What to Remember When Returning to Mississippi
Nobody locks doors there. So when you go to see your friends or your
relatives, don't just stand at the door knocking or ringing the bell:
open the door, poke your head in, and say, "Hello, anybody
home?" If nobody answers when you call, walk in, go to the
bottom of the stairs, and holler again. Someone will call back. If not,
remember to shut the door behind you when you leave. The A/C is on.
Also: don't let the screen door slam. And don't open it by pushing your
hand against the screen next time, you moron.
Bless your heart.
When people in Mississippi say, "It's nice to see you," it doesn't
necessarily mean they've met you before. It could just mean they were
in second grade with your cousin, or they heard about what your nephew
is alleged to have done to those kittens at the skate park. Perhaps
they know your grandmother from tax-free Tuesdays at the liquor store.
Perhaps they've heard about the success of your father's Night Blooming
Cereus. And perhaps, just maybe, they really have met you, which is why
you should always smile and say, "It's nice to see you, too."
When you go out, do not even think of checking your lipstick at the
table. Do that in the bathroom. While you're at it, straighten your
skirt if the seams have jimmied. Keep your hair out of your eyes: you
have a pretty face.
It will cool down in the evenings. Out on the porch you can light
citronella candles and drink Gordon's and tonic. Your cousin will say
the thick air feels like being inside a mouth. The trees your mother
swears smell like semen will drop blossoms onto the windshields of the
Fords and Buicks parked along the street. Your friends will come over.
They'll cheat you at Trivial Pursuit and drink. When the streets are
completely quiet, your friends may start singing, and you may even join
them: flat Yankee vowels bending under their kinder voices in songs you
would otherwise pretend not to know. Remember to find some comfort in
being in a place where everybody cares what people think, and nobody
says exactly what they mean.
On the highway, in your car pushing 100, no one will recognize you fast
enough to do that hand-on-the-steering-wheel wave that's so popular in
town. On the highway you can listen to gangster rap loud. Even if it
gives you a headache, sometimes an ache in your head is better than
nothing. After a while all the kudzu-strangled trees will stop seeming
like a hedge maze—and though you are making a big circle, it
will be a relief to see the town from afar and realize it really is
Emily Howorth is in the MFA program at Texas State-San Marcos. Last year a story of hers
placed in Boulevard Magazine's contest for emerging writers.
Detail of photo on main page courtesy
of Estelle F.
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