Mama had a police whistle. She kept it near the phone on the bar that separated our kitchen from our den. It was not a toy. It was official from the New Orleans sheriff’s department. A gift from her deputy boyfriend. It was meant as a weapon. As protection. As a threat. Police whistles might not even exist anymore. But back then, before I had reached an age of double digits, the one Mama had was beautiful. When I held it in my hand, which I was not allowed to do but did anyway, the weight of it gave away it’s importance. The silver so shiny it reflected the world in a crisp swirl of distortion. When I turned it upside down, the brass ball, just big enough to remain forever trapped inside, would rest against the rectangular slot. It was not smooth or a perfect sphere. It was hammered and worn with slight divots and peaks that I was certain gave it it’s own special sound whenever anyone blew into it.
And blow, Mama would. She’d blow it loud and long, right into the phone. God forbid some poor sucker hesitate too long before responding to Mama’s hello. God forbid they be taking a breath or swallowing food while waiting for their call to be answered. God forbid they not be on the ready when Mama picked up the receiver. Their eardrums would be blown out so quick it’d make their heads swim.
Mama had asked for the police whistle with intended targets in mind. The main intendeds were our next door neighbors, the Truetts. According to Mama, they were out to get us. She had convinced herself, and anyone who’d listen, that they were committing “perpetrations” against us. They were crank calling her. Us. They had smeared fingernail polish on her brand new Chevy. They had keyed it. They had egged our front door. When we woke up one morning to find hundreds of caterpillars covering the ceiling of our porch, Mama was convinced the Truetts were somehow responsible.
One night, during the phase where I would sneak cookies after everyone was in bed, I headed toward the kitchen. The curtain shears that hung in the living and dining room let in enough light from the street lamp to make my way through the furniture, but kept at bay any of the sharp edges of the real world. As I snuck past the pocket door, I saw Mama. She was standing in our kitchen with all the lights off. She was watching the Truett house for signs of them spying or plotting against us. “That bitch! That friggin’ cocksucking bitch better NOT fuck with me. I will crack her ugly pumpkin sized skull.” I didn’t know if Mama knew I'd come around the corner. She didn’t turn to look at me. She just stayed staring out the window behind the formica table. The blinds were tiny wooden slats open only enough for her to peak out without being seen. In her left hand, she was worrying the whistle over and over with her thumb.
I stayed still and closed my eyes. I let the purest part of me go inward to the secret slot in the center of my heart. I slipped through the slot and out the back to my sacred field of bluebonnets and one-eyed Susans and I floated over to the lighted tree. A boy I didn’t know, but loved and was linked to, straddled the lowest branch and laughed. I swam through the air and allowed myself to feel the shower of light and for a moment I didn’t want to cry.
My eyes were open. I reached for the Flintstones jelly glass and pretended to need water so my cookie thievery could remain safe.
I didn’t want to think that Mama might be the crazy one. It was best to believe that Mrs. Truett had painted fingernail polish on our car and had somehow gotten hundreds of caterpillars onto the ceiling of our front porch. It was best to believe that there were bad guys on the other end of the phone that were getting their due for trying to mess with our happy home. And for sure it was best to believe Mama was a hero and that she and her whistle would not lead us into temptation but would deliver us from evil. That is what was best to believe.