The Silence & The Howl (§.30)

continued from chapter 29


CHAPTER 30

Harmon pocketed a tangerine and ambled out of Harold’s cramped apartment. The early morning chill prompted the man to sheath his hands in his jacket pockets whereupon he felt paper and paused beside a group of vagrants along the road to the old breaker. With furrowed brow and pursed lips, he withdrew a small, immaculate piece of paper – expensive and exceptionally durable – a business card he’d forgotten. Methodically, the man turned the rectangle, reading the name there inscribed in the ascending, amber light.

Lynder B. Partridge.

He slid the card back into his pocket and moved towards the vagrants, who all starred intently at the wayfarer. He greeted them warmly.

“Hows it going?”

The eldest amongst them, a man some fifty years of age, bearded, gaunt and filthy, screwed up his face into a scowl of disgust.

“Going just like it looks.”

Harmon remembered the tangerine he had brought along and removed it from his pocket, extending it towards the man.

“You folk look hungry.”

The anger and disgust in the old man’s face melted into a visage of confusion.

“What is it?”

“Its a tangerine.”

Hesitantly, the bearded itinerant took the fruit and nodded graciously.

“That’s very kind of ya.”

One of the younger nomads smiled and gestured towards the small ocherous sphere held in Harmon’s left hand.

“Wouldn’t happen to have more than one a those wouldya?”

“Fraid not.”

Harmon continued along the road to the coal breaker, as a flock of crows spun off the branches of a nearby tree like a living cloak of itinerant night.

A woman stood upon the edge of the precipice which let down into the gulf—from town to processing plant—adorned in a thin-worn longsleeved sweater, hair-tie and mud-stained fishing boots. A large ant’s nest lay beside her, some five feet off, covered in the onyx-sheen of busy carapaces.

“Isn’t it beautiful,” she inquired, gesturing towards the decrepit facility beyond the ridge, which hung between the effulgent sun and the colorless shade of earth, as if suspended within the bleeding outer horizon of some other-world.

A ruined castle from a fantastical realm.

“I don’t find anything beautiful in decay.”

“Plants ain’t decaying.”

“Plants replace themselves. Breaker can’t.”

“I’m more concerned about the plants than that old ugly hunk of iron. You know there used to be a forest here? Say its only right that they had some payback.”

Harmon gestured to the ant hill beside them.

“Would you say the same for the colony?”

Burn

Life is slow

here in a border town

where lazy palms

scantly twitch in dead breezes—

dry and pollen-choked.

Everywhere.

Nowhere.

Cattle,

brown against my hand

and an expanse of cloudless blue,

meander aimlessly,

chewing cud

that never quite hits the spot.

Their eyes, like minds—

blank—

close to things made new

by the blessing of the sun,

cast downward

upon cracks and clods of grey clay

underfoot,

where a fire burns beneath the ground.

Life is slow

here in a border town,

where—in-kind—

like a shadow

I wait for a shift,

the balm of a breeze

to kiss the delicate yellow from the retama

and pave my road.

Everywhere.

Nowhere.

Noon rages overhead

(Devil’s at the crossroads)

as flames whip and lick the sky,

beckoning

just beyond the watery promise

of the horizon.

So, I close my eyes

here in this border town—

everywhere,

nowhere—

seeing white and the blood

that courses through my veins,

dig my toes into the ground, and slowly

burn.

Little Deaths

We implode—

explode—

in raptures

of liquid light

that set the skin

to sizzle on the spit

like slow-cooked meat,

pulled apart

in greedy clutches,

peeling

skin from skin,

limb from limb,

sinew from bone

until all is gone,

fallen away

in shreds

and trickles.

Tongues prodding,

hungrily,

for the taste of coppery bliss

of chewed lips,

these beautiful bodies—

diminished

heartbeats and exhales

of viscera and vasculature

with eyelids, aflutter—

fade

into black, into white—

dick-teasing,

mind-fucking

strobes of abstract consciousness.

Hand-in-hand,

together,

we die

little deaths,

again…

again…

and again—

every morning, a resurrection.

The Silence & The Howl (§.26)

§.26


The four conversants sat in the far right corner of the cafe, the mechanical whirring of the fan and the clinking of cups, paper and plastic, and the skidding of heeled-polymer upon the linoleum floor, the only sounds, save the occassional puff of a cigarette or cigar.

With a broad smile, La’Far broke the silence, gesturing towards Andy.

“Harmon tells me you’re a roofer.”

Andy’s face fell.

“Used to be. Just got fired this mornin. Along with Harmon.”

“Oh. Sorry to hear that.”

Andy wearily waved the man’s apology away.

“Ain’t your fault. Just… one thing after another. Ya know?”

“I know what you mean. Some times it seems as if the universe is arrayed against you.”

Harmon nodded, taking a sip of his coffee before speaking, “Often seems that way to many people. But that’s just narcissism. At this moment there are countless insects tearing each other to pieces. There are spider-wasp larvae gorging themselves on the innards of paralyzed tarantulas. There are chimpanzees cracking open the skulls of monkeys and sucking out their brains. Our own problems rather pale in comparison.

Marla looked on, fascinated, disgusted and horrified, Andy just raised a brow in perplexity, whilst La’Far gave a laugh and knocked the ash from his cigar in the large glass tray that lay in the middle of the circular and well-polished wooden table.

*

The Machine Of Wester Moorley (§.05)

§.05

Albrecht was confident the statue he spied through the window of the school was that which rested in his coat pocket. He strode up the porch and tried the handle.

Unlocked.

Drawn by curiosity the man pressed within and looked around with slight trepidation.

The school, Albrecht surmised, had formerly been a saloon, for a bar counter yet remained, as if it had been judged too troublesome to warrant removal. The curiosity lay upon the teacher’s desk. A small, wooden statue, seemingly identical to the one that Mal had given him. He took Mal’s carving from his pocket and held it up to the other figurine for comparison. In all attributions, they were the same.

He checked the books.

Every single one concerned botany or the planetary sciences. He looked at the shelves to the left of the desk, and again, all the books were the same. No math. No history. No art.

Albrecht furrowed his brow and pocketed Mal’s gift before turning from the bookshelves and the desk as the mechanical chugging of an autowagon rang-out in consecutive succession beyond the old, peeling walls. He returned the statue to the teacher’s desk, pocketed his own and ventured back out to the street where Otto sat with arms crossed in vexation and a look of impatience upon his sunburnt face.

“The hell you doing in there?”

Albrecht got in the car and gingerly shut the door, “Just looking around.”

“You’re an engineer, not a private eye.”

“School was empty.”

“Its the weekend. Folk round here are liable to get ansy, seeing you poking your nose around where it don’t belong.”

As he spoke Albrecht noticed two old men staring at him from the porch of a house to the immediate left of the town hall. They said nothing but needed no words to express their heightened suspicion.

“Sorry. I didn’t think anything of it.”

They sat in silence for several moments as Otto turned the vehicle towards the edge of town, until Albrecht felt compelled to break the spell.

“Who was that woman?”

“What woman?”

“The one sitting outside of the school when we departed the mayor’s office. A tall man and a little girl were with her.”

“Oh. That’s Ms. Saunders.”

“Yes, we spoke a little, before she left. Introduced herself. I meant, what does she do?”

“Sad story really. Husband died some years back, round the same time Moorley came to town. Husband used to be a mechanic. Even helped fix up the pipelines back before they broke down. So when he died Mal had nothing but the inheritance, and that a pittance. But she’s a way with words—started preaching. An unusual creed. Goes wandering about town spouting it.”

“The people that were with her, they’re her… what, students?”

Otto nodded, his eyes fixed upon the road which swiftly vanished in a blur of reddish dust, like the dessicated blood of an ancient beast.

*

The Machine Of Wester Moorley (§.04)

§.04

Otto went to fill up his rusty autowagon for the drive out to the nowheres, leaving Albrecht by his lonesome outside the dingy lifeless building that served as the townhall. While he waited for Otto, Albrecht thought he might stretch his legs and have a look around town and turned of its porch of the mayoral building and headed across the street to the school, where a woman sat beneath the shade of its porch, surrounded by potted plants hung from the underside of the veranda. She was carving something in her left her hand with a knife of bone, thoroughly absorbed in the endeavour. To her immediate right stood a tall, lanky man, with thick bulbous hands, well-worn and gnarled like the roots of a great tree and rusty brown eyes that shone reddish with the midmorning light. A few feet away from both of the figures, to the left of the saloon-entrance, hunched a young woman, watching, with intense interest, a legion of black ants carrying a magnificent looking beetle, which twitched with vain indignancy, its few remaining legs scratching at the remorseless azure sky.

“Morning, ma’ams. Sir.”

The girl looked up fearfully. The gnarled man nodded slowly, without emotion. The old woman’s visage of worldly-detachment swiftly twisted into a fleshy scowl of suspicion.

“You’re not from around here.”

“No ma’am. Albrecht Brandt,” he extended his hand. The woman’s owlish gaze remained fixed upon his face.

“Mal Saunders.” She gestured to the lanky man and the girl, “This is Eddy and Martha. Eddy don’t be rude, say hello.”

Eddy frowned and tipped his mishappen hat.

“You’re here because of the mayor,” Mal stated, “To build that pipeline. That tower.”

Though the words were not spoken in query, he felt compelled to answer as such.

“Yes, ma’am.”

She nodded, more to herself than to Albrecht. Her look of suspicion transmogrified to one of worry and sadness. A visage that bespoke betrayal.

“Do you enjoy your work?” Eddy queried.

“Oh yes. My father was a bridge builder. When I was very young—but a boy—his business took him to Africa. He brought me and my mother along to see it. Ever since, I’ve been interested in building, just ended up bringing water to people instead of helping them cross it.”

The lanky man looked to the old woman as if to measure her approval and then returned his attentions to Albrecht.

“You don’t have no problem with uprooting the land?”

“Everyone needs water.”

“Theys other ways a gettin it.”

“Not out here there isn’t.”

“Theys always other ways.”

Albrecht was silent a moment, confused by the lanky man’s vexation.

“Well I don’t know what to tell you. I was hired by your mayor. If you’ve an issue with the watertower, take it up with him.”

The lanky man grimaced and spit as the old woman shot him a disapproving glare. He feel silent, as if shamed. The old woman then raised the finished carving and held it up for all to see.

“What do you think?”

The lanky man gazed upon it admiringly.

“Its lovely, Ma.”

The little girl smiled and clapped her hands.

Mal Saunders turned the statue round for Albrecht to observe. The effigy was small, only slightly larger than his own fist and depicted a vaguely humanoid female, bloated and monstrous.

“Halloween come early round these parts?”

“No,” Mal responded, “Not Halloween. Please, take it. A gift to welcome you to our town.”

She held out the effigy with a pleasant expression. Reluctantly, he took it.

*

The Machine Of Wester Moorley (§.03)

§.03

Matthias Emery Thall raised his arms in salutations as Albrecht walked through the doors of his study.

“My good sir, at last you have arrived. I am Matthias Thall. Please, take a seat.”

“Your hospitality is much appreciated, Mayor Thall.”

“Oh, please, call me Matt.”

“If you prefer.”

“Otto—why didn’t you pick Mr. Brandt up at the station?”

“Didn’t know when he’d be arriving. You know how it is with the rail, they scarcely know when that thing is coming or going. Lines were down again.”

“Yes. Yes… Well. Nevertheless, we are all here now and, I trust, in fine spirits. You’ll be needing a place to stay, Mr. Brandt, so I’ve arranged some lodgings.”

“That’s grand. Where?”

“Wester Moorley’s place.”

Otto’s eyes darked, brows furrowing. Brandt cast a glance to the mayor’s right-hand man, and then back to mayor, curiosity overwhelming his apprehensions.

“Where is this… Wester Moorley?”

“Otto can show you—isn’t that right?”

“Aye.”

“Well, anything else?”

“About my team and-”

“Details, details! Ah, you just arrived, how thoughtless of me. Mr. Brandt, you must be famished. Can I offer you some refreshment?”

“No, no, I just ate, as a matter of fact.”

“Well, you must be tired.”

“No, took a nap on the train-ride up. Feeling fine.”

I see, I see. Regardless, I’ve many matters to attend to presently. Once you get yourself situated and comfortable, we can see about everything else.”

“As you wish, Mayor Matthi—er… Matt.”

Matthias smiled forcefully—a hollow gesture, and then bent to his desk as Otto ushered the engineer from the mayoral office.

*

When Blood Wants Blood

     There is nothing like the smell of Santeria. It is a distinct smell that jolts me into my body the second I find myself enveloped in it: one that suggests cleanliness—in every respect—but with a little magic mixed in. Not easily reproduced, you won’t find it anywhere but homes or other places, such as my botanica—a Santeria supply store—where regular orisha worship happens. It is the intoxicating blend of lavender-scented Fabuloso All-Purpose Cleaner, stale cigar smoke (used for various offerings to our dead and these African gods), burning candle wax, and subtle, earthy hints of animal sacrifice from the past, offered for the sake of continued prosperity, spiritual protection, and other vital blessings from the divine. You won’t find it anywhere else. No, it is not common fare, much like the smell of ozone immediately after a lightning strike: it is a right time, right place kind of thing. But why wax nostalgic (besides the fact that my own home hasn’t smelled like that for a long time)? It will be Dia de Los Muertos tomorrow and there is much work to do. 

     My boveda or spiritual ancestor shrine has gone neglected for months now, squatting in my cramped dining room, cold and lifeless like the spirits it was erected to appease. A thick layer of dust has powdered the picture frames of my dearly departed, making their rectangular glasses dulled and cloudy. I look at the faces of my maternal and paternal grandparents and find that details that were once fine have phased into each other, as if viewed through a thin curtain of gauze: I can’t clearly see them and they—likely—can hardly see me. That is how it feels, anyway. The white tablecloth on top of the table is dingy, looking yellowed and stained from months of occasional sprinklings of agua de florida cologne and errant flakes of cigar ash. The water glasses (nine of them to be exact—one large brandy snifter and four pairs of others in decreasing sizes) seem almost opaque, now, with their contents having long evaporated, leaving behind striated bands of hard mineral and chlorine, plus the occasional dead fly, who’s selfless sacrifice was likely not met with much appreciation by my dead Aunt Minne or PopoEstringel, my mother’s father. Various religious statues call for immediate attention with frozen countenances that glare, annoyed that my Swiffer hasn’t seen the light of day for some weeks, now. Then there is the funky, asymmetrical glass jar on the back right-corner that I use to collect their change. The dead love money (especially mine). This fact has always suggested to me that hunger—in all shapes and forms—lingers, even after the final curtain closes. Makes sense, if you think about it. We gorge ourselves on life, cleave to it when we feel it slip away, and then after we die we

     The statues—mostly Catholic saints—each have their own specific meaning and purpose on my boveda. St. Lazarus provides protection from illness. St. Teresa keeps death at bay. St. Michael and The Sacred Heart of Jesus, which are significantly larger than the other figures, are prominent, flanking either side of the spiritual table, drawing in—and out—energies of protection and—at the same time—mercy; the two things I find myself increasingly in need of these days. At the back of the table, there is a repurposed hutch from an old secretary desk with eight cubbies of varying sizes, where nine silver, metallic ceramic skulls reside that represent my dead, who have passed on (the number nine is the number of the dead in Santeria). They usually shine, quite brightly, in the warm, yellow glow of the dining room’s hanging light fixture, but they look tarnished, as of late, save the eye sockets, which seem to plead for attention, glistening, as if wet with tears. A large resin crucifix rests in the half-full, murky water-glass (the largest one) that rests in the center of the altar. It sounds sacrilegious, but it isn’t, as placing it so calls upon heavenly power to help control the spirits that are attracted (or attached) to the shrine, allowing positive ones to do what they need to do for my well-being, while keeping the negative ones tightly on a leash. Some smaller, but equally as important, fetishes also haunt the altar space, representing spirit guides of mine: African warriors and wise women, a golden bust of an Egyptian sarcophagus, a Native American boy playing a drum, and four steel Hands of Fatima that recently made their way into the mix after a rather nasty spirit settled into my house last year—for a month or so—and created all kinds of chaos and havoc, tormenting me with nightmares—not to mention a ton of bad luck—and my dogs with physical attacks, ultimately resulting in one of them, Argyle, being inexplicably and permanently crippled (but that is another story). Various accents, which I have collected over the years, also add to the ache (power) of the boveda; a multi-colored beaded offering bowl, strands of similarly patterned Czech glass beads, a brass censer atop a wooden base for incenses, a pentacle and athame (from my Wicca days), a deck of Rider-Waite tarot cards in a green velvet pouch with a silver dollar kept inside, and a giant rosary—more appropriate to hang on a wall, actually—made of large wooden beads, dyed red and rose-scented. Looking at all of it in its diminished grandeur, I am reminded of how much I have asked my egun (ancestors) for over the years and can’t help but feel a little ashamed of my non-committal, reactive (not proactive) attitude in terms of their veneration, as well as their regular care and feeding.   

     This year’s Dia will be different. It has to be. It’s going to take more than a refreshed boveda and fresh flowers to fix what is going wrong in my life right now; a bowl of fruit and some seven-day candles just won’t cut it. Business at the botanica is slow, money is tight—beyond tight—and all my plans seem to fall apart before they can even get started. The nightmares have come back—a couple of times, anyway—and the dogs grow more and more anxious every day, ready to jump out of their skins at the slightest startle, such as the scratching and scuffling from the large cardboard box that’s tucked away in the garage. My madrina, an old Cuban woman well into her 70s that brought me into the religion and orisha priesthood, told me last night that we all have a spiritual army at our disposal that desperately wants to help us in times of need; meaning our ancestors. She said, with enough faith, one could command legions of them to do one’s bidding, using as little as a few puffs of cigar smoke and a glass of water. While a powerful statement, that isn’t how things roll for me. Her prescription for what ails me was far from that simple. “This year, your muertos need to eat and eat well! They need strength to help you and you need a lot of it. When they are happy, you will be happy. When they are not, you won’t,” she advised, searching my eyes for an anticipated twinge of panic, and they didn’t fail her. I knew—right then and there—what she meant, making my stomach feel as if it had dropped straight down into my Jockey underwear. That feeling may have very well dissuaded me from going through with tonight’s festivities if things were so dire at present. Eyebale is a messy business, regardless of how smooth one is with their knife (blood sacrifice always is, which is why I have always had such a distaste for it. Thank God I only do birds). Regardless of that fact, my egun eat tonight at midnight. I give thanks to my egun tonight at midnight. I—hopefully—change things around tonight at midnight. What else can you do when blood wants blood?                     


Originally published at Digging in the Dirt.

Windows

     About two and a half months ago, I was abruptly told via voicemail that my mother was going to have emergency brain surgery. Wednesday night’s social work class—the first one of the semester—had just wrapped-up and after the last of my students exited the building, I headed to my office to grab my satchel, lock-up, and head home.  Per usual, I checked my phone and saw my favorite niece Lauren had called.  “Tio,” she said, “I don’t know if you know this but grandma is having brain surgery in the morning.  Has a couple of blood clots.  Call mom. OK?  I miss you.  Bye, tio.”  

     I chuckled—a bit—at the irony of the situation, as I had ended the class with an exercise that a colleague suggested I try that involved exploring personally held attitudes about specific stages of human development, ranging from birth to old age.  I had students stand against the whiteboard in front of the classroom and share their thoughts, thinking this would be a nice way bond as a cohort.  Things went along smoothly for about five minutes, until all the crying started.  They cried about their childhoodsfathers that left thembullyings in high schooldivorces, and empty nests.  I wanted to strangle Cynthia, my colleague.  One of my older students (probably in her 50s) got up next.  She started to share but then completely broke down.  We were all stunned into death-like silence.  Apart from her crying, it was so quiet in there that you could have heard a blotter of acid being dropped back in the 1960s.  Eventually, she composed herselfapologized, and informed the class that she had just lost her mother a few days prior; her announcement did little to shatter the awkwardness in the room. She talked about how difficult it was to have the tables turned on her and have to watch the people that took care of her all her life deteriorate, requiring her to take care of them, now.  Embarrassed, she wiped her eyes and promptly sat down, surrounded by her very empathetic peers.  As I watched, I remembered the picture of my mother and that I have on my refrigerator door that I see every morning when I grab some rice milk for my cereal: she is on a hideous 1970s couch with perfect hair and makeup with me—shirtless in pajama bottoms, holding a copy of The Very Hungry Caterpillar.  We both looked happy.  Overcome with guilt, I threw myself upon the pyre and decided to suffer along with everyone else.  Plus, I knew they would remember this night, during instructor evaluation time.  I took a deep breath, dove right in, and did well until I got to old age, but got through it, somehow.  

     “Class dismissed.” 

     The hospital my mother was in was about an hour away from campus.  It was already after 9:30 PM and I was tired from a long, monotonous day of grading papers and advising students for the upcoming Spring semester; moreover, the evening’s hysterics didn’t help. It’s hard enough holding a space for three hours, lecturing non-stop and engaging students, but when you have twelve grown people crumbling apart before your very eyes it becomes damn near impossible.  I was exhausted. Reinforcements were necessary: I needed caffeine and many, many cigarettes. 

     I stopped by a convenience store on my way to Edinburg to get supplies.  I parked the car and turned off the ignition, preparing to get out when the reality of the situation hit me like a flu: my 85-year-old mother was having brain surgery and there was a very real chance she may not make it.  This wasn’t like one of her falls, which I had already gotten accustomed to by that point, or one of her patented melt-downs that left her husband and anyone within calling distance flustered and unsure of what to do to calm her.  She had been suffering from Alzheimer’s for two or three years, already, and it seemed to be advancing at an exponential rate, especially this past year. She lost her words more than not.  Her short-term memory was unpredictable at best. There were even times when she would attempt to speak but couldn’t; she would just sit there with a look of frustration on her face—still, as a statue—then let out a, “Damn!” and then focus on whatever happened to be on TV at the time, as if nothing had happened.  Things hadn’t been easy and didn’t seem to be letting up any. No, this was very different. 

     I made it to the hospital in record time, hauling-ass at around 85 miles per hour after procuring my fixes.  After driving around parking lots for about fifteen minutes, I finally was able to find a spot and made my way to the Neuro ICU. When I got to her room, I saw frail frame curled up in her hospital-bed, disheveled and confused, surrounded by a concerto of blinking lights and rhythmic beeps that came from the various monitors she was connected to by tubes and multi-colored wires.  Her gown—a yellow so ugly she would have left against medical advice if she were more lucid—was off one shoulder, exposing more skin than I was comfortable with (though her sitter, a squat, older lady of about 60, didn’t seem to be phased in the slightest).  I looked over at the woman—I believe her name was Thelma–who had been there ten hours, already, due to my mother having tried to get out of bed multiple times that day.  “Son,” I quickly blurted in her general direction, attempting to get formalities out of the wayMy mother kept trying to pull her gown from her legs, unaware of how scantily clad she already was.  I pulled it back over her knees and grabbed her hands to try and calm her along with a serenade of rhythmic shooshing. 

     “I thought you said you didn’t have a son, Alda,” the sitter said. 

     Foggy, my mother answered, annoyed, “I don’t.”  She looked at me blankly.  “I have Lisa, my daughter.  I have Katie, her daughter”  She started at her gown, again.  “NoI don’t have a son.” 

     had prepared myself for pretty much anything on the drive up to the hospital, but it still stung. “Wishful thinking, old woman,” I said, looking into her eyes, smiling and rubbing the top  

top of her crepe-papery hand.  

     She laughed, apparently remembering some things about us.  After scanning my face more, a light turned on. My baby! Anthony!  Where were you? I’ve been waiting! 

     “Teaching, mom. It’s Wednesday.  I just found out about this an hour ago.”  I squeezed her hands, noticing how pale she was.  I didn’t remember her skin being so white.  “You OK?”  My eyes began to sting and water. 

     Seeing the tears start to well up in my eyes, she said, “You love me” with a pitying look upon her face.  “No…you don’t love me.  You like me, but you don’t love me.” She turned her head away, perhaps distracted by a fly or a moving figure on the TV screen—maybe one of those crazy hallucinations she has from time to time. 

     “Well, not right now I don’t.”  Again, she laughed. “I love you, mom…I do,” I assured, using the tank-top under my maroon dress shirt, as a tissue, to mop up a burgeoning flood of tears and snot.  In an attempt to cut through the pall in the room, tried to lighten things up by telling her about the picture on my refrigerator that I had looked at that morning—not really knowing what else to say—but it didn’t seem to register. 

     The next hour or so was spent keeping her calmkeeping her covered, dodging heart-breaking pleas to take her home.  To make things worse, she would, intermittently, talk in word salad: random words strung together in nonsensical sentences.  For a stretch that seemed to go on forever, she talked nonstop and said absolutely nothing. Other times she would snap out it and speak only Spanish, talking to her father, who had died thirty-five years prior, repeating over and over, again, “Ayudamepapi! Ayudame!  (Help me, Daddy! Help me!).” I just stood there, crying, wishing he would and feeling bad that I didn’t feel bad about thinking it. 

     At some point, her lucidity seemed to return some, so I took advantage of the moment and asked if she was scared about going into surgery in the morning, but she was oblivious to all that business.  “They’re doing a procedure, mom.  In and out.  Easy.”  I smiled, hopinwhat might be the last conversation I had with her wouldn’t be a lie.   

     “Not with my hair looking like this, I’m not!”  (If you knew my mother, you would know this was a really good sign).  

     “It looks fine, I laughed, but as soon as things started to look more optimistic, the pleading and agitation returnedAll I could do was stand there with tears, staining my cheeks, and think about everything that could possibly go wrong in the next few hours. When she finally calmed down, she turned to me and looked at me with a suspicious look I hadn’t seen since my early 20s. 

     “What do you want?” she demanded. 

     “Cocaine,” I said.  She didn’t laugh, but—honestly—it didn’t necessarily sound like a bad idea at the time. 

     “No, you want something.  What is it?” She turned away from me with a stare that peeled off my skin like duct-tape, leaving me feel—for a moment—utterly raw. I thought about my phone and how much I hated it. 

     Midnight had come and gone, and she showed no signs of tiring.  I was physically and mentally spent.  I thought about her. The surgery.  The “what ifs.”  I fought back tears—when I could–holding her hands the whole time, never letting go.  Then, suddenly, her restlessness subsided, as quickly as it came. She turned to me, again, and just looked at me.  That frustrated look I knew so well had resurfaced. She wanted to talk but couldn’t.  Our eyes locked and in that moment, I saw her, the mother on the couch with perfect hair and make-up, and—through all my artifice and bullshit—she saw me, shirtless little boy in pajama bottoms, holding a copy of The Very Hungry Caterpillar and for a few seconds we were both happy, again.

# # #


From Indelible Fingerprints [Alien Buddha Press]; originally published by Down in the Dirt.