Mama has a garden, but she doesn’t know a thing about tending it. Instead of fresh water from the hose, she fills her frosted plastic pitcher in the bathroom and gives the wilting tomatoes outside a toilet shower, all the while muttering how Daddy is a stupid “sonofabitch” who gets what’s coming to him. Then, as if the poor plants haven’t had enough torture, she spits at the failing crops. Mama does this every time Daddy spends the night at his work. I just don’t understand how she could get mad at Daddy; it’s Daddy who should be mad at her for being so rude to their garden.
I gently stir the few remaining, soggy Cheerios in my bowl and turn to Mama, who is clearly lost in thought gazing out the window. Her dirty blonde hair hangs flat and knotted on her head. “Why do you hate Daddy so much, Mama?”
“Don’t talk to me about your daddy,” she barks. “If you’re finished with your cereal, go outside and play.” She coughs. “No need to be inside on such a pleasant morning.”
It is baffling how much Mama has changed over the past few months; she used to be so pretty with her beautiful, yellow curls, and we would often go out for walks by the river where she would smile and laugh with me. Now we seldom spend any time together, and the times I am with her, she sends me away. Daddy says it is because she’s flown off the handle, but he never tells me which handle he’s referring to. I’m betting it’s the one of cast iron.
“Yes, ma’am,” I mutter, dropping my head before stepping out of the dusty dining room. From outside, I hear glass shatter, and Mama’s curses and cries – she must have dropped my cereal bowl – but I don’t turn back to help her because something far more intriguing has caught my attention.
It is a beautiful mushroom, far unlike any that I have seen growing in the garden before; it’s the kind that no one would want to pick out of their crop bed. The thing resembles in color a blazing oak tree; near the base, the stalk is ashen chocolate, with a bright red gradient up the stem and into the monstrous, fiery cap. With every moment, the mushroom grows thicker and taller, and the violent reds turn to muted pinks and grays. It’s like something from one of the Sci-Fi movies Daddy enjoys watching.
Quickly, I turn back to the house – I have to share this with somebody. “Mama, look! Hurry!” Then I add: “Why can’t you have one of these in the garden?” But my words are blown away with a sudden, virulent wind gust. Leaves, dust, plastic sacks, and Little Debbie wrappers violently fly above; the nearby pine forest trembles, and the wind emits a haunting groan. Then sirens begin to wail overhead, their deafening ring forcing me down to the ground, clasping my ears.
As soon as I am able, my attention reverts to the magical mushroom. But rather than a carmine beauty, I am met with a ghastly, white cloud ever-expanding in length until the snowy mushroom turns into a pillar of blood-tinged cotton.
“Son! Get the hell back in here!” Mama screams and tugs my shirt collar, like I was some lost puppy. “We have to get to shelter now!”
“But what about Daddy?”
Mama’s grip on my shirt tightened. “He better hope the radiation gets to him before I do.”
We enter the special cellar, and Mama hands me a pillow and blanket before shutting the metal door. I can’t shake the image of the spectacular sky mushroom out of my head.
Perhaps if Mama had met the person who had grown the mushroom, she could grow a prettier garden that Daddy would enjoy coming home to.