Mama's Will



by Rudy Ravindra
Ricky boarded his flight from San Antonio to Memphis. That was the first time in almost six years that he saw the outside world, outside of the Fort Sam Houston army base in San Antonio, where he was given a desk job, thanks to his commanding officer Rand’s recommendation. Amazing what a war injury did to the career of the politically well-connected. Rand was a mere Second Lieutenant when he and Ricky were hit by an IED on their way to Camp Justice, near Baghdad. Their vehicle was hit, boom, and was engulfed in flames. Rand recovered from his minor injuries, and was awarded the Purple Heart for bravery and got series of rapid promotions and ended his career in the army as a Major. And then he ran for a senate seat and won it with a thumping majority. All in just a span of six years while Ricky languished in many hospitals. But Ricky was thankful for Rand’s help, who saw to it that he got the best treatment, the best surgeons, and a cushy desk job. After many months of physical therapy, Ricky was able to walk with his prosthetic leg. It was a miracle he recovered almost completely, no longer dependent on those kind nurses to feed and bathe him. After five long years in different hospitals, he was all repaired, in as good a shape as he could possibly hope for, at least physically. During his recovery and reconstructive surgery, he wasn’t allowed to travel. But after all the surgeries were done, when he was free to go anywhere he wanted to, for almost a year, he seldom stepped out of the army base. Many times he yearned to see the place he grew up, his sisters, his cousins, and his high school buddies. But his hideous face bothered him. Deep down, he was ashamed of showing his face to his loved ones, to the people who knew him, people who remembered him as a handsome man. He realized the surgeons’ constrains, knew they did their best to patch him up, but they couldn’t work miracles, they couldn’t transform him into a handsome Hollywood hunk. They had so little to work with. The skin on the left side of his face was badly burnt. They had to remove the skin from his thigh and graft it onto his face. That was a tortuous, step by step process involving many painful surgeries, recovery, followed by yet another surgery. Now his face had a large reddish color running from his left temple to his chin, resembling a birthmark. But the right side of his face looked normal. His left eye was gone; they gave him a glass eye.
He arrived in Memphis in the afternoon and checked into a hotel. The next day he got up early, did his physical therapy routines, had breakfast and went to a car dealer, and got a good deal on a brand-new Ford pickup. And then he drove to Aberdeen. Once he crossed the state line into Mississippi, he was excited to see again the green pastureland, cotton and corn fields, bales of hay, occasional patches of peach and pecan trees, and barns of all shapes and sizes. One had a corrugated tin roof, and another one had one long sloping section and a short angular section, and yet another no more than a lean-to. Some were painted red and had shining silos next to them. But many of them looked abandoned.
When he reached Tupelo, he drove to a McDonalds, got himself a double cheeseburger and a large chocolate milkshake. With his belly full, he drove the last few miles to Aberdeen. He pulled into the gravel driveway and surveyed the property. Sun was setting and the orange sky over the trees would soon disappear to be followed by the darkness of the night. He sat on the swing in the front porch and smelled the fresh country air.
*
Ricky and his older brother Larry purchased this large piece of land, and, with the help of cousins and uncles, built mama’s house on it. Larry said, “I figure we ought to buy a large lot, away from the town. It might be cheap. We’ll build mama a two bedroom house. When we retire, let’s move back home and build two more houses; one for you and one for me.”
Ricky nodded his head in agreement. “Yeah, yeah. We need land for a nice garden….rose bushes, pink azaleas, and a good vegetable patch, beef cows, hogs, chickens.”
Larry emptied his pipe into an ashtray, scraped the bowl with a stem rod, and again emptied the ash, blew air into the bowl, and after satisfying himself that it was as clean as it would get, filled it with fresh tobacco, gently tapped it with a tamper tool, and lighted it with his silver lighter. After drawing a satisfying puff, he inhaled deeply and sat back. “Yes, yes. Let’s get a good piece of land first off.”
Yes, Ricky remembered as if it was just yesterday when he and Larry saw this large abandoned wooded lot off the old highway 25, almost twenty years ago. They pulled over to look around.
Larry said, “There are a bunch of big tulip trees, and there’s white oak too. Hmmm, pretty good shade. And that big old magnolia tree has pretty flowers.” He walked around and nodded. He looked at Uncle Jerry—mama’s younger brother. “What do you reckon?”
Jerry rubbed his chin, took out his cigar, and looked at it as if debating whether to light it just then or wait until another propitious time. Looking at him, folks got the impression that Jerry was trying to quit the habit. “W—e—l—l, we get a Bobcat with a brush saw attachment, we can clear all this brush.” He gave up inspecting his weed and lighted it and puffed on it. “Them tulip trees is very mature, I reckon they’s more than a hundred feet high, same as them white oaks. Don’t y’all love that shade? I’d love to put me a hammock and have me a cold one. Yes, sir, I reckon we keep all them big trees.”
When all the work was done, the house was almost ready, Larry and Ricky went to Amory to buy a few pallets of sod, flowering and ornamental bushes, and flowering trees to plant around the house. At the nursery they looked around and spoke to the nice shop lady who appeared knowledgeable.
“I know a feller who sells good sod. He’ll come and install it for ya. Don’t try doing it yourself. Not worth the trouble. About the bushes, come, let’s take a walk.” She took them to the back of the facility where there were many rows upon rows of plants. “What you need is some roses, azaleas, and gardenias…that’ll do for the bushes around the house. Now for the small trees, this here, this is a one-gallon dogwood…this’ll have nice white flat-topped flowers in the spring… you might can get a couple of those, and oh, here is the crabapple.” She stooped and looked at the tag. “This’ll give ya fragrant pink blossoms in early spring and small greenish apples in summer.”
*
On the front porch, Ricky sat on the swing, gently going back and forth, enjoying the cool breeze of the late fall day, and looked around the yard. Those saplings they planted so many years ago were now tall and big. The roses, azaleas, and gardenias also appeared healthy, but looked like they all needed trimming. A little fertilizer wouldn’t hurt either. He picked up his milkshake—it was still cold although most of the ice melted by now—and sucked on the straw, drawing the last of the liquid with a gurgling sound, and smacked his lips. The many bird noises—sharp piercing calls, the soft peeps and chirps, the loud chirps, and the mating calls—ceased now that it was night fall and were replaced by the steady humming sound of the night insects. The moon came up on the horizon, as though welcoming the war hero back home, and a distant dog barked.
He had his misgivings about the Iraq war, about his buddies sacrificing their precious lives for a lost cause, but kept his thoughts to himself. He felt that as a soldier, his duty was to follow orders and do his best. For him politics didn’t mean a thing. When the time came, he voted for the man he thought was the best. Never cared to know which party the candidate belonged to. As his mama said, you send a good man to Washington, and he come out crooked. That was the way it was, and nothing had changed since then.
He stood up, telling himself, better get to work. He got his bags out of the pickup and set them on the porch and tried to open the front door. He shook his head in amazement. Why would anyone lock their door in the country? Ain’t nothing to take. He took out his credit card and slid it into the door frame and turned the knob, but the door didn’t yield. He smiled to himself, walked back to his car, looked into his tool kit, and took a tension wrench and a pick. He inserted the wrench into the lower portion of the keyhole and moved it clockwise first and then in the opposite direction. He did this few times to determine which way there was more “give” and then inserted the pick and played with the pins, and voila, the lock yielded. A stale, musty smell was in the air, and he opened the windows to get rid of the odor. The furniture needed dusting, and the carpet begged to be cleaned.
Back on the porch, he sat on the swing, wrote a list of items he needed to clean the house. It occurred to him that before he got milk and groceries, he better get the electricity and water service. He went back into the house, turned on the lights, and was surprised to see them working. Amazingly enough, the water also flowed with good pressure, albeit with a bit of rusty color. Next he checked the refrigerator to see if it still worked. When he opened the door, a strong smell hit his nostrils; he almost ran out of the kitchen. He tied a handkerchief around his nose and went back to investigate the refrigerator. It was unplugged, and a stale sandwich—the most probable cause of the offending smell—on the middle shelf.
He wondered if he made a mistake to come to live in the house without some advance preparation, like he was used to in the army. But he was very eager to start his new life, life away from the army base, life in the country, smelling the fresh air, growing his own vegetables, milking cows, feeding hogs, tending chickens. He looked forward to the placid, laid back country life.
He went to the toolshed, got a shovel, and dug a deep hole in the farthest corner of the land, and using the paper napkins he got at McDonalds, picked up the moldy sandwich and buried it in the ground, and washed his hands. He left the refrigerator door open, hoping the smell would go away. He found a pedestal fan in the laundry room and cranked it up full blast, right in front of the refrigerator.
He drove to the hardware store, off the highway 145. He picked up cleaning rags and sponges, a bottle of Windex, Pledge, paper towels, and a duster. As he was about to go to the checkout counter, a man came up to him. “Well, well, if it ain’t Ricky, I’ll be…”
Ricky looked at him and a smile creased his face. “Hey, Billy boy, how ya doing?”
Billy laughed loudly. “I’m fine, real fine. Good to see you…back for good, huh? Let’s grab a few beers, catch up. How about this weekend?”
“Sure thing, Billy. Lemme give you my cell number. Oh, what the heck, tell me your number. I’ll punch it in mine.”
On the way home, Ricky stopped at a convenience store to pick up a loaf of bread, peanut butter, jelly, and milk. And another visit to the nearby McDonalds for a burger, fries, and a large chocolate milkshake. 
*
Next morning, he was rudely awakened by loud banging on the front door. He opened the door to see a smiling Agnes, all decked up like she was going to a party.
“Ricky, I heard you are in town. Came to say hello.”
He rubbed his eyes. “What time is it?”
Agnes laughed. “Wake up, Ricky. It’s after nine. Go brush your teeth. Brung some coffee and donuts. Figured you needed nourishment.”
He came back to the living room and hugged his younger sister. “You doing okay? How’s Jimmy and the kids? How did you know I’m here?”
She giggled. “Oh, Billy told Cindy, Cindy told Bob, Bob told Jane, Jane told BettySue…”
Ricky put his palm up to stop her. “I get the picture. The whole town knows it. Ain’t it so?”
Agnes became serious. “I need to tell you something. This house is Marylou’s. She’ll get real mad if she knows you moved in…”
She was interrupted by the noise of screeching tires, banging car doors, followed by the entry of none other than Marylou and her husband Bob.
Marylou stood like a matador ready for a face-off with the fiercest bull in the entire Magnolia state, except that Ricky was anything but threatening in his blue robe, a cup of coffee in his hand.
Ricky was affable. “Hello, Marylou, if it ain’t my favorite little sister…how y’all doing? Oh, you must be Bob. Sorry I couldn’t make it to your wedding. Good of you come to help me move in. Come on in, y’all. Have some coffee. Agnes is mighty generous, plenty of coffee, donuts.” He helped himself to another donut and sat on what was mama’s chair.
Marylou was boiling with rage. “How can you break into my house? You told everybody in town that you moved in.”
Marylou looked at Bob and he took out a sheet of paper from his expensive-looking leather briefcase and handed it to Ricky. “We don’t want to have a family squabble, Ricky. Here’s the last will and testament of your mama, duly signed and notarized.”
Marylou appeared to calm down. “Now look here, Ricky. If you want a place to recoup, consider your options, you are welcome to stay here as long as you want. But lemme make it clear: this is my house, and that’s that.” To add effect to her short, assertive speech, she stomped the carpet with her right foot and thumped the kitchen counter with her left hand.
Ricky got up, went into mama’s bedroom, and got his bag. He set it carefully on the coffee table, and sat down. Then he took a small bite of donut and a big sip of coffee. He opened his bag and took out a document. “This here says that Larry wanted me to have everything he owned. Oh, I wrote a similar will, leaving everything to Larry if I got killed in the war.” He looked sad. “And if we both was killed, the property goes to Agnes and Marylou, that is, after Mama passed.”
When it looked like Marylou was going to say something, Ricky put up his palm to silence her. “Now, Larry and I took the loan to build this house, we paid the down payment, and our names are on the title. We arranged with our bank to deposit monthly payment to the mortgage company. I think the loan was paid off couple of years before mama passed away. The way we done it, Mama paid only utilities. Larry and I sent money every month to Mama, to pay bills and buy food. I really don’t know how Mama got into her head she owned this house. Mama’s name ain’t on any document.” Ricky scratched his head and passed the relevant papers to Bob.
Bob read the documents and looked at Marylou as if to tell her to back off. Marylou looked like a balloon that lost all its helium and flopped down on the couch.
Ricky looked at Bob. “If y’all tried to change the title to Marylou’s name, you would’ve found that Mama didn’t own this house.”
Bob had a sheepish grin. “Yeah, yeah. That’s true. But, we figured there was no real rush to mess with paperwork…and pay all them fees.”
Ricky, the ever gracious Southern gentleman, smiled. “Marylou, y’all come down here whenever you want. I know you grew up in this house, understand the attachment you have. I reckon, come Christmas, we’ll have a gathering, just like old times when Mama was around. I’ll put up a big tree and lights around the house.”
Ricky got himself another cup of coffee and looked at Agnes. “I spoke to y’all many times after Mama passed away. How come nobody told me about Mama’s will?”
Agnes became emotional. “Oh, Ricky, that was farthest from our minds. We worried about you, wanted you to get better. None of us thought much of anything but your health. Glad you are back in one piece. Yes, yes, real glad.” She wiped away her tears.
Ricky patted her shoulder. “If y’all can spare the time, shall we go to Mama’s gravesite, put some flowers?”

RUDY RAVINDRA's prose appeared in Blazevox, Enhance, The Prague Revue, and others. He lives in Wilmington, NC. More at: http://rudyravindra.wix.com/rudy

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Belle Rêve Literary Journal is a southern literary experience. Our mission is to capture everything that makes the South and its residents unique through the best contemporary literature we can find. We publish new works weekly.