October 27, 1962, 10:15AM
I hang up the phone. I turn and watch my mother making coffee and toast. She is murdering Ray Charles’ I Can’t stop loving you. Damn, I just wish I could stop listening to you, Mom. I turn up the radio. We were up late listening to the news, all of it bad. I think the missiles are going to fly. And we are going die. A lot of us are going to die all at once.
“Are you trying to drown out my heart rendering, show-stopping rendition of—“
“Of course not, I love your cover of Mashed Potatoes. I love it. I do.”
“OK, Mr. Smart Ass. That’s so mean. Who was that on the phone?”
“Robert. They are calling back all the Air Force guys from leave. Shit, Uncle Allen got called back last night. Mom, I think it’s going to happen. I do.”
“Uh huh, I think you just trying to skip school, again. You should go on in the Service yourself. Your heart ain’t in school.”
“There may not be any school left if…”
“I think the Russians will turn back their ships. I believe that. Khrushchev got more sense than both of them Bay of Pigs Kennedys put together.”
She moves to the table with her coffee and toast. She tosses me the burnt slice.
“Awww, I, think about Jenny and Paula and all the other kids… Millions of kids…”
“Hey, buck up, you the man of the house I’m supposed to cry on your shoulder—“
The phone rings. I answer. The conversation’s short. I catch my breath. I fall into a kitchen chair. “Mom, the Russians just shot down a U2 over Cuba.”
Mom throws her toast on the table. She shoves her coffee away.“My God, my God what have those fools done?” Mom shakes her head like she’s tired to death. She turns to me. “Where do you want to go? What do you want to do? Are you going to call Molly or—“
I feel like shit. I feel drained almost dead already. I just shake my head no.
“Get your lazy ass up. We going to have a picnic. We going to visit my mother. And this time, I will have the last word on that old shrew. Up. Up. You ain’t dead yet.”
Grandma has been dead for five years. We visit her grave every year.
We already had our visit for this year, but that sounds about as good as any place to be when “It” happens.
I just can’t bring myself to my feet. I watch as mom gets down our picnic basket and starts tossing in food from the fridge and the pantry. There’s no order or sense to the things she’s putting in the basket. “Mom, those are your favorite jeans. You need to do them a favor and give them a rest. If the button pops off those bad boys, you might kill a couple of people yourself.”
“So you worried about my jeans now. You calling your mother fat on doomsday?”
“No, I was just—“
“It’s OK, just what I would expect from the most ungrateful son, the laziest boy in the city, and the cause of all my gray hairs and wrinkles. Just what I would expect.”
She crosses back to the table and takes her seat.
“I was worried about you breathing and—“
Quick as the Flash she grabs my left ear lobe and squeezes it and pulls down on my ear hard.
“Fat? I’m fat?”
“I didn’t say-“
“No, but you were thinking it.”
“Ouch, Mom, Mom fit. I was thinking fit. Not fat, fit.”
“Yeah, yeah, like, those jeans are a good fit. Like that.”
“Oooh I see…”
“And like, how fit you are. You are so fit. I was thinking that. I was.”
She releases my ear. She starts laughing. We laugh. We laugh for a while. We pack our lunch and drive out to visit Grandma. We leave my transistor radio at home. We don’t turn on the car radio. She starts up on I Can’t Stop Loving You again.
“What number one son?”
“Mom, I’m glad you changed into pants that fit, that fit better. It improves your singing so much.” She looks like she’s going to reach for my ear again.
“Now, don’t mess with me, Mom. I’m driving, OK?”
“Smart-ass we gonna be vaporized any minute now. A little car crash will not be that big of a deal.”
We don’t crash. We have a good picnic with Grandma. Mom does get the last word.
And the world doesn’t end.
Frederick K. Foote, Jr. was born in Sacramento, California and educated in Vienna, Virginia and northern California. He started writing short stories and poetry in 2013.
He has published over ninety stories and poems including literary, science fiction, fables and horror genres and a collections of his short stories, For the Sake of Soul was published in October 2015 by Blue Nile Press. Another collection of short stories, Crossroads Encounters, is scheduled for publication in March 2016 by Choose the Sword Press.
To see a list of Frederick’s publications go to: https://fkfoote.wordpress.com/