The Mother

The Mother

A Story by Delmar Cooper

What will a mother not do for her child?



The Mother


It had not rained in weeks and Buttermilk Road was a ribbon of red clay and exposed flints.  If rain finally came the ruts would fill up quickly, lubricating the dust into impassable mud.  Even now, only a determined driver could navigate what amounted to a dry stream bed.


From the porch of her unpainted clapboard house Bessie Washington watched a car carve a silhouette into the haze at the top of the hill.  The silhouette was deformed by a bell shaped hump on the roof.  Sunlight glinted from the chrome faring of a spotlight mounted on the fender.  The car stopped beside one of Bessie’s neighbors walking up the hill with his grandson.  Bessie watched him take his hat off and with the other hand ease the boy behind him, then bend at the waist to speak into the car while holding the hat close to his chest with both hands.   He shook his head slowly right and left, paused and took a step backward, almost stepping on the boy.  He repeated the head shake until an arm protruded from the car and the hand on that arm beckoned the boy forward.  After about half a minute the boy raised his left arm and pointed at Bessie’s house.


“Vernine, come to the parlor.”  Bessie said into the screen door.   A girl dressed in a muslin shift eventually pressed her face to the screen.


“Yes Mamma.”


“Vernine, the police is comin’ down Buttermilk Road.   I ‘spect  its about yore brother and that commissary thing.  You walk out the back door and cross the holler to Aunt Felicity’s house.  You stay there as long as you has to.”


“But Mamma…”


“Don’t ‘but mamma’ me girl.  Do like I says, listen to me good Vernine, you walk, don’t run, and don’t look back.  Just walk regular.”


“Mamma, what they want with you?”  


“I dunno for sure.  I heard some things got me fretted up.   I guess the police is fretted up too.  Go on now baby.  Hurry, but hurry slow.”


Bessie took off her apron and dropped it behind the porch glider as the car tiptoed from rut to rut down the hill.   By the time the police cruiser came to rest in front of the house it was covered in dust; the black hood and trunk were a dull russet, and the white of the roof and doors were rosy pink.  A campaign sticker on the front bumper, 'Stevenson 52,' was faded and baked onto the chrome and by months of Alabama sun.


“You hard to find Bessie.”  The policeman hitched his khaki pants up a little closer to the overhang of his belly.  He took off his peaked hat and wiped his forehead, the armpits of his shirt were wet all the way down to his belt.   He crossed the yard, and stepped up onto Bessie’s porch.


“Cain see why. I ain’t been nowheres but here.  You want to come in outa the sun?”


“Yeah, I’m comin’ in.  We need to talk, and I want to look your place over.  The policy man told me you stayed on Buttermilk Road.   He told me you paid your funeral insurance every week, spoke real high of you.  You keep up insurance on your daughter, Irene too. Where might she be?”


“Vernine, my girl’s name Vernine. She cleanin’ house for her Auntie today”


“Yeah, whatever.  He said you keep up insurance on your boy Jeeter too. “


“My son’s name is Jerome.  The trash round here calls him Jeeter.”


The policeman put his face right into hers.  “Ah, Bessie, you ain’t callin me trash are you?”  He breathed the question into Bessie’s upturned face.   “Tell me I ain’t hearin you call a police officer trash?”


“No Suh, I ain’t callin you or no police that.”  Bessie inspected her shoes as she spoke. “ I wouldn’t never …”


“No you wouldn’t, but Jeeter would wouldn’t he? 


“My Jerome, he a good boy officer.  He useta be wild but he changed.  He‘s a good Christian now.  He goes…”


“Save it Bessie.  I know all about ‘Jerome’.   I know all about how good he is.  He’s so good Hiawassee Land and Coal put paper out on him after that commissary thing.  You heard of Hiawassee ain’t you Bessie?”


“Everbody know Hiawasse.  Ain’t a dollar in this county don’t come through them one way or ‘nother.  I knows it, you knows it and the chief a’police knows it.”


“I heard you had a mouth on you Bessie.  Don’t make he shut it for you.   Your Jeeter shot the clerk when he robbed the commissary store, didn’t he?  The company put a five hundred dollar paper out on him and kicked it up to a thousand when that pore ole trashy clerk finally up and died.  A thousand dollars, that’s real good, I’d say. A good Christian boy worth a thousand dollars standin’ up or laid flat.”


“Jerome all grown, he ain’t a boy no more.  He done put off childish things when he come to be a man. He never done such a thing, no Suh.  They’s  tellin lies on him that says that.”


“No ma’am, not your boy.  Not your good Christian boy. But Hiawassee gets what Hiawassee wants, and they want Jeeter.   I suppose he didn’t steal that big Philco radio over in the corner for you either, did he?”


“My son give me that on Valentine’s. You think he stole it?  Take it then.  Load it up and take it with you.”


“I know he stole it.  Him and Booster  Johnson  stole it.  If I could prove it that radio would already be in the trunk.”


“That Booster he the bad un, do anything for a dollar.  Steal anything and get away with ever thing.  He the one always kept my son in trouble.  I prayed he’d leave my son alone and never see him no more.”


“Be careful what you pray for Bessie.  We got your boy in town.  You get in the car now; I got to take you to see him.”


“Oh lordie, I ain’t got no lawyer money for Jerome.  I ain’t  got hardly no money at all.”


“You got all you need Bessie.  You got your policy money coming.  Booster done shot gunned Jeeter’s head off for that Hiawassee reward.   We need somebody to identify the body.  There ain’t no face to speak of, but we figure a momma always knows her boy.” 




It took two policemen to escort Bessie Washington into the morgue.  They had to support her to keep her from falling down.  At the door she tried to hang on to the casemates.  Her nails left scratches on the paint.  The preacher from the Mt. Zion AME church finally had to help them.


“You ready now Sister Washington?  The morgue men got his head all covered up.  There’s no blood, but you have to look and then I’ll take you home.  They just need to know it’s him.”


“Oh preacher, I can’t look.  Why don’t they get that Booster to say who it is?  He the one done kilt him.”


“Sister, nobody trusts Booster, for all the police know he kilt some stranger and brought him in for the Hiawassee money.  The police will know as soon as you see him if it’s Jeeter or not.  They can look at you and tell.  Don’t worry they won’t have to ask you- make you say it out loud.   Trust in Jesus the redeemer, Bessie.  Just look at him then we can go home, and pray.”


“Can we pray now, quiet like, right here before I pass through the door, before I has to see him.  Prayin’ steadies me, helps me think.  I jus’ needs a minute to pray and think.”


Tears rolled down Bessie’s cheeks as she looked at the long lean body laid out on an enamel table.  “Oh poor boy.  This poor innocent child.  Dear Jesus, have mercy on this boy.   Who gone bury this child a'god?  How can his momma know who he is he when he ain’t got no face to ever look up to heaven?  Preacher you gots to find this boy’s momma and help her to bury him right. Me’n all the church sisters will help you.”


The chief of police and the coroner stood on either side of Bessie Washington.  “Are you saying this isn’t your son?  This isn’t Jeeter Washington!”


“Suh, I don know who’s the mama to this boy, but it ain’t me.  My boy has a tattoo on his shoulder.  He showed me it on Valentines when he give me that radio.  It’s a heart.  Inside that heart it says ‘Mother’.  He said he tole the tattoo man to write Momma but when he got up it said Mother.  No, suh.  That ain’t my boy.  I ‘spect my boy still runnin away from the police.  You ask that Booster who he kilt.  He know.”


“The chief of police flung his hat to the floor and screamed obscenities to the room in general and nobody in particular.  “Get Booster into a cell.  Go over to the court house and ask Judge Vane to drag him up a public defender, but walk slow.  I want his confession in my hand before some pain in the a*s lawyer gets here.”  Spittle flew with every syllable.  Half the room cleared well before he finished.


“Preacher, can we pray over this boy?  Pray for me too?  It ain’t right for me to be seen happy knowin’ that real soon a pore woman gone be scrape’n out her eyes from cryin’ over this kilt boy.”


Relations and neighbors on Buttermilk Road brought food to Bessie Washington’s house.  It was as if her own son had died, but been resurrected like Lazarus, although now a marked man, a banished Cain wandering the Earth. 


Everyone prayed for Bessie and Jeeter. Bessie begged prayer for the mother of the young man Booster Johnson had murdered for money.


That night Bessie and Vernine washed the empty casserole dishes the neighbors had brought.  In the parlor the Philco radio played gospel music at a low volume.  “Mamma will we ever see Jeeter again?  Is he all right?”



“One day we will see him. One day we’ll stand beside him again.  Baby, when yore brother give me that radio he said, ‘Momma, you’ll always be in my heart no matter what happens.’  I know he didn’t lie to me, not my good boy, and I know that Booster  Johnson won’t never lead him or no other boy into trouble.  No, not never again.  Fore we goes to bed we gone pray hard for yore brother.” 


Bessie’s hands were in dishwater and she couldn’t wipe her eyes.  “And pray for a broke hearted  mother who won’t never be able to bury her son proper, won’t never be able to put his name on a stone.”


“Yes Mamma that’s what we’ll do.  That’s a good thing to do.”






































© 2018 Delmar Cooper

Author's Note

Delmar Cooper
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Featured Review

This is a story I did not want to end. It could have kept going on and on and I'd have been just as glued from beginning, middle to the end. You're fantastic. My opinion is that this is a wonderful piece of writing. I've never considered myself a writer so much as someone who just tinkers with words as time permits so I cannot offer any technical critique but please accept it as a huge compliment from someone with attention issues that not only did it grasp me, but like a good book you never want to end, I was left wanting more. So that's the true test in my opinion. The reader's engagement.

Posted 2 Years Ago

1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

Delmar Cooper

2 Years Ago

I figure a story is a success if the reader understands it and stays to the end. I wouldn't know th.. read more


This is really good with its twists and turns and the ending at least in my imagination what is implied.
I like the Lazarus and Cain references.
I also am really impressed with the dialect as I felt I was reading Alice Walker... and a cousin story to her "Everyday Use"---
I rarely read stories here, too busy trying to reciprocate on the poetry, but glad this is the one I picked.
Very well done.

Posted 2 Months Ago

1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

Delmar Cooper

2 Months Ago

Glad you of all poets read it. Thanks.
Best short story I've read in a year. I read anthologies of short stories all the time. Right now I'm reading John Steinbeck's short stories. But none of these holds my interest like this story does. Your writing construction is banging like a washtub band . . . incredible dialogue -- you capture nuances of speech that show us who these people are . . . slow & easy peeling of the orange -- the kind of storytelling that makes me want to take my time (usually I'm impatient & I want to zip thru a piece fast). Every single phrase is crafted to show us who these people are & how they react to one another . . . nothing stubs my tow with a lack of authenticity anywhere. This is such good writing, I can't say it enuf (((HUGS))) Fondly, Margie

Posted 4 Months Ago

1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

Delmar Cooper

4 Months Ago

I'm glad you enjoyed it. I prefer the short story to other forms and it has always been my ambition.. read more
I usually read poems here but this story was un-put-downable for me. I have always found this particular dialect fascinating and here it was done perfectly. Enjoyed!

Posted 5 Months Ago

1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

Delmar Cooper

5 Months Ago

Thank you so much for reading. Stories are not the hot item here. Your comments mean a lot.
Dhara_Ditzy Kat

5 Months Ago

I enjoyed this story! I read stories that grip my and this story certainly did.
You're welcom.. read more
For me, first and foremost comes poetry; and I confess that when I click on a story at the cafe, it is not always with great expectations, (now there's a good tale for you,) as I am often disappointed.

It was not so here, I was genuinely absorbed from first line to last, partly by your descriptive powers, but mostly as you leave much for the reader to consider and interpret, (a lean story, as you say.)

If you do write more in the same vein as you have hinted to Eilis that you might, I am waiting in the wings.


Posted 1 Year Ago

1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

I'm old enough to have had relatives that talked like this, but young enough to have watched a lot of this kind of life you describe here disappear from the area where I grew up. I do love a good dialect story. And, I like how your story presents a place that feels trapped in time. Poverty often feels that way, and you don't have to tell us these people are poor, it's just in everything else you've written.

I also like the way you leave a lot for the reader to decide here. Your end in particular offers a lot of openness where the reader must come to certain conclusions. The mother so often sees her children as blameless and wishes to lay the blame on some other outside force for the child's behavior. How often that leads to the boy being taken from her forever is left to chance. Some boys go wild and are lucky enough to see their way back while others end up like our poor fella here and never come home again.

Love the dialogue and the descriptions at the beginning. I can feel that dust coating my nostrils and sense the heaviness of the air that might, soon, drown that road and make it impassable. Excellent story. I enjoyed the craft.

Posted 1 Year Ago

1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

Delmar Cooper

1 Year Ago

Thank you for reading and for your gracious comments. It is a trial run; I have in the back of my m.. read more

1 Year Ago

I’ll look forward to, perhaps, reading more about them in the future.
The dialect was mostly very good, though a little difficult for me in a few places. The story's premise is classic; especially when seen through the lens of countless movies, TV shows, and printed stories. Could it have actually happened? I have no doubt that it could have. Having grown up in poverty, with skin just brown enough to make some wonder what the heck I was, gives me a little extra understanding of this tale, I believe.
Commas-- I understand that some writers nowadays don't seem to care much for them. Being old and old fashioned, as I am, I prefer to see them used when appropriate.
You begin the story with a good bit of describing--the road, the car, the body movements, but then as the dialogue begins, there's almost none. Especially after Bessie is told her son is dead, I would like for her to groan, sob, cry out, or something.
Thank you for directing me to this story. It's a fine one.

Posted 1 Year Ago

Delmar Cooper

1 Year Ago

Thanks for read and thanks for your cogent comments. I'll take a look at the pauses and consider tha.. read more
Settin' round tha' cracker barrel ...retellin' the ole days - mother's love and sis' memories.

In tha' Holler Americana - be care-full of the tags some WILL place of YOU for being real.

Posted 1 Year Ago

1 of 1 people found this review constructive.


1 Year Ago

The "truth" of fiction - like the power of our voices seldom silenced by the tags of ignorance.. read more
Delmar Cooper

1 Year Ago

But Chris, we are so pliable.

1 Year Ago

Chuckling here... yes ...we are - aren't we?
Delmar - I thought this was great! Some how, in some way, I can't escape the feeling that the dead boy really was her son Jerome. She contained her pain and anguish knowing that her not identifying the body as her son would really peeve the sheriff. This was a man who was so unsympathetic to the mother and those she cared about. This was her way of getting her revenge. Of course, I could be very wrong.

Thanks for the story - Dave

Posted 1 Year Ago

1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

Delmar Cooper

1 Year Ago

Dave, so do I. Not to annoy the sheriff but to insure vengeance against Booster. In my mind she was.. read more

1 Year Ago

In any case - I enjoyed it. Thanks.

Rake care - Dave
Wow, impressive! The dialogue is so smooth, and you gave just the right amount of details. You really got me thinking it was her son. Keep up the good work!

Posted 1 Year Ago

1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

Delmar Cooper

1 Year Ago

Thanks for reading this and your take on the relationship.
Pretty amazing really. The dialogue was as if I had my eyes closed listening to the movie, "In the heat of the night". I vaguely remember hearing that dialect from when I was young, but it's far away now. So I'm impressed, but can't be the ultimate judge on something like that.
I felt it was an easy read. There were no inconsistencies that jumped out that distracted from the story. You could get lost into it as if it were an old time radio program. This is good writing. You should get better advice and publish it. CD

Posted 1 Year Ago

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12 Reviews
Shelved in 1 Library
Added on December 28, 2018
Last Updated on December 28, 2018
Tags: South, 50s, Jim Crow, labor, racism 1800 words


Delmar Cooper
Delmar Cooper

Trussville, AL

I write- a little. I don't write to reinvent the wheel, or discover fire. I just drag along from sentence to sentence hoping for a spark. more..


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