When it Gets Cold in The South, Your Mama Calls to Mama You – Exodus Oktavia Brownlow

When it gets cold in the south, there’s a distinct shift.

Now suddenly, your neighbors who ain’t never had a single word to say to you before, go well out of their way to speak to you as you leave home—It sure is cold today, ain’t it?

You don’t know nothin’ about wearing mittens, or earmuffs, so you call your northern relatives up for advice.

You don’t know nothin’ about the best foods to buy for the end of the world, so you get a little of everything.

You know a little somethin’ about the way skin does when the cold hits on it for too long, so you grab a bottle of organic jojoba oil for later.

At the local grocery, folks line up ten at a time to each register. Each one of their carts, including yours, is filled with enough water to wash away a street-walker’s every sin, and on top for decoration lie darkly-colored loaves of bread with the funny birdseed sprinkled on it. For some reason, though your cart is the same, and just as meaty as everyone else’s, yours seems smaller in comparison, and you look behind you, wondering if you need to go back, and get more. ‘Sandwiched between two other cart-pushers, you feel like it’s too late now, and you don’t want to take a chance on losing your spot. It’s these moments that scare you the most when you find out that everything that you’ve learned in your life really don’t add up to be nothing at all. And shouldn’t you know enough by now? Ain’t you grown enough to know enough by now?

When it gets cold in the south, there’s a distinct mood.

Now suddenly, folks are excited to be at work on a Tuesday because maybe, just maybe it’ll snow—Check the weather again, maybe somethin’ll come up.

You don’t know nothin’ about how best to keep a house warm without using up all your heat, so you’ll bring plenty of blankets and quilts out tonight.

You don’t know nothin’ about what remedies to give in case someone catches a cough, or gets a sore throat, so you’ll use medicines from companies that rely heavily on the t-sound—Tylenol, Theraflu, Robitussin.

You know a little something about snow ice cream—snow, milk, and vanilla—so if it does snow, you’ll make some for the kids tomorrow.

At your desk and at work, there are many things that have gone unnoticed for so long, that manage to engage your full attention now. Like the water-spotted ceiling above your head, and the retro carpet below your feet with its constant crumbs, and the faint musty smell that comes with buildings too old to still be standing. There are folks here whose faces have changed so much since you’ve first began working here. Faces that have grown fatter, or strangely more beautiful, or hauntingly old. You realize, that there’s a lot of fucking folks that you can’t stand, too, and without having any work to do it’s hard to bear their presence. The left side of you itches, and you feel a tightening on your arm, a twinging that grows. Weren’t you supposed to be gone from here by now? Didn’t this used to be a temporary thing until better came along?

When it gets cold in the south, there’s a distinct kind of mama. She knows what time you get off from work, and calls you just as you step through the door.

“If you don’t have any mittens, use plenty’a socks to keep your hands from freezing off.”

“I know, mama.”

“For dinner, make some kind’a stew. ‘Somethin’ that’ll keep your family full for a while in case you can’t cook much.”

“I know, mama.”

“For a sore throat, hot lemon water with a little honey. For a cold, clean pine needles stepped with apple cider vinegar, and a pinch of cayenne pepper.”

“I know, mama.”

“To keep your house warm, put something thick over all your window seals so none of that cold air from outside seeps in.”

“I know, mama.”

“If it snows tomorrow, make some snow ice cream for the babies. Use cream. Not milk. Never milk.”

“I know, mama.”

“For your skin, use Vaseline. It’s good, and cheap, and fatty. It’ll keep you from blistering, and burning all over.”

“I know—’’

“You know, you know, you know! You don’t know nothin’,” she fuses. “If you knew anything at all you’d know to listen. I’m telling you now that this the kind of weather that kills without mercy. God is good, but He ugly too. You hear me?”

“I—’’, you change course. “Yes, ma’am.”

Your mama is a knowing woman, but she never asks, never questions, she only tells you what to do, and when to do it, and where. She prattles on, her talk a mixture of questions that don’t need answering, and relentless instructions for the end of the world.

“I remember…the last time it had gotten this cold. I’m still hurtin’. I still can’t stand the slightest bit of breeze on my bones,” she breathes. Her instructions have stopped. She’s a softer something now, a thing that she rarely showcases to anyone, not even herself. “Lord. My brother. I didn’t know water could be that cold. I didn’t know, baby,” she confesses.

But you are long gone.

During her prattling, you gently hung up the phone, tired of being mama’ed by your mama who refuses to let you know that you know a little somethin’ yourself, annoyed with your mama who has never acknowledged that you are well-grown woman now with a body heavily evidenced from the babies that you’ve birthed.

At dark, when all is at quiet, and your husband and children have been put to bed, you sit in front of a mirror, crying peacefully as you slip the long sleeve of your robe off of your left shoulder. Along the meat of your arm, lie clusters of baby blisters, red like raspberries, and plump like them, too. The Vaseline is there, only a hand away from your reach, but you grab the organic jojoba oil instead, slathering it on heavily, daring to see just how much you know after all.

Exodus Oktavia Brownlow

Exodus Oktavia Brownlow is a Blackhawk, Mississippi native whose writing aesthetic includes purposeful horror, character-driven fiction, and nonfiction writing that aims to create a healthier world for us all.  She is published with Electric Literature, Barren Magazine, X-Ray-Literary Magazine, and more. Exodus absolutely adores the color green.

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