The radio, on low, played constantly. Muriel lay in her bed listening to Hank Williams wail. She could see her mother in a red flowered apron, bow at the back, turning up the volume. Her favorite was “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry.” Its grievous notes hung on the kitchen wall like creamy white grease.
Forty years later Muriel lay in bed, 2000 miles away and no radio around, hearing those old country tunes, bluesy moans her mother swayed to while the bacon popped. Muriel now understood that her mother was more country than she’d ever admit. Trying to hide that part of her was why she let Emily Post and the collective opinion of the women of the Albertville Junior League shape her.
Muriel looked at the ornamental apple with its white blossoms and the new avocados in clusters, wondering if she’d ever feel at home in California. Birds of Paradise with orange-flowered combs and purple-green beaks. So different from the pink funnel azaleas she grew up around. She reached around Sarah, snuggled against her, kissed her fur and got out of bed. Already 10 a.m., Muriel had a Zoom meeting at 11 and a Zoom reading at 2. She worried about what her hair looked like, so she washed her face and reached for the Velcro rollers. Old school but it worked.
She once visited Hank Williams’ grave in Montgomery, AL. Fans had left guitar picks and pints of whiskey on the emerald Astroturf. Story was that the overzealous continually plucked blades until it was impossible to keep grass growing.
Would anyone ever visit her grave? She knew she would when she came back. Maybe fly there. Always wanted to be a Monarch butterfly. Bright orange veined in black, as close to eternity as stained glass. Wings in flight making the sound of gentle rain. Or maybe crawl there, depending on her karma balance at the end of this journey.
She dampened her hair and separated it into sections. Starting at the end, she wound one section around the roller so the strands curled down and toward her scalp. She continued rolling until snug against her head. Nine more rollers.
Sarah brushed against her leg, raising goosebumps.
With the last roll, Muriel and Sarah went to the kitchen for treats. Coffee and Biscotti cookies coated in chocolate for Muriel and Feline Greenies, designed like tiny brown fish with tail fins, for Sarah. She opened her iPhone and found Hank on YouTube. As he began to sing, Muriel looked down at Sarah, her tail beating in time.
Muriel could almost smell bacon fat in the air.
When Leaves Begin to Die was first published in The Lily Poetry Review (Winter 2021)
Chella Courington’s poetry and fiction appear in anthologies and journals including SmokeLong Quarterly and New World Writing. Her flash novella, Adele and Tom: The Portrait of a Marriage (Breaking Rules Publishing), is featured at Vancouver Flash Fiction. A 2020 Pushcart and Best Small Fictions Nominee, she was raised in the Appalachian south and now lives in California.
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