Mama didn’t have any photos of Love and Cassie in her photo albums. That’s a lie- there was one, with the dog who’s name Love couldn’t remember. It was white and small and curly haired and the biggest slap in the face had been when Mama left and took the dog with her but not the girls. She remembered Mama leaving, Cassie didn’t. Cassie never forgave her, Love did. But Love understood better than her sister.
They were only four and it was winter. The house was small and creaky, heated by a woodstove. It stood in a copse of maple at bottom of a valley and they had no neighbors within shouting distance. She used to lay down in the backseat of the car and watch the way the treeline rose and fell and the clouds zipped by like they were being pulled along on a kitestring, and she remembers the way the house would blip into existence as they jolted up the dirt road adjacent. It was like watching a movie, to lie down in the backseat.
One day she and Cassie were in the bathtub together, rust stained and chipped enamel, and she heard the car start in the drive. Twenty years later, she knows she didn’t see it drive away because the bathroom didn’t have a view of the driveway or the road, but she can see it anyway. The dog sitting in the front seat, Mama furiously smoking a cigarette, pulling it up to her lips and jerking it away without really inhaling. Daddy hated how she smoked.
Mama worked as a nurse and god she hated it. Between nursing and two baby girls she was always cleaning up, looking after, nurturing, caring for, and who was there to look after her? Not Daddy, even when he was home. He spent most of his time in his chair, falling asleep still in his pants and his workboots. After they went to live with Meemaw and she got older, Love came to understand that nobody had likely cared for Mama in her entire life. Meemaw wasn’t the nurturing type either, and her childhood had been hard, too. “There’s a dearth of good men on this earth, take what you can get.” Advice from grandmother to grand-daughers, aged twelve.
There was no real affection between Mama and Daddy and maybe that’s what she’d
done, too. Love didn’t know if she’d ever had the luxury of hopes or dreams or if she knew she was going to end up moving from run down farmhouse to run down farmhouse with her babies for the rest of her life, just like her mother had. Maybe Mama had.
On a hunch, she peeled the photo out of its home in the album. She looked at it for a moment before turning it over. “Brandy, July 1991”. Of fucking course. “God damnit Mama.” The fucking dog’s name, but not theirs. Forgiven for abandoning her babies but not for only putting the god damn dog’s name on the photographs.