by Nora Hudson
She left taking all of her memories of her with her. Nobody spoke of her at holiday get togethers, family funerals, birthdays or class reunions. There were no hushed whispers about what happened to Cleo. Cleo has ceased to exist for her family. Her brothers and sisters did not even search their memories for Cleo for she had no children of her own. Her parents would have to search their memories to identify her if they had a picture of her. They would scratch their head wondering how they could forget how their child looked. When they tried to conjure up childhood memories of simple things like playing, fighting church or school, they remembered the event but no Cleo. Cleo had ceased to exist even in memories. Nobody knew where she lived. Not the state, not the city or even what country, because conversations of her just didn’t t come up so nobody would ever compare notes.
Cleo on the other hand carried her memories wrapped up in bundles that she carried with her. She had her baby picture stuffed into the pocket of her third sweater. She took it out to remind herself that she had been born like everyone else. That she had not woke up an old woman with no past and very little future. The baby picture showed a bright eyed bald head butter plump baby staring straight into life. She had to use the picture once to patch a hole in her shoe but she found it again in the feature section of the newspaper she was using to pad her sweater. The fact that this picture had big ring curls and a wide nose did not make it any less her. Cleo realized she could find herself that way. Pictures helped in more ways than one. They helped her hold onto the memories but they also helped ward off the monster. She had not really ever seen the monster but she had not seen God either. That didn’t mean the monster did not exist. Sometimes the monster was closer than others. The monster never went away and she knew in her heart of hearts that it was only a matter of time before she met God too.
On this particular cold and windy day she felt the monster closer than normal. Cleo felt the presence of the monster in the afternoon. This was highly unusual as the monster usually came out after dark. She moved as fast as she could around corners avoiding her usual sleeping places. She was smart enough to know that the monster would be waiting for her there.
She had met Jesus at the homeless center. Jesus was an army veteran whose main job in life was to recruit saints for Big Jesus. Jesus had given her a fried green tomato recipe once that had the power to keep the monster at bay. Jesus had that power. She felt compelled to save the world and keep the monster from growing larger and larger. She would go to the Adams alley. There she could place her back against the wall and face down the monster. She would read the recipe over and over all night until the sun came out. Naturally the monster would have some severe problems with the daylight even though this daylight was not holding the monster at bay.
Cleo pulled out her fried green tomato recipe and began to recite it just like she was in the theatre.
"Mix eggs and milk in a shallow dish. Working in skillet size portions, dip green tomatoes slices into the egg mixture, Allow the excess to drip back into the dish. Coat the tomatoes in the meal flour mixture. Fry in hot Lard in a heavy skillet until browned turning once. Transfer to colander to drain. Yield six servings.
One egg beaten. One cup milk. One cup flour, one cup cornmeal ,one half teaspoon salt one half teaspoon black pepper, one half teaspoon cayenne pepper, Six to eight large green tomatoes because she needed extra help. Cut tomatoes in one quarter inch slices. Hot vegetable oil didn’t seem to work so by the time she read it the third time she added the word lard. Perhaps the word lard worked because it was so close to the word Lord. Cleo prayed the Fried Green tomato recipe until her throat felt like dust. But she was destined to save the world…she must continue…she would continue. "Mix eggs and milk in a shallow dish. Working in skillet size portions, dip green tomatoes slices into the egg mixture, Allow the excess to drip back into the dish. Coat with the meal flour mixture. Fry in hot Lord in a heavy skillet until browned turning once. Transfer to colander to drain. Yield six servings." Just as she thought she could not say it one time, she spied the sun and she knew she had made it and saved the world.
Cleo lumbered up out of the alley and headed to Salvation land to find food and something for her parched throat. She tried to warn everyone she passed that the monster was following her close on her heels but she had defeated him and saved the world. They were crazy caused they seemed to be running away from her. She was a hero and they did not even give her a parade. She would show them. Now she understood when Jesus would cry saying, "I am bringing water to the desert but no one wants a drink." Now she knew how he felt. "What a bad feeling", Cleo said to no one in particular. "Well my water just dried up...Fuck them". She would reach salvation Land in about two blocks and she hoped they had not stopped serving breakfast. Genesis House was way cross town...but they would feed you if you said you were hungry.
Cleo picked up a discarded newspaper. The picture of the new Miss America was on the front page. Cleo gingerly tore it out saying, "I was pretty at the prom. I should have worn my hair down" Cleo placed the picture in the sleeve of her second sweater. Yes I remember it so well. My date was the captain of the football team. He was so handsome. We should have taken this picture together. I will show Jesus how pretty I was at the prom. She carefully folded the rest of the newspaper and placed it in her duffel bag.
She was glad she had a real duffel bag, plastic tore so easily. She was so glad the day she found the duffel bag over at the Days Inn Hotel. Someone had left it full of clothing at the back door of a mini van. She didn't know why they had left it full of clothes. She emptied out the things she didn’t want, keeping only the socks, some t -shirts and other odds and ends in the bag.
She could see some of her friends standing in front of Salvation Land. Jesus wasn't there but Sandra the begging thief, Dominic the bad skinned drag queen and Shiela the sick and some little teenager girl. Cleo had to be careful around them. Sheila would steal anything. Dominic was always begging for women’s clothing and Sheila would always get up in your face trying to explain that her leaking pus filled sores were caused by her allergy to something in the air and not by aids or syphilis. The needle marks in her arm suggested aids but everyone knew she sold booty to support her habit. Either way Sheila was dying and Cleo was almost as afraid of Sheila as she was of the monster.
Cleo thought about stopping to tell them about the monster and how she saved the world but her grumbling stomach propelled her almost past them. Then she remembered she had to show them her prom picture that she had in the sleeve of her second sweater...