By Dan Leicht
He sat in the backyard, plopped down in a fresh puddle of muck. His mother persistently checking on him, temporarily cracking the long thin shade in the middle to peer at her son’s handiwork. Whenever it rained she knew it was only a matter of time until he’d run outside and get to “baking” as he called it. The fine art of making mud-pies was passed down from generation to generation in the Johanson family. Billy learned his recipe from his father, who learned it from his father and so on. With the premature passing of his father Billy knew it was up to him to hone his skills in the tradition so that he could someday pass down what’d he’d learned.
“He’s been out there for an hour now,” she said, the phone pressed up to her ear. “No. It’s stopped raining, but I still don’t like him being out there. He’s going to be covered in mud when he comes back inside, but what can I do? Kenneth used to love making a mess with him in the backyard, so it’s his own way of staying connected with his father. I know, I know, but it’s only been a few months. I can’t push him to move on, it wouldn’t be right. He’s too young to be without a father. Me? If I go out there I won’t be able to wrap him up and carry him to the bathroom to wash up, I’d be tracking mud all over the house. I know there’s such a thing as carpet cleaners, but, mom you’re not listening to me, the house would be a mess. Excuse me? I know you didn’t just tell me my house is always a mess when you show up. I clean this place top to bottom… Hold on.” The blind cracked backed into place as she let go. She set the phone down and she walked over to the door leading into the backyard.
“Are you ready to come back in?” she asked.
“I need help,” replied Billy.
“Help with what?”
“I can’t get the batter right. Dad always knew how to get it right and I can’t do it without him. Can you help me?”
“I uh,” she put her finger in the air to signal him to stay put. She returned with a pair of boots and a heap of towels in her arms. She set the towels down on the couch and walked out into the backyard with her son, her hand being pulled in order to make haste and get to baking.
“Wh-what-are we doing?” she asked.
“Sit,” he insisted. He took a seat in the middle of the mud and scooped up the slop with both hands. He then began rolling it and then flattened it, but it only slipped between his fingers like hot wax melting over the sides of a candle. “See?”
She nodded and walked past him to where the beginning of the woods started and their property ended. Under a tall tree with a grand canopy she dug her hands into the earth and returned with two handfuls of dry dirt.
“Try mixing this in with it,” she said, cracking her knees as she knelt down beside him in a catcher’s stance. He grabbed one of the wads from her hand and combined it with his concoction, his eyes lighting up as it allowed him to make a successful mud-pie.
“Just like dad,” he said, his face gleaming. “Now you try.” She cradled a handful of sopping mud and slapped it into the wad in her other hand, causing the baking ingredients to spray up into her face, getting into her mouth and spritzing her cheeks. She closed her eyes and tried to scrape the dirt off her tongue with her teeth. She wiped her face with a muddied hand and fell over into the puddle upon realizing her mistake. She looked over at Billy, her face covered in mud, her pants soaked from the muck filled puddle, and laughed. He smiled and got up to fetch more dry dirt from her secret hiding place.
“Maria, are you still there? Maria, did you forget to hang up or are you coming back? Maria? Maria?”