Maggie June’s been dead for a long time, but she shows up in our mirrors and puts thoughts in our heads. Or the thoughts are already there, and she just points them out.
We have four mirrors, one covering the medicine cabinet rusting over the bathroom sink, two in the room Mom shares with little Raymond, and one in my room—mine and Heather’s. When Maggie June surfaces in a mirror, her black hair swarms around her face in a watery way, like she’s multitasking, floating on her back while paying a visit. Makes me think death must be less like playing a harp on a cloud and more like swimming or sinking. How did Maggie June die? I don’t know. Mom won’t tell.
We haven’t always lived in Sunnydale, but we’ve always lived with Maggie June. Maggie June hates Sunnydale, and for good reason. There’s a lot to dislike. Our trailer once belonged to Maggie June, and she once belonged to Mom. She was Mom’s mom, but my brother, sister, and I don’t call her Grandma. We never knew her, not when she was alive. She probably wouldn’t want to be called Grandma anyway. Maggie June is what Mom calls her.
Why don’t you call her Mom? I asked one time. It was after supper. Heather and Ray were outside playing catch with Owen Keening on the Keenings’ double-wide lawn. I was taking my time, drying dishes.
Mom shrugged without glancing up from the sink. Her hands, usually rough and red from her tiling work, looked pretty for a change, sleek in the frothy water and filmed with suds. After a minute, she said, Never have. My mother didn’t plan for me to happen. Didn’t ask for a baby. Didn’t want one. Mom glanced toward her bedroom and added in a whisper, She wasn’t mean back then.
She can be now. Stern. Maggie June likes to tell Mom all the ways she’s doing a bad job being our mother. To Heather, she orders, Rein in that temper. You want to land in jail? To me, she lectures, Work harder. Quit being such a slug. God! You’re just like your father.
But she’s never mean to Raymond. Maggie June’s Ray of Sunshine. She likes him best. Sweet Raisin, she calls him, her smile like a crack in the mirror. I’d put you in a cookie, she teases. I’d eat you right up.
Ray’s with her now, showing her the things he found outside, a pigeon feather, heart-shaped rock, and lot rent sign. He’s arranged them on Mom’s dresser, and he holds them up, one by one, for Maggie June to admire. Behind him, Heather’s folding laundry with Mom. There are neat stacks on the bed. I should fold, too, but don’t feel like it. I lean against the doorframe.
Mom frowns over her shoulder at the sign. That’s Mr. Wayne’s, she scolds Ray.
Who cares? Heather grumbles. He won’t miss it.
Duh, I say. He’s advertising the lot for a reason. Renting’s how he makes his money.
Maggie June nods, and her smile for Ray dims. Worry ripples across her face. Her hair undulates faster. It’s as if a storm’s settling in, kicking up waves. Wish you weren’t stuck here, she says to Mom. This place is bad news.
Mom turns away from the mirror. She knows Maggie June’s right, but it’d cost ten thousand bucks for us to move our trailer out of Sunnydale, never a paradise to begin with but getting worse. Mr. Wayne keeps raising the rent. He used to cover maintenance costs and provide amenities. Not anymore.
Stuck, Heather mutters. She picks up a shirt and straightens it with a snap.
Home, sweet, immobile mobile home, I joke, pushing myself out of the doorway and slumping into the room. I feel heavy, tired. Stuck. Yeah, stuck.
Jared ought to help, Maggie June says, referring to our dad.
Jared Who? Mom retorts. She laughs without smiling. Her expression matches Maggie June’s and Heather’s and mine. We’re all in the mirror. I can see us there. Together, drowning, trapped.
Ray gathers up the feather, rock, and sign and lowers them into his cardboard box. Stuck, stuck, stuck, he sings, as he kneels by his stash.
A few plastic toys poke out of the box, but mostly, the mound’s made up of bottles, leaves, nutshells, paperbacks: empty, crumbling, filthy, musty, stuff he found sifting through our weedy patch—Mr. Wayne’s patch, I mean, this lot we rent for however much he wants.
Smiling, Ray hauls up an armful of his collection and demands, Look at it all, Maggie June. Look, look.
Oh, Ray, she murmurs. Sweet little Raisin.
Mom shares a glance with my sister, mouths the word, Junk.
But I try to see it how Ray sees it, like keepsakes, like charms. For a second, I almost do. Some of it is soft and worn; some sharp, some shiny.
Mostly, though, I see Ray, really see him. Here he is, learning to seize and cling. Realizing how good it feels to own. Maybe that’s why Maggie June favors him. He’ll get out of here, I bet. I hope. He’ll find a way to go.