Front Porch Valentine
I stared at the delivery man on my doorstep holding a dozen red roses. He smiled at me and pushed the flowers toward me like he expected me to take them. Couldn’t he look at my shabby old house and know that he had the wrong address? Give me a break. Nobody in this neighborhood is gonna get roses, and especially not some fifty-year old woman livin’ with her Momma.
“Miss Lowe? Valentine’s Day roses for Miss Lowe.”
Valentine’s Day. A Hallmark holiday, if there ever was one, but it’s my boy’s birthday. We usually had a birthday cake, even if money was too tight for a present.
“Ma’am? Are you Miss Lowe?”
Valentine’s Day, 1993 was the day my boy was born. I labored all through night and most of the morning. My momma was there, but you know she judged me. Unmarried and ten days since my thirtieth birthday. There I was, bringin’ home a baby with no daddy like I had no more sense than a teenager. I didn’t graduate high school, and I couldn’t pay a baby sitter. Momma was sick back then, too, and she got to take care of the baby, sick or not. We couldn’t always keep Momma’s medicines in stock, but we got by.
My baby boy is named Anton after his daddy. His daddy came by once when baby Anton was two. Brought him a big yellow truck, but it got stolen off the front porch of this same house. After that, his daddy sent me a little money every month. I ain’t told a soul about that money. I ride the bus across town to cash the check just so’s nobody notices and asks questions.
When his daddy left us on this front porch, I was angry. I was so mad at him for showin’ up unannounced, and I didn’t even have the darn dishes clean yet. Just watching Anton play with his daddy, curled up in his lap… It had been a long time since Anton wanted to sit on my lap like that.
Big Anton opened his wallet on this porch, and he pulled out three crisp $100 bills. I don’t think I ever saw so much money in my life. He pulled them out and spread them so I could see, and he gestured at me like he expected me to be happy and take his money. Oh man, I hollered at him! “That baby boy don’t need your damn money! He needs you—he needs you to play with him and show him how to be a man.”
My momma scolded me after for cussin’ that man, but I didn’t feel a lick of shame.
When Aton was nearly ten, the gang bangers on the next corner would play their rap music all day and all night. Anton was on the porch, and a song came on. He jumped up and he started singing and dancing, “Go Shorty! It’s your birthday!” and then I saw him, my sweet baby boy, make his sweet little hands into guns, and he gestured like he’s shootin’ up the place. My smart little boy who can read better than me at nine years old wants to be a gang banger, too. As he completed his gun-slinging spin around the yard, our eyes met, “Bang, Momma! I killed you!”
Maybe that’s why I did it. My mostly safe porch let me feel brave one day, just a few days later on Anton’s birthday. I made a double layer birthday cake and I got me a piece of cardboard and covered it in tin foil to make it look pretty. I put one layer of cake on the foil board and iced it up real nice. I put the other layer on the plate and iced it up too. I froze one for when Anton had his friend over on the weekend.
And then, I was standin’ on this porch, waitin’ with that cake for Anton to get home from school.
The gang bangers were on the corner like always and **that** song came on.
I don’t know what took a hold of my soul, but I just felt my heart hammerin’ in my chest. My vision pulsed with each beat of my heart. I put my dry lips together and tried to whistle. You can laugh, but my lips were too dry to make a sound. I licked my lips, and put two fingers to my mouth. It sounded like a scream escaping my lips. A big, full sound, heard well enough over the sound of the music. The whole gang turned and a big man, and dark as midnight with big gold teeth, puffed up his chest at me. Someone turned the music down.
I marched to the end of my sidewalk.
I smiled. “I made a birthday cake. Ya’ll want some? I got another in my house.”
“What kind?” Gold-tooth asked. The way he looked at me made me feel naked as a blue jay.
“Chocolate icing on a white cake.”
“It ain’t my birthday,” he said, pulsing that tattoo across his forehead with his clenched teeth.
“You’re all singin’ day and night that you don’t give a *hrmph* it ain’t your birthday, but if you don’t got time for cake, that’s okay.”
“We can try your cake, mommy,” a small man on the left says and a few of the boys made menacing sounds that might be laughin’.
“My boy Anton, he can’t hang out with you. When he comes and watches you, you send him on his way, okay? Just run him off. And leave the plate on the porch if it please you.”
I set the cake and the plate on the ground. I turned and imagined them grabbing me the whole walk back to the safety of my front porch. I didn’t let them see me wipe my cold sweat off my head, and when I closed the door, my knees gave out from under me.
“Miss Lowe? Ma’am?”
This fool with the flowers startled me from my thoughts.
“Yes, yes,” I take the flowers and look for a card.
A long letter makes the card envelope fat. It’s from Anton. There’s a clipping from the university newspaper. The article has Anton’s picture in it with a bunch of white kids, too. He looks good and happy.
My momma calls out, “Who it be?” I tell her Anton sends his love.
I read the article to Momma, and I make like she can see and show her Anton’s picture. She smiles, like she can see him, too, even though her eyes are closed.
The article says, and I have to sound out the words:
“Anton Lowe: My mother is my hero. She is always working hard for other people. Even the neighborhood thugs wouldn’t let me hang out with them because they loved my mom. I owe everything to her, and I’m thankful that she taught me to work hard, too. ”
Momma slips into sleep again. I sneak out to my front porch. I sit down and listen to the loud music blaring from somewhere down the dark street. I know all the ways Anton’s life could have gone hard, and I know it wasn’t easy growing up here. I don’t know what life must be like for Anton at university, but I sure am proud.