Justin Jones, Contributor
I see sheets hanging from Mama’s clothesline, pinched to metal wires with wooden clothespins that have seen better days, and I can’t resist. The sheets billow in the wind, and the air hints of Gain laundry detergent and Downy fabric softener. I see these crisp white sheets, and I must run through them. They are walls to a labyrinth. They’re milky spires of an ice cream castle. They’re clouds for an airplane.
Through these sheets I run; I smell their irresistible clean-sheet scent. I run my fingers across their creamy cotton skin. And here I am a king. I’m no boy who gets free lunch at school. I’m no boy who lives in a home subsidized by welfare. No. I am a king.
“Justin!” Mama shouts my name. “JUSTIN LEE JONES! Boy, you get your ass outta them sheets, you hear? And don’t run those dirty hands across ‘em neither!”
But they’re so tempting, I think.
So I fall to the ground and I lay in the grass, beneath them, watching them flap overhead and mix with clouds in the sky. I look at my filthy hands, too, and I giggle.
This is my grandmother’s, my Mama’s, backyard. There’s a rusty swing by the clothesline, a homemade basketball hoop next to that, and a watermelon patch on the other side, all enclosed by a wire metal fence, a yard big enough for a palace, I imagine. Over there, near the pine tree, that’s my palace’s Throne Room. And over there, behind the swing and next to Mama’s bedroom window, that’s the mote across which only dragons and kings may walk. And here in these sheets, this is my Room for Granted Wishes, the room where anything is possible. The sheets make it so. Mom told me as much during her tour of my castle. She named this room.
I can’t, lying here under Mama’s sheets, think of what it’s really like to live the fantastic life for which I so long — what it’s like to be powerful or wealthy, to be sparkly or glamorous. Gosh, and oh my, what treasures might I find exploring town in a limousine! Or the skies in a helicopter. Or…
Back then, when the world was a little less difficult and a little more wonderful, it was hard — impossible, really — to comprehend what life had given me. And it was nothing awful. It’s not that we were poor. I never was hungry, and I never wanted for toys or clothes. I had a family rich with love and bursting with Southern splendor. But I appreciated none of it. I saw only what my friends had, what I didn’t. Peers in situations similar to mine I envied. If a friend had but one thing I wanted and couldn’t have, I wished nothing more than to have their family, too. For a Sega Genesis? Count me in.
I didn’t know or understand the burdens my mother faced. I didn’t see her depression. I didn’t see her welfare checks (and wouldn’t have known what they were anyway). And, though I didn’t understand why I got free lunch at school, neither did I question it. I fantasized maybe that I was a Very Important Person to whom the cafeteria ladies paid reverence. What a superficial, ignorant, egotistical little demon was I!
Intuition may incline you to think that, while “suffering” through what I considered my family’s inadequacies, I might have been accustomed to living how we did, or at least matured to accept it. But no. As I aged, so grew my longing for fortune. I never was complacent, never happy, never satisfied. I lied to friends at school, telling them that my family had wealth beyond their wildest imagination, but that we chose to live far beneath our means so as to experience what it felt to be “poor.” What a nasty, true word I gagged.
And then Death visited our family and reminded me of Life. Death reminded me of the kind of wealth storybooks moralize. My mother was dead, and from there and ever onward, there was nothing so rich as what I had around me: Mama’s paper-thin, silky skin. The smell of her moisturizer. Aunt Barbara, who wrote (and inspired me to do the same). My friends. My dreams.
So here I lie ever still, albeit in a different form, still in Mama’s backyard, smelling her clean sheets, looking into the sky, giggling at my dirty hands. And I will lie here forever more, in my Room for Wishes Granted.
*Justin Jones is a columnist for Lavender Magazine, Guy Magazine, and Florida Agenda Newspaper. He also contributes fiction to GayRVA.com. Follow him at Facebook.com/JustinJonesWriter.