Muscadine Lines: A Southern Journal


S. R. Lee

“Don’t be so serious.”

Seth felt his mother’s admonition like a refrain running though the whole day, every day, in her goody-goody voice. He didn’t mean to displease her, but he couldn’t seem to change.

“Don’t be so serious” about toast. But they didn’t have a toaster, so if he forgot to pay attention, the toast would burn in the oven with a terrible smell and the waste of bread.

“Don’t be so serious” about the lawn mower. But if it broke, he wouldn't know how to fix it. Their neighborhood was clean and pleasant. He didn’t want the yard to seem ragged and unkempt.

“Don’t be so serious” about his grocery sacking. But that job gave him not only some money, but also potential recommendations if he did well. So he arrived on time and tried to be alert the whole three hours every afternoon. He knew how to smile as he said “Paper or plastic?” to a customer, even to his mother when she shopped on the way home from her three-day-a-week receptionist job. She always said, “Well, why can’t you smile like that at home instead looking so serious?” He didn’t try to answer.

“Don’t be so serious” about the evening news. He wasn’t really—it was the sports news. If he heard it, he could talk to the other guys at school, keep up the illusion of sociability, of being normal and part of the group. They all took refuge in sports talk to protect their
vulnerabilities. Seth could tell, could feel some of the other guys’ fear as they too cooly or too eagerly talked about the current sports’ status. He wondered who could sense his fears.

“Don’t be so serious”—get a girlfriend and have fun. But he knew how that would be: the guys with girlfriends had fun until they broke up. Then they were angry for quite a while. Seth knew not to add more anger to his life.

“Don’t be so serious” about his mother's car. She never quite knew whether to thank him for washing it or just tell him not to bother. So every Saturday morning, she said little when he backed it out to the end of the drive, got the hose and some soap and any other strong
cleaner he had seen advertised. He would begin running the water first over the hood, washing with liquid soap, making a watery mess along the drive, slowly working back over the sides and top, water running hard, soapsuds frothing, finally back over the trunk which hung out into the street. Now was the time for his extra cleaner. Behind the car he would
open it. He poured soap and cleaner—bleach, concentrated soap, whatever was in his new bottle—out onto the stains from his father’s blood pooled in the street. He scrubbed hard with a stiff brush. Some stain even came up into the drive because his father had almost reached the sidewalk before that drunk swerved the car to hit him.

No matter what anyone said, the stains showed clearly. His mother had stopped trying to tell him they were gone. Occasionally, a neighbor stopped to say how clean the street was now, but he knew better. The preacher from his church had come by one Saturday morning, put a
friendly hand on Seth’s shoulder, and said, “Son, your father is safe with his Father in Heaven. He wouldn’t want you to keep doing this.”

But Seth knew better. He had to scrub these stains. He had to scrub these stains.


S. R. Lee is the author of Beechville: Now, Then and In Between, published in 2006, and Granny Lindy, published in 2005. She writes fiction, short nonfiction, and poetry. She has a Christmas carol published by Oxford University Press. Sally took the Woodland Award for Best Poet in the Cookeville Creative Writers' Contest, May 2000, and has read at the Southern Festival of Books in Nashville. She was contributing editor of The Poets of St. Paul's, an anthology of St. Paul's Episcopal Church, Franklin, Tennessee. Sally has spent her lifetime in Middle Tennessee, where she and her husband live on the family farm.

© S. R. Lee

Muscadine Lines: A Southern Journal ISSN 1554-8449, Copyright © 2004-2012