Maxton Mona Lisa

She was from Maxton or thereabouts anyway, not that it much mattered the names were more a dot on the map then a place to be from. It was hot that day, much like every other day once the spring broke and the heat settled in for a long Carolina summer, swarms of gnats, afternoon thunderstorms, and the fine dust that seemed to inhabit every nook and cranny. There would be things to harvest toward the end of it in the coolness of fall, cotton to pick, ‘bacci to lay out in the long drying barns, and the wagons full of deep red melons with their jet-black seeds – perfect for spittin’. But none of that had come to pass yet, it was just another day in an endless parade of days maybe leadin’ to something but most likely not.

He had seemed so handsome and sophisticated, the car was new, didn’t have no dents or nothin’ not like the ones her Pa was always workin’ on in the back, no this was a big city car and he was a big city man with his polished shoes, and his big city hat. He took pictures of Ma and the little ones sittin’ on the porch, Ma didn’t smile of course, wasn’t nothin’ to smile ‘bout anyway.

She had leaned up against the doorway, as much to hide the empty room behind her as to seem disinterested… she would soon be thirteen after all – well past the time of little girl dreams – lookin’ womanhood right in the eye, she already knew things she shouldn’t, but that’s how it was – wasn’t somethin’ to complain ‘bout. She wants to hide the pin holdin’ her dress closed, didn’t make sense Ma not sewin’ a proper button on it, and she’d tried to brush the dust off her shoes rubbin’ em on the back of her calves but wasn’t no polish made was gonna make em shine again. She doesn’t think about the melancholy smile, just is – another part of being here and gettin’ by.

He waves as he’s leavin’ the little ones trail down the drive half hidden by the cloud of dust ‘fore they come back up and sit some again. She turns to go back inside, but Ma stops her, “they’re be compny tonight so don’t be gettin’ no ideas ya hear.” It don’t mean nothin’ Pa always got somebody over drinkin’ and carryin’ on she’ll keep the little uns quiet and hope no one takes a shine to her… that sure was a nice car though…

*Authors Note:

So about this… there is a novel written by Reynolds Price – “A Long and Happy Life” published in 1962 – it was and is celebrated as the novel that launched Price’s career. Price has said that the picture that is now the cover of his book hung above his desk for many years and inspired him… that picture is my dear mother-in-law Ann…

I don’t the details of that picture or how it came to be, but I do know that Price often said she had a “Mona Lisa” smile… I imagine that hot summer day so long ago may have gone something like this…

In your honor Ann… I humbly submit – “Maxton Mona Lisa”

JC

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