Mom told me she was a psychic when I was six years old. I remember sitting together on the beach, our toes touching underneath layers of sand and shells, and she leaned over and whispered to me: “I have a secret.”
Me, being just small and wide-eyed, whispered back, “Me too.” I didn’t know how different our secrets were until after she told me. I felt like a fool, too. She divulged this critical piece of information about herself and all I had to say was that I had only brought one pair of socks with us—my blue socks with the patched hole. I had felt ashamed when I unpacked and realized I had one lousy pair. I thought she’d scold me, tell me how irresponsible I was, as always. But she didn’t. She said it was okay, I just need to remember more carefully next time to bring more. And that was it. No discussion. No extrapolation. That’s all she told me. I didn’t even know what a psychic was. She didn’t bother to explain it, either. She stood up, her knees folding into place like lawn chairs, and she let the warm water carry the sand off her toes. She looked at me again and said, “Don’t tell your brothers yet.” Then she walked back to Dad and Nick and Randy. They were sitting together under a big parasol, their faces covered in the shade. They were laughing about something, but I didn’t know what. I never knew what.
To this day, I don’t know why she told me first. It was only a few years later when she told my brothers, and she finally sat us down and explained to us what she said she was. Nick, just a few years older than me, claimed he knew the whole time. But I could tell by the way he rubbed his fingers on his jaw that he was fibbing. Randy stayed silent. He didn’t say anything. Frankly, I’m not sure he was paying attention. Then she looked over at me and winked. She reached out her right hand to us, and we all laid our littler ones on top of hers. On her middle finger was a bright sapphire ring. She wore it everywhere, all the time. She claimed it helped her speak to her mom—our grandma. Sometimes at dinner, she’d look at Dad and say, “Mom really thinks this should have used more salt,” regarding the potatoes. He’d smirk and chuckle it off as usual. I never really knew whether Dad believed her or not. He died a few months after that.
On my twelfth birthday, Mom made a strawberry-vanilla cake. She said grandma helped in her own special way. I asked how. She said that it was hard to explain but that I would understand someday. I still don’t.
When I turned 16, Nick taught me how to drive in his old, used Camaro. When Nick brought it home from the dealership, Mom threw a fit. She said that car gave her a headache, and headaches meant bad things. She told my brother not to use it—begged him to find another one. He claimed it was all nonsense. He was 19 at the time, and I think he was beginning to doubt our mom’s claims. He drove that car for another two years before he drove off a hill after a tire blew out. His neck cracked, and he died instantly. Mom and I were sitting in the living room of the house when she suddenly said she felt a chill. She brushed it off, but it quickly returned, so she claimed. Then she said she was hot, like nothing she ever felt before. It was a new sensation—something was wrong, she said. She said she could feel her bones rattle, her blood rush through her like she had been running. Then the phone rang. After a few seconds, she dropped the receiver and the cord tangled up around the end table leg. She ran to the bathroom and vomited. “Go get your brother!” She yelled, her voice echoing from down the hall. A horrible sound. Guttural. I ran upstairs, because when Mom yelled, something bad was going on. You were either getting punished or about to witness a punishment. She never hit us unless we did something really bad, like steal or hurt someone intentionally. When Randy was 10, he stole a candy bar from the market across the street from our house. Mom smacked him right across the face, and the red mark remained there for a few days. She’d hit us with the ring hand, too, and it added some weight to the smack. Thankfully, I was only ever smacked one—when I told Aunt Nellie that her Thanksgiving meal was awful, and her sweet potatoes tasted like feet. (I was 10) She dragged me into Aunt Nellie’s studio and the smack struck down. She said Dad was very upset with me and that he was standing next to me, seething with rage! She threatened us with that a lot. Somehow that hurt worse than the smacks and the yelling. That dug somewhere deeper than just our skin, somewhere much more vulnerable.
We went to the hospital, and I watched my brother die. He was in Intensive Care, and Mom dragged us in the room with a tight grasp around our wrists. The doctors and nurses ushered us out, but I saw Nick look at us for just a moment. His face was painted with blood, and there were tubes going in and out of him every which way. He shut his eyes as I looked at him, and I knew that was the last time I’d see those green eyes of his. Mom sat outside and wailed. She pounded on the wall and yelled at Dad. “Why didn’t you tell me this was going to happen!?” She asked him, as she stared at the empty, sterile wall in the hallway. Nurses averted their eyes. Randy and I sat on a bench together, both of us confused and disoriented. He was just four years younger than I was, but when we heard the beeping stop, we both wept in each other’s arms.
I’m 20 now. I’m going to join the Navy next year. Mom didn’t want me to, of course. I asked her if she could just predict whether I’d die, and from that, I’d decide if I’d go. I knew she wouldn’t have an answer, but I asked anyway. She said it was more complicated than that, and I should not ever mock her ability. She couldn’t just get an answer like that from dad, or grandma, or someone else. Regardless, I haven’t enlisted yet, technically, but I plan to.
“Mom, more waffles, please?” Randy asked, stuffing one waffle into his mouth, the syrup drizzling down his chin. The frying pan sizzled, and the air smelled sweet.
“Randy, finish that one, and then I’ll make more.” Mom said, putting the batter away. (She knew he wouldn’t eat more.) “Ian, you want some?” She looked at me, and I shook my head. She asked me to help her with the dishes, and I agreed. We often did the dishes together. It was a strange bonding tradition, for sure. Randy finished his waffle, burped, then retreated upstairs to his room.
“It’s a beautiful day, isn’t it?” Mom remarked. The sunlight sparkled on her sapphire, and it blinded me a bit.
“I guess so,” I said. “I need to go out later, do you need anything, Mom? Groceries or…?”
“Where are you going?” She asked. Here we go again, I thought.
“I see,” she grumbled.
She dropped a plate in the water and walked over the refrigerator. She looked at a picture that was taped to the freezer door. Me, Nick, and Randy were playing together on the beach. Dad’s leg was in the shot, too. Mom’s photography skills present.
“Your dad doesn’t approve,” she said, gazing at the aged photo.
“You have a small mind, just like he always did.” She spoke so coldly, like she had rehearsed this. “He never really believed me. I could tell.”
“Well, tell him if he wants to talk to me in person, I’m all ears.” A gap of silence, then Mom sighed.
“Maybe one day, sweetie,” She said.
“Can we just finish up the dishes, please?” I asked. She stood in place, then she nodded softly. She walked back over, and we finished scrubbing the breakfast plates. I looked on out to the yard and stared at the grass. I’d need to cut it soon.
Later at the Navy Office, I met with Angie at the front desk. She greeted me, and I took a pamphlet from the spread on the desk.
“Another one?” She remarked. I grimaced and walked away. The mall was practically empty, and I felt like the lone soul until I saw a man and a boy, no older than ten, walk past. The boy held a balloon, and the dad laughed as the balloon bounced around in the boy’s grasp. Then POP! With a burst, the red shards fell to the ground, the air morphing into the atmosphere. The boy gasped and then cried. The dad picked him up and held him. He consoled him. “It’s alright. You freed it. The little bit of air that was trapped inside is just all around us now. It’s happy!” The boy cried softly, but then stopped. They both walked away, past the pretzel stand and out of sight.
I went back to my car and smacked my head on the wheel.
I eventually made it back home, rubbing my forehead the whole way. Randy was on the porch with his sketchbook in his lap. Once I locked my car, I went over and sat next to him.
“What are you drawing?” I asked.
“We have to draw a stupid tree for class,” he said. “Mrs. Gate said it would help us with shades or something—or was it shapes? I can’t remember.”
“So, all the other arts were already taken, huh?” I said.
“Pottery seemed cool, and Lizzie was in it, too, but I didn’t get in.” He said.
“How is Lizzie?” I asked.
“Still won’t talk to me.” He said, then resumed drawing.
I let him be. I was about to walk back inside when Randy stopped me. “Mom’s with a client,” he said. “You know the drill.” I let go of the rusty door handle and stepped back. If I had to guess, I’d say it was Mrs. Rampurst, who wanted to speak to her dead husband every week. Or maybe it was Mr. Galliger—he lost his job recently and has been asking for advice every few days. I crept around the side of the house and hid underneath the open window. Inside, I could hear Mom and…yep, Mr. Galliger. A warm breeze passed through the gap between my legs, and I leaned against the siding as I heard Mr. Galliger crying.
“I just don’t know what to do anymore,” he said, faintly muffled. He must have his hands on his face.
“I understand what a hard time this is for you,” Mom said, sweetly. “I feel a great wind coming your way, and believe me, things will look up. I see…oh, I see…Mandie, and she’s smiling at me.”
Mr. Galliger was silent. Then mom continued. “She is so happy for you. She knows things are difficult, but she wants you to remember what your mama told you. Does that mean something to you?”
“I-I think so.” Mr. Galliger sniffled, then wept some more. “Mama always told us to keep our noses out of the ground. Keep them high so we can smell the sweet air.”
“That’s very lovely,” Mom said. “I’m feeling a little drained, so I’m afraid we’re going to have to stop for today.”
Mr. Galliger groaned and then they both stood up. I heard them hug, and then she led him to the door. She suggested he return next week, same time as always. I quickly returned to the front porch, but Randy was no longer there. Mr. Galliger stepped outside and nodded at me. He tipped his hat, and then he proceeded to his pickup. His mud-stained shoelaces dragged along the dirt. Mom looked at me from inside and smiled. I smiled back.
At dinner, Mom, Randy, and I ate fish. Randy devoured his fish—halibut, to be specific—and I had barely touched mine. Mom offered me the salt, but I shook my head.
“Tartar sauce?” She asked.
“No. Just not very hungry, I guess.” I said. We resumed eating. Then I felt an urge, and I belted out, “How was Mr. Galliger?”
“I can’t discuss that with you,” She responded.
“I didn’t ask for specifics.”
Randy’s eyes followed our conversation.
“He’s alright.” Mom said, then buttered a roll.
“How much you make him shell out this week?” I didn’t know what overcame me. I didn’t realize what I said until after it had come out. Mom’s hands were straining, and she was crushing the roll that she was about to eat.
“Ian, stop that,” was all she said.
“Just curious.” I mumbled.
“Is this a joke to you?” She asked me. She stood up, and her chair squeaked as she forced it back. Randy stared at me. I put some fish in my mouth and just shut the hell up. What had gotten into me?
“I don’t appreciate when you say things like that, nor does your father.” She glanced at the chair next to me. Ever since Dad died, she had left his chair untouched and open to the table. I sat there once, and she grounded me for a week. I kicked the chair from underneath the table. Thankfully, Mom didn’t notice. So I kicked it again, and nothing.
“I help Mr. Galliger, and many other strangers just like him.”
“Mom, just relax,” Randy said, reaching for her hand.
“Eat your fish!” She snapped. Randy resumed eating, and I tried to smile at him—to reassure him we were okay.