Tie Her Around Your Neck
When you see her, she’s crouching in a dim little corner of the bodega. You only stopped on your way home from the hospital because you were going to die without some water. It’s been hot as Hades all week. You never come to this part of town and as far as you know your mother doesn’t either, but there she is, sitting on her haunches like a feral animal, stuffing her face with Ritz crackers.
“Mom?” you say, and she turns so quickly that you stumble backward. Her pupils shrink and dilate as you stare. Her lips are dotted with sticky white crumbs.
She’s supposed to be at the dentist’s office. She’s been texting you all week, terrified of the drill. You reminded her of the Valium prescription and urged her to fill it. You assured her they’d give her a shot to numb everything. The older she gets the more terrified she is of childish things, and sometimes you can’t help but lose your patience. She asked you to come with her to the appointment, but you can’t just take a day off from trauma surgery.
Your mother doesn’t move but her eyes follow you as you step past her, take a bottle of water from the cooler, and leave. Later that evening you send an innocuous text asking how the appointment went, and she responds. Great.
You’re a little worried three weeks later when you haven’t heard from her again. Usually she texts at least once a day – to ask about your husband, your job, if you can stop by to fix something with her computer.
Sorry, she responds, two days after your email. I’m really tied up with my new gym – they have a fantastic spinning class for beginners.
That night on your way home from graveyard shift, you see her squatting on the corner of 4th and Evergreen, pissing into the gutter. You recognize the skirt rucked around her naked thighs, salmon-colored with blue embroidered sparrows. You helped her pick it out last summer at Kohl’s. Her head is angled downward, hair hanging in her face.
You gun the accelerator and almost blow a red light at the next block. Two pedestrians are in the crosswalk and their mouths fall open, but you manage to swerve around them. A mother and her young daughter. You don’t mention any of this to your husband when you get home.
The next day you call her cell, but she doesn’t answer. You text. What is going on?
You see her almost every day now, but she continues to insist that nothing is wrong, and you refuse to spell it out, to let those disgusting words snake out of your mouth. Finally, she stops responding. Honey, her last text says. I know this is hard on you, but it’s for the best. My counselor helped me to realize that I was co-dependent. I need some space while I build this new life.
Your mother, digging through the dumpster behind Albertson’s, the salmon skirt now covered in stains, hair un-dyed and gray where it hasn’t fallen out in patches like on a diseased city pigeon.
Your mother, passed out on the park bench next to a half-empty plastic bottle of Jim Beam. You make an anonymous call to the police, and they say they’ll look into it. You have no idea if they actually do.
Your mother, barefoot and on her knees in front of some weak-chinned young man in the alley behind the cinema. An unbidden image rises from your memory, your mother in her garden in the summer, when you were a girl. The man’s face is turned to the side, biting his lower lip, while your mother’s head bobs up and down. You had to wrench your husband’s arm to keep him from seeing. All night he wouldn’t stop asking if you were all right.
Your mother, eyes purple brown like the hearts of rotten bananas, in line for the Women and Children’s Shelter on 3rd.
All this time you’ve only had one terse email. That she’s moving to a retirement community in Scottsdale. Even as you read her message, her face was pressed to the window in your kitchen, the window that looks onto the side garden where you keep meaning to plant some rhubarb. Her eyes reflected the guttering candles on your table. She kept looking over her shoulder and mouthing something to the bushes. You turned off all the lights and hid in your bedroom, but you heard her hollow tapping on the glass all night.
Your husband says he’s worried. This has to stop, he says. He’s threatening to tell your director about the things you mutter in your sleep.
Your mother, blowing out her veins on the corner. Under the streetlamp you can see her crimped wet hair and her waxy cheeks, her melted hollow eye bones. She’s sitting on the curb and a teenager crouches next to her, shaking her boneless shoulder.
At some point you have to question your sanity.
One morning when your husband is still sleeping deeply, you wake to see the sunlight shining on her mangled hand in the chain link fence outside your bedroom window. Her fingernails are broken and black. You muster the courage, and slip outside.
She’s gained twenty pounds since the time you saw her in the bodega, and her stomach protrudes fish belly pale from a tight blue windbreaker. Her veined legs are splayed at odd angles on the sidewalk. Her jaundiced eyes stare. The way her hand is caught in the fence, you know she was trying to pull herself up to your window.
The worst thing is, you’re pregnant. You’re not religious, but in the golden dawn light you pray for forgiveness. You pray for a baby boy.
Sarah Beaudette is a nomadic writer, currently living in Mexico. She spends most of her time deciphering subway maps in foreign languages and drinking black coffee. Her fiction has appeared in The Masters Review Online, Necessary Fiction, and Trigger Warnings. She can be found online at theluxpats.com and on twitter @sarahbeaudette.
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