By Joshua Ladlee

sunlight

It was just the start of my seventeenth summer, but already the harsh, Texas sun beat down mercilessly on the silver and blue Silverado. The parking lot was filled with people, faculty and staff eagerly waiting the blast of the last horn of the day, signaling the release from the confines of government-mandated education. And so we also waited, my mother and I, sitting in the hot truck so we could pick up my younger sibling and endure the ride home.

I paid little attention to world around me, barely noticing the occasional student or staff passing by the open window of the vehicle. I was engaged in my book, one I had read time and again, but which never failed to pull my into its own little world. But today, that world kept being jarred by the movement of a single foot, incessantly twitching and causing the collapse of my literary kingdom. I turned to my mother, the source of the twitching, and knew it was futile to read further.

Her normally relaxed posture was rigid, back straightly angled against the door. Painted nails dug in slightly on the binding of the book she was clutching, and lips pursed angrily as she attempted to read, her eyes slightly glazed over. A familiar look, one I had come to associate with frustration from rereading the same page over and over without bothering to actually digest it. She glared out from over the edge of the page and barked out a simple, “What?”

“You’re twitching,” I said,

“Oh, your father is pissing me off again,” Mom said, slamming the paperback shut more for flourish than substance. “Going on about his parents’ bullshit like it’s some big deal. But, oh, nothing less from the ‘golden child,’” Mom said, rolling her eyes and sneering slightly. “There is nothing golden about that man.”

I dumbly nodded my head, having learned long ago that silence was often the best case in one of these rants. Far easier for her to be mad at Dad than to have that blame shift to me.

“He thinks I don’t like his parents,” Mom continued to fume. “Which I don’t, and I admit that, but he acts like I do nothing for them. Hello? I don’t see him getting off his ass and going next door to wash the dishes or cook.”

Mom suddenly smiled, a snarky evil little smile that was both terrifying and exciting at the same time. I almost trembled when I saw it, knowing what was to come next. And sure enough, it was followed by those specials words, “Oh. Your Granny has a new one, you know?”

“What is it this time?” I asked eagerly, knowing that information was sure to be interesting and juicy.

And she continued on, divulging gleefully in the revelation of Granny’s latest disturbed behavior. I didn’t completely understand the pleasure she derived from the old woman’s lunacy, but I indulged nonetheless. However, this twisted little moment ended with a bang in just an utterance of the words, “Oh, and Granny’s been going around telling Gail, your cousins, and hell knows how many other people, that you are gay.”

The moment broke and shattered away as the world went grayscale. I could hear nothing but the sound of my own heart beating in my chest as my brain struggled to process what was just said. For hours in my head, but brief seconds in reality, I fought a war with myself. An evil witch just released an armed skeleton, and I two choices: fight and proclaim my victory, or return it the closet with the others. To this day, I do not what lead me to declare, “She’s not wrong.”

Then a sound, a strange sound. Laughter, as the world lit back up, and I looked to the source from whence the sound I expected least to hear was coming from. My mother was laughing at me, her cheeks rosy from the effort, before I felt a thump upside my head.

“Silly ass,” she said.  “I knew that. I’ve been your mother all these years.  Do you think I’m ignorant or something? But the point is, it isn’t her place to be doing that.”

I just sat there dumbfounded, more than a little shocked at this revelation. It had happened so quickly and unexpectedly. I expected tears, denial, pleading, the usual things associated with such a big revelation. Instead, I was hearing laughter and had a small bump where Mom had tried to literally knock sense into me.

And so, the talking continued, and it was different. In a brief afternoon, the dynamic changed. I wasn’t a child talking to his mother. I was a friend, someone mature and respected. I was another grown-up, and no longer in the shackles of my age.

Mom smiled then, that delightfully evil little smile, and my curiosity was piqued.  I was barely able to contain my own smile as I said, “What?”

Mom pulled out a CD, my CD, full of Disney songs, and slipped it into the CD player, ready to hit the button. “Let’s embarrass your sister,” she said.

The familiar and catchy beat sang out from the speakers into the hot summer day, as the last buzzer rang, kids flocking from the school like prisoners breaking free. Most of them, knowing us, sang along with the Jamaican Crab who proudly proclaimed, “Under the Sea!” And I danced. And my mother danced. And together, we laughed at the mortified face of my sister.

sunlightJoshua Ladlee is working on his B.S. In psychology  at Bemidji State University. A native Texan, he has learned to adjust to the harsh Minnesota winters, and enjoys reading, writing, and gaming in his spare time.