What to Remember When Returning to Mississippi
Emily Howorth

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 that small.  

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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