A harsh stint of light beamed through the tattered blinds hanging, half shredded, off the only window in the hellhole of a mobile trailer my mother and I had called home for the past thirteen years. I blinked against the blinding rays before rolling over and nearly giving up on ever leaving the six-square-foot room I’d called mine for the week.
I yawned and cursed, unable to go back to my comforting solitude in dreamland and rolled back over until I nearly fell off the twin blow-up mattress. I looked around in disgust at the random disarray of half-empty, probably expired pill-bottles, empty bottles of beer and liquor – some broken – smelly shoes, dirty and almost-clean clothes flung around the room, hanging off of broken pieces of wood that resembled what once could have been called “furniture”.
For a split second, I was innocent in all this. I looked about the trailer in a hung-over stupor of confusion and disbelief. But memories of the previous night came zipping back like a snapped fishing line. I had done this. All of it. From the back room that had belonged to my mother, to the rank bathroom smelling entirely of my own alcohol-induced vomit, through the trash-filled one-person-at-a-time hallway, all the way to the tiny living area with a screen-smashed box TV and the miniature kitchen with the floor covered in shattered pieces of any dishware we owned that was breakable and random silverware here and there in the mix. I smacked my palm to my face in humiliation and embarrassment of myself.
Oh, if Momma could see me now, a dark thought pushed itself to the front my mind. I couldn’t be any more pathetic in this moment than if I had actually planned it myself. My mother was dead. I buried her yesterday. It was a sinner’s ceremony, only two people showed up – myself included – at a church we never bothered to pray in. The one aspiration she had wanted for me – to go to college and have the life she never had – never saw the light of day. “Unemployed, uneducated…what are people gonna think’a you, girl,” I could hear Momma’s country-fried voice ranting in my head. Appearances were a big deal with my mother.
Of course, what could she say, the Mary Magdalene of Bethlehem, North Carolina, barely raising the illegitimate child of a drug-dealer in a one-bedroom trailer-on-wheels? We lived off food stamps and the liquor she bought with money she’d scammed out of some poor fool’s wallet while pretending she was a desperate soul in need of help getting back on the “right path”.
She was right, though. I had nothing going for me, not that her passing had made my situation any worse than it already was. Even if, by some miracle, I had the money to go to college, my days of sleeping in class and flipping off teachers had all but insured a rejection letter from any school I might have applied to. I could have blamed my mother for it. For not teaching me what it meant to be a respectable woman or that self-esteem and self-worth should have taken a spot front-and-center in my life. But I wasn’t the type to go speaking ill of the dead, nor to blame my misfortune on others. This was my mess and if I ever had a chance in cleaning it up and escaping this bleak road I was headed down, taking responsibility was my first step.
Two heavy thuds knocked me out of my thoughts. “Who’s there?” I asked cautiously. My voice was hoarse, nearly a whisper, and for a moment I wasn’t sure if whoever it was had heard me.
“Camille Ambrose?” a deep-voiced man responded.
My stomach twisted with anxiety. “I-is this the police?” My mind flittered about, trying desperately to remember if, in my drunken ignorance, I had committed some crime.
“No ma’am, the name’s Arty Higgins. I’m Ms. Emilia’s legal representative…or ‘least I was till last week. Darlin’, you got a minute? I’d like to discuss some’a the details o’ your momma’s last will and testament, if that’s alright with you.”
I opened the door to a smoothly-dressed, gray-eyed white man and lifted a brow at his statement. “Momma never mentioned an ‘Arty Higgins’,” I looked him up and down. “And what’s this about legal counsel? My momma hadn’t gone to court in over a decade. What did she need you for?”
“No ma’am, she hadn’t been to court in a while, but she was to testify as a witness in the court of law in about two weeks. “
“She never told me anything about a trial,” I stepped out onto the makeshift steps when Arty tried to step inside. I noticed the black SUV he had pulled up in with another man sitting in the driver’s seat. “Who’s that?” I nodded towards the vehicle.
“That’s just my driver, sweetheart,” he gave a dark smile.
Something was off about this guy. I wasn’t sure if I was still drunk or if the hangover was worse than I’d thought, but answering the door and stepping out of the trailer was just about the dumbest thing I could have done…just about. But for some reason, my mouth opened and went for broke on the whole “being and idiot” notion.
“Why would she need a lawyer if she’s just a witness?”
I already had my answer. I had it when I opened the door to ‘Mr. Suave’, here. Before I could even think about running back inside, Arty dragged me off the steps and spun me with a forearm around my neck and a revolver pointed at left temple. “Don’t be stupid, sweetheart. Ain’t nobody out here to hear this bullet, so if you wanna keep breathin’, you just be a good girl and do as I say.”
His rancid breath fanned across my face and from the way his hand held the barrel to my head, just as steady as his heartbeat, I knew he was serious. I shook my head as best I could with his forearm clamping against my chin.
“Good girl,” he chuckled. He removed his arm just as I was about to pass out and grabbed a fist full of my black locks. “You just might make it outta this alive, sugar, long as your looks is the only thing you have in common with your Momma.”