Fraternal Ties by Mary May Burruss

All night I wrestled with schemes for the following day. Eva had trapped me. Her puritanical morals trapped me ten years ago and now she was doing it again. An adult does not shrink from responsibility, she said, loyalty to one's family is essential. By golly I was her family now!

I withdrew from her side of the bed, afraid to further drown in her plans for my future.

I had worked my butt off while Eva lapped cream, little to show for my efforts but Eva's generosity with what I provided. If only she had consulted me. She knew how I hated mirrors and chrome.

Tomorrow I would leave. Leave! That's it. Leave her. At the front door I would allow her to breathe on my neck and tie my scarf in a loop, her morning ritual, never to see her again, never again resentful of Eva's control over my life.

Soon after breakfast the following morning I drove outside the city limits to the junction. There the state highway leading to the correctional facility meets the turnpike. Once safely on the turnpike I would be liberated.

Already I felt the unleashing of Eva's commandments, and smelled sweet, cool air. Free. I would forever be free of Eva, Mrs. Waters, the damn cat, and J.D. Free to set my own course. Free to be disloyal.

My clammy hands trembled on the steering wheel. Then the car stuttered to a stop. A tightness in my throat almost choked me. I couldn't do it. Sweat pooled in my shoes. Ten years of Eva's catechism came crushing down on my brief taste of independence. I made a U-tum and pulled to the shoulder a half mile short of dismal chain link fence. There I leaned on the car door, one foot planted in gravel.

Soon a lone distant figure grew more distinct with each step as he approached. My knuckles turned white. My pulse beat faster as I recognized the walk.

J.D.'s history is written in the way he walks. Shoulders, pitched forward to ward off the weather, stoop to bear another blow. His hands, rammed deep in old trouser pockets, are gnarled. A ragged shirt covers arms tough as tree stumps. He shuffles, one foot dragging war wounds in his wake. Red-streaked blue eyes, like Eva's, framed in folds of flesh, gaze, still stunned by the flash of gunfire. He wears a floppy wide-brimmed felt hat to shade his eyes, as ifsomehow the shadows fall upon my eyes as well, allowing him to pass undetected.

Barking dogs nip at his heels. Children scatter at the sight ofhim. If I were younger, stronger, I would join them in jumping to a gully, a hiding place from which to watch him pass, partly out of fear of what lay ahead, and partly out of respect for the misery written on his brow.

If l hurry there is still time to escape. My car keys are hot in my hand. Because I am a forty-year-old adult and not a child, I swagger to the middle of the road as he comes even closer. Red clay dust boils from ankles to knees, then settles behind him. He aims straight for me, clasping my arm with one hand and with the other makes a fist that he thrusts within a whisper of my chin.

I try like hell not to blink or jerk sideways. "So! It's you!"

Amused, he pushes the felt hat back a fraction, better to inspect me, then shakes his head. When he speaks, his mouth forms a narrow slot ofragged yellow teeth. "Haven't changed a bit," he says, while kicking at gravel.

To avoid looking at him, eye to eye, I jiggle the keys. "Come home, J.D."
Uttering the words marks my doom. I am powerless now, and will go down in failure at his side.

@2008 - Burruss

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