B’s attendance at the apartment was sparse enough, between his job and his glaring dedication to meetings. She was under by the time he got home at night and picked fights about whatever she could think of. He became more outspoken in her refusal to get “clean” – I had picked up on some drug references. B sounded as though he thought M was worse than she was before he met her. She had indeed become virtually immobile – living perpetually on the couch with her coffee table of vital supplies and my regular trips to the liquor store. They would even fight in the morning – she had me call the police from a pay phone once on my way to catch the bus for camp – the machine kindly returned the dime to me after the call.
The final call would not need to be made by me. I don’t know that I would ever have told anyone about that last, pivotal incident that brought DSS finally to North Beacon Street in the middle of the night. I would not have told my father, or my counselor at the New England Home for Little Wanderers. Some things are too ugly to say out loud, some things you just know are going to bring the roof down. Even if you know the roof is coming down, or should come down, you don’t want to bring it down yourself. Not on your mother.
B’s brother was getting married. She had to go. She wore the same blue silk dress she had worn to my First (and only) Holy Communion, with white dots and a ribbon draped prettily across her waist, strappy heels on her small, lovely feet. She looked pretty, she was sober, she had my Jamaican girlfriend’s older sister babysit for me, despite my I-am-nine-and-sentient protests. The night, for me, was uneventful, I was happy that she was out of the house, off of the couch, being a woman. I remembered E’s wedding. I had been proud enough to say “the bride is my Aunt”, but thought my mother had looked more beautiful and glamorous than I had ever seen her. When I was younger, before the stairs, she had been a woman, a woman with wiles. Even when there was blood, she maintained her femininity with a surety, a bravado, a grace I would stop attempting to imitate at some point in my twenties. Her post-hospital/rehab/halfway house self was not at all womanly. She was a ghost-woman, not even a shadow of what she had been, now overrun with an unmistakable current of fear, a fear she was attempting to drown with more force than she’d used at any time to date. But tonight, she was female and I felt her power. And somehow, for no articulable reason, I felt hopeful.
Screaming, angry screaming is what roused me later. I opened the door. M was drunk. Still in her dress and strappy shoes, B still dressed in a suit. Him, sober. Clearly sober, even to a groggy nine year-old. She was upbraiding him. He just wanted to go to bed.
“I watched you!”
“You don’t know what you’re talking about, just go to bed.”
“With you? Not in my bed! Get out!”
“P, I’m going to sleep.”
She hit him. This kept him from going to sleep.
“I saw you do it. You got down on your knees, in front of everybody at that wedding, and you sucked your brother’s cock.”
That could not possibly have happened. B saw me then. He wasn’t so much horrified as tired, probably he knew there was no shielding me from this, and no need, to really.
“J, go to sleep, honey.”
She whirled at me, angry at me too.
“Shut your door!”
I did. I climbed back into bed, trying to remember what B’s brother looked like. It didn’t matter. That didn’t happen. Probably he had a nice wedding. I hoped briefly that she hadn’t lost it at the wedding.
She contained herself, assumedly for my benefit, for a little while, but eventually I was up again, at my door, listening to things crash. He was pleading with her. Something wasn’t right. Her voice was different – not angry now, but teasing. Why did he sound so desperate? All I could hear specifically was him saying “PLEASE”. So I opened the door.
He had undressed to his underpants. She wore her dress but no longer the heels. She was stalking him around the short space of the living room, with a carving knife. I didn’t know whether they made carving sizes in S, M and L, but this was large enough for me. Of course I knew she liked knives – she’d made them my personal hobby. I had no record player with a diamond needle, but knives were accessible, I had stolen one from every house I’d ever been in, they were stored lovingly in my top dresser drawer. I had never seen her use one though, just the fear in my throat, from time to time, that she might use one. But now here she was, slender right arm clocked back, knife at her hip, its blade glittering in the dull light of the room.
“I’ll go, just let me put some clothes on, please.”
She kept jabbing it toward him, just tiny little forward movements, a cobra measuring its prey. Deliberately driving him backward, he kept circling, past the door, perhaps not believing she would stab him, that she might be reasonable enough to let him dress.
“Nope, not in that room. You’re never going into that room again, not after what everybody watched you do tonight.”
God, she was so fucking insane. Again he caught sight of me but declined to call her attention to my presence. No doubt for my protection. Although I never feared for myself when the knives came up. She had put the weapons in my hands. She would not turn this bond on me.
“Please, I can’t go out like this.”
“You don’t have a choice.”
“I’ll be arrested.”
“You should be. You filthy son of a bitch.”
I felt bad for B. Just for a moment. Then he grew a sack and made for the bedroom, a slight shift in his face, one of resignation, he would put on pants, with or without bleeding for it. He came towards me and she made a quick adjustment and was in front of him and driving the knife into his belly. I saw it on his face before she pulled back and revealed the visual that corresponded with what I had heard. He puffed out a not-all-that shocked gasp before she drove it in again, deeper this time. He came to life then, driving her forcibly back towards me so quickly that I withdrew into the black room. For her part, she seemed to literally fall asleep. She had no physical response. I could not see her face, but she made no sound, just lay on the bed where B placed her, the knife having clattered to the floor.
“Keep her here. Keep her HERE!” He pulled the door shut behind him and I could hear him crying. Backed up against the door, determined to keep it closed until he escaped, only half afraid that she would rise up for another go, I watched her inert form. She slept. It couldn’t have been a peaceful sleep, and there could be no triumph in her mind, shattered as it was. I heard the door to the apartment close heavily a few minutes later. After a few minutes in a dark I had adjusted to I examined my sleeping mother. She had blood on her beautiful hands, dried now. I noticed for the first time that she had bitten her nails down until her fingertips were raw at some point during the course of the evening. The ribbon was gone from her waist. She didn’t look beautiful, lying there. She looked finished.
© 2012 J. Gallagher
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