telisha moore leigg

“Moon,” an excerpt from The Fire for Lucky Horseshoes


Telisha Moore Leigg


At forty-two, Clarisse Knox knew she was losing her mother, like a photo fading, like a new moon turning. Alzheimer’s at seventy-four. Clarisse came to that sad realization in—of all places—the women’s section of J.C. Penney in the Clover Mall in Marston, Virginia, just before the drive to see her older sister, Regina. Clarisse’s hands shook because she wasn’t ready to let her mother go. Finally, in an underwear aisle, where the panties hung on neat little plastic hangers, she realized better days were not coming. She recalled the burnt cabinet over the stove, the incident in Walmart last month when her mother wouldn’t let her touch her until she sang a lullaby, the birthday party for her youngest when her mother kept calling him Kevin, her mother’s brother long dead. Incidents came like rain now, but Clarisse wouldn’t admit it. Denial is love too.

“Ma’am,” the salesclerk—forty-five herself if a day, slim, stretched between a blond bob and Dr. Scholl’s shoes—said, “Do you know this lady? She says she knows you, but she doesn’t seem to…” Clarisse didn’t even turn, didn’t want to see pity. She ducked her head and counted to five. Twice Clarisse put down and picked up the size twenty French-cut periwinkle underwear that no one would see but the cat, before finally nodding her head.

“Mama, are you ready?” And Mama nodded slowly, gingerly moving toward a familiar face, smiling, holding a blue drapery panel and a black princess slip two sizes too small. They cost $75.43, the slip on sale, and Clarisse paid not out of embarrassment, but because she could and didn’t want to make her put it back like a child. No scenes. No whispers. Her mother slept on the way to Regina’s while Clarisse listened to the only clear station, country, on the way up 360.
Passing pine trees, a one-lane bridge, an abandoned Trailways station, some stretch of road where all cell reception dies, Clarisse somehow managed to note the night sky, the no moon, the fog moving like a milky trail over stars. She wiped her eyes, pulled her bottom lip between her teeth, while Willie Nelson and Ray Charles crooned about seven Spanish angels.

Clarisse thought that she had never been a woman to wait on anything that needed doing. She married young, nineteen, in a small Baptist church, in lively love with her childhood sweetheart Timmy. She had his two children, Laurel and Matthew, by twenty-six. And by thirty-one, she had finished her degree in English, a little late but done. Back then she power-walked on Saturdays with friends, washed clothes on Wednesdays, and was never late for her children’s games or recitals. She felt she knew herself, and there was contentment in that and in her life.

And she knew when she found the receipts for carpet that she never walked on with little notes and kiss marks that she would get a divorce. Even when Timmy had begged and called the children into the living room while he explained his mistake with the 24-year-old customer-care assistant at Carpet Dream, she would not relent. It wasn’t in her to forgive a fool, she told him, grabbing for her babies just out of reach in his arms. So, angry and hurt but trying to protect little ears, she said that love was not peanut butter and jelly sandwiches that you made with just anyone. The children (seven and five) smelled the mood and cried. Their daddy cried, but Clarisse’s eyes were bone dry. She could have kept him but not the contentment. And she loved the contentment, almost as much as him.

She didn’t know how much being alone would hurt until after the divorce and children’s scheduled visits that didn’t always go as scheduled, and bitterness lapped like cream. Clarisse had gone to her mother’s front yard and dug up her tulip bulbs by accident while trying to make room for azalea bushes. In Clarisse’s mind one thing always made room for another. Her mother had just watched from the porch, sipping black coffee with Sweet’n Low.
“Mama, I can fix it,” Clarisse had said after the damage of her good intentions was done.

“No, I don’t suspect you can, Clarisse, but that’s okay too.” Her mother had been like that, practical with pain—she was like that even now. It was May then, and it rained while Clarisse awoke in her mother’s yard to the pain of left-alone; even though she tried to replant the bulbs, they didn’t take again. Every time she looked at that garden, she thought of her dead marriage and her patient mother, of all things not yet bloomed or bloomed and gone.
Clarisse knew her mother wouldn’t blame her for giving her away, for driving the fifty-three miles just past South Boston to Regina—the good daughter, the still-married, stay-at-home mother, with her successful husband, the purebred dog, and the large backyard with the safety-railed pool. Clarisse pulled her 2002 Pontiac off the road just before the turn to Regina’s house on Hawk Way Circle.

“Mama, Mama, Mama,” Clarisse said. She had hoped Mama would get lost in that J.C. Penney when she let her wander. No one would ever understand that; it had a ring of evil, but how to explain that she wanted her real mama back, or someplace real to search that she could find her even if only in a chain store, how any reunion felt better than none.

Clarisse started the car and made it move, looked through her leaky sunroof into the night. She saw her mother’s face just visible off and on from the streetlights lining the way, eyes open, silent, lost. Clarisse thought of the eventual trip back home, the empty passenger seat, country car stereo, and how she would eventually travel through that place with no reception, led home by a bloodless moon she couldn’t see.