Cain and Abel
Gregory G. Allen
The spring breeze blew through the open windows in the kitchen of our modest home in Nocona, Tennessee. It looked as if the Vietnam War would end any day now and President Ford could turn his attention to Cambodia. Patty Hearst was out in California involved in some robbery and murder, and Anwar Sadat was busy opening a passage through the Suez Canal. But my mama didn’t bother herself with happenings in the world. She was just concerned with making a snack for me and my brother.
“Promised her he’d take her for his bride,” she sang with the radio as she tried to get the oil in the pan to the correct temperature.
She took the biscuits from the fridge, always having a problem getting the can opened. I laughed to myself as I watched, wondering why they make those stupid things so hard for a normal person to get into.
Once freed from their tube, she laid them all out and took the top off of a coke bottle. She used this lid to push down in the middle of the biscuits, creating a hole. These holes would be added into the oil later. I knew she was saving those for Jacob, as he loved to eat them and he would get what he wanted.
“Jacob! Noah! You boys are going to need to help me soon,” she cried out, not knowing that one of us was standing there behind her.
Now Mama’s food was not the same as my grandma’s; she was the real cook in the family. When she was alive, she could make anything from scratch: a barbecue meatloaf with real mashed potatoes, corn on the cob from her own garden with a homemade dill butter sauce, a Mississippi mud cake that didn’t come out of a box. But Grandma had to be able to do all that as she had ten kids to feed and needed to make sure money spent could go a long way.
At fifty years old, Mama really didn’t see a need to spend all her time in a kitchen. She had single-handedly raised us to be two grown men and had worked for as long as I could remember. She was finally able to pay off the mortgage on this place just a few years ago and now enjoyed her church socials, reading groups at the library, and bingo games. While she may not be a world famous chef, she enjoyed doting over us every once in a while and making us a treat.
The biscuits were placed in the pan and the oil caressed around the sides of each causing them to puff up.
“Instant donuts,” she said. “Jacob, get in here and get ready to put some powdered sugar on these donuts!”
I would often stand back and observe my mother when she didn’t notice. Another favorite was a ritual in her laundry room where she would pull wet clothes out of the washing machine. She would take each garment and shake it out before placing it in the dryer. To me, it was complete overkill since it was going right into the dryer, but she always did it.
I walked into the living room and saw my brother sprawled out on the sofa watching TV.
“You acting like you don’t hear her?” I asked.
“I’m watching this guy named Stallone.” Jacob said. “He wrote this movie script and insists on playing the lead.”
“I don’t know why she treats us like we’re twelve,” I said as I plopped onto the recliner.
“It’s just something she likes to do. Reminds her of our childhood.” Jacob said.
“Our childhood? Like that was something good.”
“What do you mean? We had a great childhood,” Jacob exclaimed.
“You were treated like a freaking prince. I did all the work, mowing the lawn, taking out the trash-”
Mama entered the room with a plate of hot donuts. Some smothered in white powdered sugar and others in chocolate syrup.
“Do I have to do everything myself?” she asked us.
Jacob chimed in. “Smells great, Mama.”
“Thank you, son. You boys should try some,” she said.
“I think this is your best batch yet,” Jacob said.
“Kiss up,” I said.
“Hush up, Noah,” Mama scolded. “Leave your brother alone.”
“Why don’t you let him cook?” I asked. “He’s spending your money to learn to be a great chef.”
Jacob had been in a cooking class for a year now. One of the many fads he had gone through since graduating from high school. Community college didn’t work out for him either. I was keeping constant tabs on all of this.
“This isn’t cooking,” Mama said. “It’s just fixing up biscuits to look like donuts.”
“Thanks, Mama,” Jacob said as he shot a huge grin towards me.
I knew there was nothing more to say on the subject. Once Mama took a verbal stand like that for her Jacob, the conversation was done.
“There is a luncheon this Sunday after church,” Mama said while she ate one of her donuts.
Jacob caught my eye. “That’s great, Mama,” Jacob said.
“Do you think either of you will be able to make it?” Mama asked. “People have been asking why my boys never show up.”
“Tell them it’s because we’re not boys anymore. We’re men,” Jacob said.
“That is no reason to stop going,” mama said. “You boys used to always be there.”
“I think if I tried hard enough I could sing that song about the little man up in the tree watching Jesus pass by,” I said.
“Remember when we had the contest to learn all the books of the Bible?” Jacob asked.
“Noah always had to do what you were doing, Jacob,” Mama said. “Even after you were saved and baptized-”
“Let’s not go there,” I said. “I remember that baptism tank and the cinder block I had to stand on.”
Jacob started laughing. “Your feet came off and you were flapping like a duck-”
“I thought I was a goner for sure.”
“At least you would have gone straight to heaven,” Jacob said.
“You were only six,” Mama said. “It was cute for you to want to be like your big brother.”
“That was a long time ago,” I said. “Dad was around and we could all go as a family. It’s different now.”
“That doesn’t mean you have to stop going,” Mama said.
“We’re both a part of the birth and resurrection society now,” I said. “We attend on Christmas and Easter.”
“Noah Preston” Mama said, using my middle name which meant big trouble. I had over-stepped my bounds.
“Maybe I’ll be able to stop in for a moment to say hello,” Jacob said just to make sure Mama understood that he disagreed with my assessment of backsliding Christians.
Jacob knew the way to get to our mama was to always say the opposite of what I was saying. He was a master at twisting words as well as the knife that had been planted in my back since we were children.
“That would be wonderful, Jacob,” Mama gushed. “Now help me get that kitchen straightened back up.”
I just looked at my brother following Mama down the short hallway that led to the kitchen. I felt like an outcast in this house with the two of them. But with the recession in this country, there was nothing I could do but stay put, for now at least. I would keep working my job with the parks and recreation department, listening to Mama babying my older brother, and stand up for myself if and when the time seemed right. For now, it would always be two versus one.
Gregory G. Allen had his first musical produced when he was 14 and went on to have over ten shows produced. His work has been published in Rancor’d Type and Word Catalyst Magazine. A Member of The Dramatist Guild and ASCAP, he is the Managing Director of the Westminster Arts Center in Bloomfield, New Jersey
Gregory G. Allen