She used her old Brownie camera on us. Something was wonderful that I didn’t understand. The camera had been in her family since the 1930s. I’d never seen my mother look comfortable with complicated contraptions. But that day she had perfect control of everything, and so much fun staring into the view finder, chattering away at us, the camera like a loaf of cake. She squeezed the film winder between her thumb and forefinger to advance us all into another moment, and then another, and another, clicking and laughing and being so happy.
When we were done with photos, she brought out tuna and celery sandwiches, a cold bottle of Coca-Cola, and a half pitcher of lemonade. She poured the coke into the lemonade and told us it was something all the mothers were doing. My sister said, “It tastes like a day of sky.”
For maybe twenty minutes or so everyone in the world was as happy as we were. I was afraid to ask how. It was obvious that everyone everywhere could see beauty before them and feel the warmth of the sun on their skin and know without doubt that their mother loved them whatever was going to happen next. She alone was making that feeling possible. She had touched on something new in the world and had whipped up a batch of happiness for everyone everywhere.
Occasionally that year, people we didn’t know showed up at our house and smoked cigarettes with her out back and drank gin with lots of laughing and loud conversation. I don’t remember, ever, those people leaving. They were there and then they were gone.
Not much later in my life I had sexual thoughts about my mother. I’d seen her naked a few times too many. I didn’t understand what I was filling up with. Neither did she I’m sure. All the theorists had pointed at the same thing. The demise of all real feeling comes from denial and shame and the astounding trait of humanity to lie to itself and ignore initial stirrings of real explanations for twisted secret human emotion.
Since those early days, I have had sexual thoughts about many women who demonstrate surprising competence with technology. The same is true of women who can throw and catch a baseball, and those who like to fish.
Later that day of the Brownie photographs, we went to pick up pizza for dinner. Our car was still quite new. I remember riding everywhere through our wonderful little city in total happiness, our mother talking to us the whole time, joking, smiling at everything and pointing special buildings out and a few people to us. She told us at a stoplight it was important to never forget there are lawns and kitchens galore in this country. Time seemed to be losing its darkness, a lid sliding off. It felt like we needed to look inside everything we could find because there was a secret we were supposed to discover, or something wasn’t right even though we were so happy.
Dog Cavanaugh is a mixed-race Afro-Irish American author. Most recently, he has published fiction in Bull Magazine and Philadelphia Stories. You can track him down at https://dogcavanaugh.com