That trailer that teeters on top of the hill, the one filled to the brim with all those things, is just a short car ride away. This is where you’re headed today. “Your mom is just going through a rough patch bud,” your dad says with both hands on the bottom of the steering wheel. He’s cruising in the right lane, letting all who want to pass zip on by. “You’re important to her, these visits are important to her.” Everything you tried this morning fell through, all your efforts for naught. The fake stomachache, the fake headache, the fake homework, hell even tried the fake Saturday school detention, it didn’t fly. It was never going to fly. You knew but had to try and take your shots. He’ll pull off the highway and drive along the creek but he’ll never take you to the top of the hill. It’s always a drop off at the bottom. And you’ll have to climb up the rocky brown dirt road. If it’s dry like today, it’s dusty, and your bare legs will be appropriately filthy by the end of the walk. You’ll fit right in, you think. When you pull the creaky tin door open, things will fall out, they always do. Sometimes it’ll be Beanie Babies, or recyclable cans, or bags of shoes, or naked cabbage patch kids, or curtains still on their rods, or garbage that needs to be taken out, or whatever was on the Home Shopping Channel last – boxes of flameless candles. Whatever it is make sure you get it in back in the trailer before she makes it out of the far bedroom, sees, and has a fit. You don’t want a repeat of the Mrs. Beasley doll incident. Inside, you’ll smell hamsters. But don’t get excited, there are no hamsters. There will be some rustling around in the back room, and then she’ll appear, in a bathrobe or kimono or long t-shirt, something loose and draping. She may or may not be smoking, if she is, the cigarette will dangle casually, dangerously between loosely clasped fingers. Threatening to burn up all that’s been collected. Because of the clutter she moves cautiously, the path to the front door is engrained in her, it’s part of her, yet she steps delicately. You watch her walk, and weave around piles, and duck under clutter, stepping over and in to the room with the invisible couches. The room you are in. She’ll say something like, hello darling, or sorry, wasn’t expecting you. She’ll act like she would’ve cleaned or put something presentable on, but it isn’t true. It’s always the same. Oatmeal will be offered, and you’ll accept hoping it’ll be something with fruit in it, peaches and cream, blueberries and cream. You’re disappointed when it’s brown fucking sugar and maple, but come on, don’t act so surprised. She tells you to have a seat, and this part is tricky. You’ll have to look around a bit and choose carefully. If there is a pile of soft things, if it looks consistent, you’re lucky, nestle right on in. If the pile looks suspicious, test it out, feel around with your hands before getting comfortable, you don’t want to dice your ass cheek on a set of kitchen knives again. While you’re sitting, wedged between the heap of Olympic embroidered sweatshirts and the industrial-sized Campbell’s soup box filled with miniature lighthouses and Depression glass, you’ll notice something new today, something you definitely never noticed before. On the crooked shelf, the one balancing atop two nails in the wall, rests a porcelain manatee, the cow of the sea. And when you get the chance to take a closer look, you’ll notice more, smaller ones, a family, or flock, or herd, whatever the term. They’re neat, and organized, free from dust above all the commotion below. You’ve had this urge before. You want those sea cows. Just like you wanted that crystal dragon and the troll doll with crazy hair and a jewel for a bellybutton. But things don’t leave the trailer, this was made clear. When they’re in they’re in, and you can expect stinging swats on your ass for disobeying the rule. When your mom runs out of cigarettes, she’ll tell you she’ll be right back. She’s in different clothes, better clothes and makeup. You watch her leave with a slap of the tin door and wait to hear her rusty jeep start up with a rumble and screeching like mice. Very carefully, you place each one of the sea cows in a separate pocket so they won’t clang together and make noise or chip. Instead of letting the shelf remain empty, you manage a dried starfish, a blue glass dolphin, and two sandollars, keeping with the aquatic theme will make it less noticeable you think, and place them up there casually, not too neat. You imagine your mom returning home and looking right at the shelf. “My manatees, my fucking sea cows, tell me where they are,” she’ll yell and point and head to the kitchen to get the spoon for whoopin-butts the one that’s spruce, firm with the perfect amount of flex. You would have to come clean then. You sit, and wait, you stress and imagine. You contemplate putting them back, giving it all up. But you don’t, you want them, and you’re going get them this time. There are boxes blocking the TV. You move them just so, and make a little cubby for the screen. It’s like watching cartoons down at the end of a short hallway, a cardboard hallway. Time goes by, the shows change; your mom isn’t coming back, not anytime soon at lease. This has happened before. You know what to do. When you’re tired of cartoons, you call your dad. You hear him pull up outside, he came all the way up the hill this time, the rocks pop and crunch under his tires. He gives the horn a honk. As you’re climbing into the car one of the sea cows clanks on the plastic side of the seat. Your dad looks at you, then at your pockets, then straight ahead and puts the car in gear. Back down the hill you go, under the old oak branches and along the creek, past the tavern on the corner, and onto the interstate. At home, in your room, you clear off the top of the dresser. Shoving all the books and pictures, the wooden letters that spell your name, the cup full of pencils and pens, all the papers with doodles and grades, into a pile on the floor. You carefully remove the sea cows from their individual pockets and place them one at a time on to their new spot. You think about all the other manatee knick knacks out there. The places where you could find them. You think about how you’d like to gather them all up and have them here in this room with you.
-- Dennis Scott Herbert is dangerous. He is a recent graduate of Coastal Carolina University and current MFA candidate at Minnesota State University, Mankato where he serves as one of the fiction editors for the Blue Earth Review. His work has appeared in TROn and Archarios Literary Art Magazine.