Short Story Sunday: Losing Balance
Here’s a short story for Mother’s Day. If you have a piece of fiction you would like to submit, send it to firstname.lastname@example.org. This writer wants to remain anonymous.
Being a parent and growing marijuana illegally means that sometimes you lose your balance.
“Jaaassonnnn! Get the phone. I’ve got wet clay on my hands.” With the broad base of her thumb, Lib arced a line across the doughy lump she was spinning into a cereal bowl.
The line needs to be just…sooo, she concentrated, turning the piece to be sure the reality matched her vision. And as she did, her son’s voice climbed down over the battered banister and made its way onto her shoulders. He was afraid. A second she held her ground, staying in her world, staring at the curve of the pottery and then, without another pause, she left it on the table and turned. The stairs were there and then the doorway and then she was behind him—her son. His brown tight curls brushed her chin as she took the phone from his hand. Whatever caused that sound in his voice wasn’t good. Was her Mom okay? Or was Dan’s brother whining about needing some money. Christ, she wished he’d leave them alone.
“What is it?” She didn’t know who she was talking to for the first few words—blood was pounding in her ears–then the voice coalesced into her neighbor’s.
“Lib, we got visitors on the road.”
“Visitors?” She questioned even as she knew.
“Six, seven cars of ‘em. Best clean house. Wouldn’t want company to see it messy. Got to go. I got to clean up, too.”
Jason stared at her as she set down the phone. He stood still beside the table, the only thing moving was his small pink tongue sucking in and out of the hole left by his front tooth. One small brown hand lay on the carefully oiled wood. “Mom, are the cops coming to our cabin?” Here, in the Humboldt hills, the code word visitors made sense even to his young ears.
Breathing seemed to happen in an explosion. She must have been holding it in, holding air until she couldn’t squeeze any more life from it. “Jason, go get the scale and the clippers from the downstairs. Bring them here. I’ll get the other stuff.” She turned and started running towards her bedroom. The pot was in brown bags drying in her …
A small choked sound from her son caught her foot in mid air. Half of her racing forward, half turning to comfort him–she tried to twist and put her foot down off balance. “Ungh, shi…Shoot! Ouch, OUCH.” Adrenaline kept her from noticing how much it hurt but still her ankle pulsed with pain.
Breathing in shakily, she forced herself to look steadily at him saying, “Jason, look, hon. They probably aren’t coming to our house but they might. There’s not that many houses up this road and…well, we’ve got to be safe, be careful…. We’re just being careful. It’s okay… Okay?” With her eyes she willed him to be strong…stronger..strong enough..just don’t make it hard now. Please, not now. I have to focus. I have to keep us safe.
Like a dark haired Alice, he seemed to grow smaller as he turned and disappeared down the rabbit hole of the stairs and she turned gratefully towards the back bedroom. Her bedroom.
Inside the dark room—there was only one small window, set high in the plywood covered walls–brown string pulled tautly from wall to wall. Nails pounded in every foot or so held lines of string. A few leaves hung here and there and one line of drying buds but the bulk of the harvest was clipped down and in the 15 or so paper bags open and lined neatly around the tiny wood stove stoked as hot as it could go. The drafty, un-insulated backroom wasn’t ever really warm but the buds were almost dry after a few days of this. Dan had taught her to clip the buds green, let them dry on the wires, and finish up the last day in the bags. He had said it made them fluffier and they got better weight that way. She wasn’t sure he had been right but she didn’t change. It would have been a betrayal.
She grabbed a roll of black garbage bags off the dresser—spinning off a bag as fast as she could. Her ankle throbbed but she barely noticed because her heart was beating too hard. Her breath coming in gasps.
Muttering “fudge, fudge, …” even as scared as she was she tried to keep from saying aloud the swear words she didn’t want Jason to learn. She tried to open the plastic bag by rubbing her middle finger and thumb together on either side. “Shit, shoot, wrong end …wrong end.” Quickly she turned it, slid the sides apart, and with a practiced snap down of both her arms, popped it open.
Rolling the tops of the half full paper bags down, closing in the fragrant green buds, she carefully but as quickly as possible stuffed the sacks one by one into a series of empty, plastic garbage bags. Then, grabbing a pocketknife from the front pocket of her jeans, she quickly cut the string and shoved it into the bags, too. “No time for the nails now. Maybe later.” She hauled the 3 black bags over her shoulder like a greedy Santa Claus. No, more like the Grinch. “She’s a mean one, Mrs. Grinch…, she started humming then sucked in her lip. “Christ, I’m loosing it.”
“Jas..” but he was already there in their tiny living room/kitchen holding the shiny metal scale in one hand and a mason jar full of olive oil and clippers in the other. The equipment that measured out and made the money they had to have to make it through the year.
“Honey,” she carefully let each word out through clenched teeth. “You can’t touch those with your hands.” She never yelled at him but …“You might leave prints. Remember…Here, I’ll wipe it down.” Lib grabbed a dish towel and, carefully holding the scale against the table with one cloth covered hand, she wiped all evidence of her son’s small fingers from the shiny surface of the balance.
“Put your mittens on. Not there, over by the stove.” She pulled a pair of latex exam gloves from the Kleenex like container that they came in when bought in bulk and slipped them on. “Shit,” she thought. “I’ve probably left prints on the plastic bags. I should have put gloves on first. Damndamndamn!”
She thrust tight clay smeared fingers into the thin powdery gloves. “Get your coat on. Grab the scale and the clippers…” She grabbed the Mason jar that held the rolling papers and the company buds (those saved for friends and buyers to try) and stuffed them into one of the bags. She looked up. “NOT” She inhaled, the sound a sharp hiss, then exhaled smiling a little. She willed her voice to be calm. “I mean, not the cup, honey, just the clippers.”
She mentally winced as he grabbed the clippers from the container and upended them so that oil rolled back down off them and onto his new mittens she had just knitted but she continued grabbing the small black photo album from the shelf —looking inside she made sure…”Yes,” she thought to herself, “it’s the one with the proud grower syndrome….God, they could put me away for the rest of Jason’s life for this. Why haven’t I just burnt it?” But she knew why, the photos of her and Dan, young and stupid and proud and showing off their first couple of harvests were a part of their lives. It would feel like Peter denying the Christ to throw these into fire to disappear forever like her mini skirt and like him…like him.
Jason followed her as she carried the bags down the stairs and out past her pottery bench and through the front door. “What an idiot. Why did I have him carry up the stairs, what we have to turn around and carry down the stairs?” Pushing her stupidity into the bag of her fears, she limped down into the room below.
The layout of the cabin bugged her but when money came in bursts, rooms were added spontaneously, there wasn’t much planning—mostly things just kind of grew organically…She huffed a laugh under her breath at that thought but there wasn’t much humorous in the pain in her ankle competing with the burn of her lungs as she and Jason climbed the hill behind their house.
She blundered her way under the oak trees. Normally she stuck to the path but she needed to go far enough away that she didn’t think the cops would find the pot and the evidence she weighed the herb for sale. “Put that stuff in under the roots of that tree there,” she said jerking her head to indicate what she meant. A little further, she found a good spot to tuck in the black bag under some poison oak. She’d catch the stuff for sure and itch for a week but cops never searched poison oak. She even grew her plants among the stuff. She just washed with Technu soap every time after feeding the plants to minimize the damage. She heaped some leaves on top of the bag and watched Jason do the same to the scale.
Back at the house, most of the afternoon, she pulled nails awkwardly to hide the evidence of drying weed as she made up stories about Bob the Builder to keep him entertained. He wanted to be right with her, made her go with him when he went outside to pee and he hadn’t done that for years. She was glad of the company, though. Having Jason with her was like having a bit of Dan here, too. She felt safer somehow
By evening, the franticness had worn off. If the cops were coming here, they’d have driven up the rutted dirt road already. She wondered whose house they’d gone to. Not Myra’s she hoped. They had a new baby. Maybe Jake and Linda’s. Jake always grew so fucking much.
Finally, she fixed Jason some Annie’s Natural Cheddar Bunnies. He begged for them at the store and because they reminded her of the Kraft Macaroni and Cheese she had loved as a kid (but wouldn’t be caught dead buying now) she kept a few boxes of Annie’s on hand as treats.
She was feeling especially close to him. It was almost fun now. She felt all warm and loving inside–kind of like Thanksgiving with the family. No, more like one of those nights when she was a kid and the electricity had gone off and Mom had lit the candles while everyone played Monopoly and ate popcorn cooked on the woodstove. She patted Jason’s hand and he reached up and stroked her cheek with his warm fingers.
She called Myra. The phone rang and rang. The relief she had felt earlier when her house stayed quiet came back to wail guiltily in the corner of her mind. With an abrupt click, the phone picked up mid ring. “Lib, that you?”
“I hate Caller ID,” she thought even as she relaxed. “Myra, you’re alright?”
The cops had gone after some big grower out on the lower road. She’d never met him. He didn’t live here so they didn’t catch him just took all his weed. “Cleaned him out,” Myra said. “Jake told Mike he watched with binoculars from the point. They didn’t get anybody. They’re idiots,” she exalted.
“What dumbnuts,” Lib agreed glancing down at Jason hoping he didn’t pick up the word and use it at playgroup tomorrow. Way down inside she didn’t feel comfortable with that assessment of cops but she’d survived this bust. Damn it, she’d made it. She was safe. A little virtual war dance on the enemy’s grave didn’t hurt anyone.
The next day, after morning at playgroup, she brought back all the pot from the woods. She needed to dry the stuff before it molded and she lost the whole harvest. Within the week, it finished curing (or at least finished enough for a buyer) and she sold all 11 pounds through a friend. Not a whole lot of money but enough to make it through the year.
Her ankle healed easily, too, She walked comfortably on it by the time the pot was sold— though it never seemed as strong again and, years later, she couldn’t trust it not to fold on her if she turned wrong.
Funny thing, she never did find the Wiss clips or the balance scale. The hole under the tree she thought Jason had put them in was empty. Even with Jason helping, she never found them. She looked on and off and eventually gave up. It’s easy to lose your stuff in the woods. The loss didn’t seem that important. Too much work to find it again. She bought new clippers and borrowed from the neighbors when she needed a scale. It was awkward but she gotten used to doing without a lot of things. She could do without this.
Still, sometimes, even years later, she’d go back to the area where Jason had hidden the balance and poke around. She felt a little lost without it.