Flumes Volume 2: Issue 1, Summer 2017 - Page 62

Promises

by Dorothy Allison

My son Wolf, eighteen months old and fearless, loves nothing more than running off under the redwood trees down the hill from our house. The puppies chase after him barking joyfully, determined to catch the ball he waves above his head. I follow behind, just far enough back to give the baby a sense of freedom, not so far back that I can’t rescue him when he falls over his own stumbling gait. “Mama!” Wolf shouts, and I find myself laughing. Hearing him call me Mama is almost as unimaginable as living in this landscape of rolling hills, redwood trees, and January camellias blooming as if it were spring. There is a river down the hill, a California river with a rocky bottom, docks, and summer bridges put up in May and taken down each October. It is beautiful and strange, as far from my childhood as I am. Even near the ocean, where this river pulls in marsh birds and fishermen, there is no swampland like the one I remember as a girl – a landscape so ripe, flowers burst out of the brown and black-spotted muck, promising vindication even as it threatened our white cotton socks.

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My mama and stepfather took their one and only true vacation when I was eight, driving us south to the coast below Charleston for a week away from work and school. We spent a week on Folly Beach and another guesting at bedraggled trailer loaned to us by one of the men who worked with my stepfather. The trailer was parked on a tiny plot just a quarter of a mile from the ocean, surrounded by another century’s rice plantation property, flat damp grounds thick with mossy gnarled oaks and an impossibly dense lattice of old growth grasses. Our uncle Beau, Mama’s brother, joined us with a tent draped in mosquito netting and a truckload of fishing gear.

“We’ll catch enough fish to pay for the trip and then some,” Uncle Beau swore. He sent my stepfather back to the highway for a load of block ice and dug a pit to keep it a while. My sisters and I baited hooks and hauled buckets of water up to hold the fresh-caught fish. Mama stretched out on a plastic foldout lawn chair with a John D. MacDonald mystery.

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