The Many Ends of My Son #18
My mother-in-law has been here four days too many with three more to go. I need some space, the whole point of her visit. I’m on deadline. I have to finish this final chapter by the end of the week, or my publisher wants the advance back. They staked me a year. My wife had killed herself, but enough already. Truth is, I was already a year behind when she fell asleep in our leased Honda Accord, listening to Benedict Cumberbatch read Moby Dick.
I ask my mother-in-law to take Ishmael to the Y for his swim lessons. He’s barely three, but with a name like that, the sooner he learns, the better. The Y is six blocks from our apartment. They’ll have to walk. I returned the Accord, but still make payments on the lease. The early termination fee was too high. Whatever. $219 per month. Money well spent. Out of sight. Out of mind. The only way to get work done.
My mother-in-law leaves with Ishmael. I eat a bowl of generic Cheerios, standing over the ice-cold stove. I sit down at my desk, which is in the living room, at the window overlooking the parkway. I lower the blinds and masturbate. Only recently have I rekindled that old self-immolating fire in the belly.
I hit the bathroom, wash my hands, and return to the desk. I open the blinds. The world is still outside. Oh great.
My cellphone goes off, the FaceTime ringtone. It’s my mother-in-law. I answer. Her face doesn’t look so old on the screen. The pixels hide her wrinkles. She could pretty much pass as my wife. Her expression bears bad news, not panicky, more of a I hate to break it to you…but. Her daughter wore the same reluctant grin every second of every day.
“There’s been an accident,” she says. “Ishmael was hit by a white P.T. Cruiser.”
“Do they still make those?”
“They made this one.”
“But he’s ok?”
“Then why are you telling me this over FaceTime?”
“It’s urgent, and I thought this the most personal way of conveying the news.”
“Is it bad?”
“As bad as someone like you can imagine.”
“That sounds like a dare.”
“You’re a psycho.”
“Takes one to know one. You think your creative powers are based in fact?”
“Get out of my head. If he’s dead, he’s dead. Call the paramedics. I’ll be right there. Right after I put this bullet in my brain.”
“He’s not dead.”
“For the love of God stop fucking with me. He’s all I have left.”
“It was a hit and run. He’s hanging on by threads, literally. He’ll never be whole again. You’ll spend all your time and money trying to fix him. You can make a decision right now. I haven’t called 911 yet. We could end this clean. Everyone can think the Cruiser finished him.”
“Are you saying what I think you’re saying?”
“You know I grew up on a farm. I’ve handled hundreds of chickens.”
“What, you’re going to snap his neck?”
“He’s unconscious. He’s already out of his misery. You can have a normal life. You’ll heal somewhat. You’ll grieve, but you’ll be free. You can make another.”
“With who? Your daughter left me for Herman Melville.”
“That’s what you get for marrying a Rhodes scholar.”
“You raised her.”
“You are an author. She was a literary critic. That’s the raunchiest kind of incest. You’re lucky Ishmael wasn’t born a peg leg with Richard III-type scoliosis.”
“He’s a beautiful boy, inside and out.”
I lose it. I sink to the bottom of the sea. I take a whale of a breath, and scream at the top of my lungs. Nothing comes out. A glassy string of drool and a few drops of spittle. I gag. Guilt lodged in my throat. My mother-in-law smiles as if really meaning it.
I force my voice through a pinhole, airing out my grievances with croaky sorrow.
“What are you grinning at? You’re the one who messed her up. Have you no shame?”
“No shame at all. It’s not like I read Sylvia Plath to her as a girl. I never read to her, period. The books did her in, which is why you have to fill your last chapter with some goddamn humanity.”
She angles the phone down. Ishmael is standing there, not a scratch, healthy as ever, his Sponge Bob beach towel draped over his shoulder.
“April Fools’!” he shouts.
I jump from my chair, and make a mad dash for the door. I’m going to kill her. I descend four stories dreaming up the ways. After I fulfil every gory means, I’m going to hug the hell out of her. She has taught me the only valuable lesson. I push through the breezeway doors, and launch myself down the stoop. The world isn’t outside. It’s all in my head, and people only see what they want.
Eugenio Volpe is author of the eBook The Message. His stories have appeared in Salamander, New York Tyrant, Post Road, Thought Catalog, The Nervous Breakdown, The Good Men Project, BULL, and dozens more. His recently completed novel won the PEN Discovery Award. He teaches writing and rhetoric at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles.
(Next story: Speaks My Language by Katherine Forbes Riley)
(Previous “Kill People” story: Moonless by Z.Z. Boone)
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