"Ma, I'm late!"
He heard Ma's thin, running words. "I said get your ass out of that skirt and get into that other one - that decent one!"
Then another thump; Ma hit Josephine with something more than just her hand. Ma liked to use things. Last week she nearly took off his head with a can of okra. She'd plucked it off the counter in rage and thrown it. By the grace of God it had missed his chin, clocking a perfectly circular hole through the hallway wall. Whatever it was she used this time didn't sound like another can. It snapped when it hit, like a whip, or an electrical cord.
Mark poised in his seat for any contact of that hard socket against bones or flesh. After a moment, he was relieved to hear Josephine's testy voice bring the conflict back to small things once again. "All right! I'm picking it up."
Ma came downstairs first in her old bathrobe, pink and frayed as a newborn bunny. She steamrolled into the kitchen, across the swayed yellow linoleum floor, her breasts under the bathrobe like five-pound sacks of flour. She had the ferret eye, scouring the kitchen table for her blue cigarette case, which lay on the Lazy Susan. She grabbed the sidecar of the leatherette pouch, flicking with her thumb in succession, a Parliament, and in a separate pouch, a blue lighter. A filter of smoke spilled outward then up, veiling the dark maroon circles under her eyes. Her face behind her glasses was like risen pasta dough, as if she hadn't slept again.
He checked his watch, knowing they had to leave for the bus soon and heard Mary Jane soles on the stairs. It was Josephine coming down. She rounded the corner and stood there with an enormous brown winter boot over her head. It didn't fit perfectly but crooked out like a stovetop hat. The dirty leather tongue of the boot curled out over her nose, the laces hanging, chewed and miserable upon the lace scallop of her white collar. All that was visible was her slack lips and the gap between her two front teeth. He noticed she'd put on the kilt Ma wanted, which was hemmed below the knee with aluminum staples. Nappy white socks pooched down to her shoes, the stretch fagged right out of them.
Josephine took her place next to Mark, pulling back one of the rusted kitchen chairs. "I'll take some eggs," Josephine said, her voice resentful under the boot.
Lois licked her fingers at the stove. She'd put Crisco into a cast iron pan, which was still crusty from the night before. With her left hand she cracked eggs into the pan. The Crisco melted like slush. Her cigarette hung between her lips. "You'll get eggs when you ask God to forgive you for
wantin' to wear that short skirt."
Josephine bobbed her head to make it look as if she were praying. "Okay I'm done," she said.
Lois didn't bother to look at her. "Pray out loud, so I can hear you."
But Josephine's lips scowled in refusal to bend any further. She stood up, bumping her hip on the table and shuffled to the cupboard. She took out the white box of nutty nugget cereal in one hand and poured the brown pellets into a plastic bowl. She squeezed past Mark to open the refrigerator door, stood there and slouched. "Where's the milk?" she said. No one said anything. "What am I supposed to do with no milk?" She swung the refrigerator door. "No milk. No eggs. What am I supposed to do? Eat my hand?"
The bowl of bran remained on the counter. Josephine walked around Mark and bumped back into her chair, whamming her knee under the table. When no one asked if she was all right, she did it again.
"Here," Mark said, pushing his hot plate of eggs toward her. "I already ate, anyway." The white gelatinous bulbs had been perforated so that yellow dribbled out.
"Don't give her that," Lois said, snatching up his plate. "She ain't getting nothing 'til I hear her pray."
Lois settled her heavy hips into a chair. Behind oversized glasses with decorative rhinestones, her eyes were tired. She bit into toast smeared with egg yolk.
"I'm not praying," Josephine finally said. "Just to eat."
"Well then," Lois said, staring out over her head. "You ain't eatin."
This is an extract from Kaley Noonan's recently-published online novel, Backwoods East Jesus (Mightywords.com), which takes a satirical look at Christian values in a small town. She says, "It's a book about a twisted family in the happy corn belt of southern Ohio." She writes from experience about the small nuances of Backwoods life: from boiling down a pig's head to make headcheese, to tipping cows and taking names. You can read her short story "The Someday Cafe" in 3 A.M. Fiction. For more information about the book, go to: http://members.mint.net/anduin
Send correspondence to