My Number One

“Where is my number one?” called Jenny to her only child Jolene, as she unlocked the front door to the modest two-bedroom villa she rented.

“In my room, Mom,” Jolene answered. Jolene was playing a song on her organ that her mom wrote for a regional songwriter’s competition. Jenny wrote the song as a dedication to Jolene and named it “My Number One.” Jolene was Jenny’s only child, and she raised her alone since birth. The extent of the father’s role was only biological; he departed from her when he found out he was not the only one that might have impregnated her.

Boyfriends came and went during Jenny’s eleven years of motherhood. She knew she was not particularly good at picking a winner, but she also knew she hit the jackpot with Jolene. Jolene was her rock. A young girl way beyond her years in wisdom and understanding. It was Jolene’s shoulder that caught her tears after nights of drinking and galivanting around town. It was Jolene that picked up the pieces and patched them back together when her mom was broken.

“The song is coming along nicely. Grab your guitar so we can practice,” Jolene cheered.

“I’m a little tired, Jo. Maybe tomorrow,” Jenny resigned, and slumped onto Jolene’s bed.

“But the competition is less than a week away.”

Jenny saw the pleading blue eyes that matched hers and reached for her acoustic six-string. A few strums later and she nodded for Jolene to begin. Jolene’s fingers graced along the keys; her eyes closed as if entranced with each note flowing through her body like a lazy wave. Jenny strummed the slow ballad and began singing with a slight, twangy rasp. Jolene smiled, satisfied by the oneness of the moment. She hummed between choruses and added a subtle ‘ma, ma, ma’ that worked as the background vocal. Jenny rested her head on Jolene’s shoulder as she began the third verse, her heart bursting with thanks from above for the lifetime gift given to her, even if her head knew she did not deserve her. The song ended amid smiling faces and emotional hugs.

Two days before the competition, a loud knock startled them from their practice. Jenny opened the door and saw the man that was the potential biological father. Jenny stepped outside as Jolene peeked through the front window. A flurry of words between them followed that quickly elevated into colorful expletives and a higher volume. Jolene’s heart sank gradually with each allegation of promiscuity, and number of paternal candidates. Tears welled her eyes as she saw the man challenge her mom for honesty. The verbal war came to a climax with one thunderous question.

“Did you ever tell your daughter you tried to abort her,” he screamed, before stomping away and driving off. Jolene’s eyes widened and her lips were relentless in an involuntary quiver. Jenny lumbered back into the house and saw Jolene run off towards the back patio that led to a wooded trail. Jenny called out only to be muffled by the screaming tears of her child. Jolene ran to her place of oasis, a cast-iron framed bench situated strategically along a trail that caught the sunset perfectly between two large oaks.

As Jenny neared, Jolene’s voice cracked, “Is it true?”

Jenny gulped audibly, searching the branches for answers.

“Is it true?” Jolene screamed.

“Yes,” Jenny whispered, and touched her shoulder. Jolene shook away as if her mom was germ infested. Jenny rose from the bench and headed back towards the house as Jolene’s sobbing faded off with each step. She entered the house and went to Jolene’s room. She picked up her oasis, her guitar. She sloppily strummed while peering at the “My Number 1” sheet music. Each strum brought on more tears and the reality that song would never be heard in the competition. She picked up the sheet music and tore the four-pager into two pieces, then doubling the number with each tear. The pieces fell on the Berber carpet like confetti. She slowly exited the room, grabbed a bottle of vodka from the kitchen and headed to her bedroom to spend the night with her liquid companion.

At dusk, Jolene returned home, dragging her feet as if they were weighted. She entered her room and saw the pieces on the floor. Unmerciful, erratic sniffs accompanied her glossed demeanor as she knelt to the carpet. A feeling of irony overwhelmed her as she picked up each piece. After collecting all of them, she placed them on her desk and retrieved a tape dispenser from a drawer. She pieced together each page with precious patience. Her sniffs were gradually replaced by a soft hum of their song. Anticipation grew with each rip of clear tape from the dispenser. The pages were now reassembled and placed on the easel of the organ. Jolene cracked her fingers, tickled the keys as a warmup and began playing “My Number One.”

Jenny’s eyes squinted through the darkness in her room. Her ears fought the remnants of drunkenness and slowly adjusted to hear Jolene playing. She labored off her bed and stumbled toward her daughter’s room, stopping at the threshold to process the gravity of the moment. She approached her daughter and sat beside her on the bench. Jolene tilted a subtle glance at her and continued playing. Jenny saw the tattered, reassembled sheet music and gently waved her hand across it. She studied her daughter’s lovely profile and felt the warmth of her shoulder on her face.

“Grab your guitar, Mom. There are only two days before the competition.”