Bridget Gage-Dixon

Prodigal Son

he took his leave of us without his divvy of the fortune
no pocket full of gold coin
to squander on cheap women
and expensive wine,
packed up his duffel bag
and caught the bus
to Parris Island
where they shaved his head
and ran him senseless
pressed his face into the muddy ground
and after eight weeks
declared he was a soldier.
My mother waited silently
for him to call,
never once complaining to her friends
how long it had been
since the phone had rung.
She'd puff her voice with pride
when speaking of him
but the truth lie just beneath
her bragging
in the way I'd find her well past midnight
rocking gently in the heavy wooden chair,
wrapped in the quilt
she had sewn for him
while he swam inside her,
and sipped hot tea
with only just the slightest tear
creeping down her cheek.
From the balcony,
I would watch her
tuck myself behind the banister
damning him.
Though she still denies it
she spent those nights
reliving moments
inspecting judgment errors
wondering if she'd yelled too much,
or not enough.
Months later
the old black phone did ring
for her
he'd called to tell her
that he'd married
and sitting on the threshold of her bedroom
I watched as she drew herself up taut
squeezing back the tears
and didn't ask why she hadn't been invited
just congratulated him
and asked the name of his new wife.
She has waited now
two decades
fattening the calf in vain,
offered countless polished explanations
of his absence
at family gatherings,
and though we've pushed him from our minds
abandoned hope for reunion
she can still be found from time to time,
as if standing at the fence line waiting,
wrapped in his quilt,
sipping tea
and rocking gently.


The 2River View, 4.2 (Winter 2000)