AN UNNAMED ESSAY IN WHICH THE WORLD ENDS, BUT I’M TOLD EVERYTHING IS OKAY
My mother is panicking. I know this despite her insistence that she isn’t afraid.
After days of listening to the newscaster detail the refrigerator trucks being filled with overflow bodies, my mother buys twenty pounds of potatoes from a local farmer. She doesn’t tell us until it’s done.
I spend hours sitting with my great-grandmother. The air in her room is thick and gummy. She keeps her space heater on high even after Easter passes.
She’s ninety-six and lonely.
But I’m right here, I tell her.
But you weren’t there. You can’t understand.
My mother and I return home from our weekly grocery store run. We strip off our clothes at the door, take turns cleaning each others’ backs with Clorox wipes.
Together, we wash each item brought into the house. We soak the fresh produce in hot water and dish soap. Everything else is sprayed down with bleach.
Another day passes, and my mother is still arguing with my sister. She wants her to drive up from Dallas to get her potatoes. My sister’s exasperated voice muffles out from the receiver.
How will you eat? My mother keeps insisting. One day, I’ll be gone, and how will you eat?
Growing up, my mother tells me stories of her childhood dinners: On Mondays, we’d have beans, cornbread, and bologna. On Tuesdays, we’d have bologna, beans, and cornbread. On Wednesdays, we’d have cornbread, bologna, and beans…
It’s summer, and the house always smells like sugar. My mother can make cookies out of anything.
We spend afternoons at the library taking turns reading books to each other. I’m young, so young, when my mother tells me I have to get out.
Don’t be like me.
Every day feels a little more dystopian. I line up outside the Walmart and watch the worker deemed essential count each customer as they go inside the store.
We stop washing the groceries.
I’m seeing a therapist again. I talk to her in my bedroom over Zoom. I tell her about my childhood—how my mother never let me quit anything once I started.
I’m sorry I ruined your life, my mother says to me later in the kitchen.
My great-grandmother likes to tell me about her brothers. She recounts their deaths like they’re little piggies—this one died in a fire, this one was hit by a train, and this one cried wah-wah-wah as he drowned in a lake.
Only once does she tell me about a brother that made it to adulthood.
The last month of my first pregnancy, he wouldn’t leave my side. Slept on the floor next to my bed. She pauses before adding, I don’t remember how he died.
When my mother finally accepts that we’ll never eat through the potatoes before they rot, she brings what remains of them to the curb. I watch as she rocks the bucket of potatoes down the driveway, and, for a moment, she’s helping a toddler take their first steps. I see the hands wrapped around my mother’s fingers, their legs jutting out one after another as if they aren’t sure the earth will still be there.
She tapes a sign to the bucket of potatoes: Free. Feed your families.
Samantha Padgett received an MFA in Creative Writing, Publishing, and Editing from Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, TX. Her work has been featured or is upcoming in New Ohio Review, Poet Lore, New South, North American Review, and elsewhere. Samantha Padgett currently lives in Austin, TX with her partner and cat.
Cover Design by Karen Rile