorite spring. Three days before he’d died. It was engraved with their names: Jack, Victoria, and Vivian. Always together.
Mama wiped her tears, remembering the day she gave it to Vivi on her 12th birthday.
She extended her aging hand across the table. Steady as she welcomed her greatest fear instead of fighting it. “What’s your name?”
The boy looked up. “Jack, ma’am."
Mama gasped as he took her hand. Vivian pressed her hands to the glass, soaking up every moment as Jack kissed Mama’s hand. “That’ll do, I suppose.
Welcome to the family, Jack.”