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American Holiday

My name’s Amber Jones. It’s Christmas and Ma’s been locked up for twenty-seven days now. You may have heard of her, The BF Killer, she’s sort of famous around here in Tucker, Mississippi. You think they could of come up with a cleverer nickname, but it’s the holiday season and I guess, even as worked up as they all are over what my mama did, everybody mostly just wants to take off and go home.

We live in a double wide next to the new Wal-Mart. People said location’s everything when the Johnson’s next door got half a million for their land and moved to Florida, while we just got a crappy view of the parking lot. Mama said it was unfortunate, but that it’d work out good for Black Friday. Aunt Betsy and her still camped out for three hours once they saw the first car pull up.

This all started over shrimp and grits Thanksgiving morning, when Ma and Aunt Betsy discussed tactical operations while flipping through store mailers, like Black Friday shopping was an athletic sport. First pick was Wal-Mart, of course, with the 70-inch flat screen deal and the laptop for fifty bucks. I guess it’s a good thing they snagged the laptop, since that’s what we’re getting ready to Skype Ma on. Ma’s big like me. Bigger than Aunt Betsy, so she got the shoving and grabbing job. Even though Aunt Betsy always smells like french fries, she just doesn’t have the weight to handle black and blue Friday. She held cart-in-line duty while Ma darted straight to electronics.

So here we all are, Jennie, Megan, Daddy, and me, waiting to see Mama on the fifty-buck laptop. We invited Aunt Betsy over. She said it was just too sad, and she’s working double shifts, anyway, through the holidays to have time off for Ma’s trial.

Daddy gets the Skype session setup. The screen goes gray. We see our faces reflected back, like we’ve got our own reality TV show. Then there’s Mama sitting there with her hair a little limper than usual. A bright red sweater with a family of teddy bears decorating a Christmas tree looks festive over her prison-issue orange jumpsuit. She leans forward when she sees us, and the little jingle bells tinkle on her tree sweater.

We sit for a second and then Mama starts exclaiming about how nice everybody looks and how jail food’s not as bad as all the movies make it out to be. Daddy says, “Honey, I’m driving down to Hopewell tomorrow for visiting hours.” She kind of clears her throat and tells everybody, “What are you waiting for? Open up those presents!”

Jennie tears into hers. She’s already figured it out. It’s a new cell phone. Only it’s last year’s model. Mama only grabbed one of the latest versions. And, we all knew who’d get that. Jennie’s okay with it though, at least now she’s got voice command like everybody else. She makes a joke about her accent and how it’ll never understand, like Megan in geometry.

Megan scowls at Jennie and sticks out her tongue. But only spares a second on her little sister, because her package is larger and she can guess what’s inside. She jumps up and down when she sees the shiny silver icon on the white box. Ma tells her to settle down, she’s jumping out of the video frame, but she’s kind of laughing when she says it. Megan’s in middle school now and the teachers let the kids use their tablets during class. Ma only snagged a mini this year, but it’s a good transition to the full-size.

I’m up next. I know what I’m getting and it ain’t tickets to the art museum in Birmingham like I asked for. Daddy’s already opened his gift, of course. Otherwise we wouldn’t be able to Skype Ma in jail. I had to wrap the presents, cause the cops were only about fifteen minutes behind Mama when she got home. Jennie and Megan sleep like dead cats, nothing wakes them up, but Daddy and I heard. Tried to stand up for her, but we hadn’t been shopping. Mama was all frenzied up, red and splotchy like when she’s drank too much of Grandma’s Muscat wine, only she was just high on bargain buys. The older cop tried calming her down. The younger one kept holding his hands up and getting in her face. Mama said, “It wasn’t even my fault! The bitch tried to snatch the last laptop right out my hands. All I did was shove her off of me.”

People say it’s all about location, location, location. It’s unfortunate for my mama that the Tucker Wal-Mart is only a twenty-minute drive from one of their largest distribution centers and had more than their fair share of flat screens for Black Friday. It’s unfortunate for the lady she shoved, that she was standing directly in front of a precarious stack of Toshibas. I guess the lawyers will say it’s the store’s fault. Still, Mama thinks she’s not coming home for a while.

Jennie’s snapping selfies, making fishy faces that she think’s sexy, but with her overbite, just makes her look like a donkey sucking on a lemon slice. Megan’s reaching to plug in her present. Dad’s fiddling with the contrast on the fifty-buck laptop. Ma’s face is fading in and out while she peers through the screen, trying to find me in the middle of it all.

“Open your gift up,” she’s saying to me, like I’m not the one who wrapped it. “You can take it with you next year. Call me. I’ll tell you what to get first.” Yep. They say it’s all about location. For me, I guess it’s unfortunate I was born the oldest, in this trailer, to this woman who’s leaning into the camera, saying, “Somebody’s got to carry on the family tradition.”

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