The first storm of the summer rolled in as Karen walked home from her day job, waiting tables at the corner bar for two bucks an hour plus tips. From her right hand dangled a plastic grocery bag containing a jar of peanut butter, a partially smashed loaf of bread, two packs of smokes, and a pint of Jack Daniels. She was still two blocks from her door when the rain started in earnest.
With her dress clinging to her wet skin like an unwanted lover, she splashed down the sidewalk. She jammed the key into the lock and stepped into the tiny apartment where she lived alone, with her son. The smell of stale cigarettes and tired dust greeted her at the door. Slipping off her shoes, she kicked them across the kitchen and proceeded to pour two fingers of Jack into a dirty glass. She stared out the window at the rain slanting across the parking lot, and poured two more.
As the storm thundered outside, she strode down the short hallway to her son’s room, ignoring the fist-sized holes in the plaster and the family portrait-shaped squares of faded paint on the wall. She pushed open the door without knocking. “Turn off the fucking video game and make us some dinner, would you?”
Shaun switched off the set and looked up at her hopefully. “Hi, Mom. How was your day? Do you have to work tonight?”
So much like his father, she thought. Right down to the cowlick and the eager fawning look in his eyes. “Just get out there,” she said, and went to her room to change.
From the pocket of her waitress uniform she extracted a soggy ten, two fives, and four ones, tossing them on the bed; it was all she had left after the groceries. Dripping rainwater on her way to the closet, she undressed to her slip and stood on tip-toes to reach behind a teetering pile of phone books, dusty holiday decorations and last year’s People Magazines until her ragged bitten fingernails touched the cold metal shape hidden in back.
It stood ten inches tall, tarnished gold, and near the base was an engraving which once read “Margaret, Loving Mother” until the night Karen scratched it away with a nail file and consecrated its ashy contents to the Minneapolis septic system. On the bed, she clasped the vase between her thighs, shivering at the cold feel of it, and thought of Dave.
They let me out in August, he’d told her. I’m going back to Memphis. If you want to come, fine, but leave your kid at home. Send him back to his father, send him to the moon, I don’t care, but come alone and don’t come penniless. I’m not going to be your moneyman.
She smoothed out the damp bills and estimated that, with what was inside, it would be three months more until she had enough to go. It would be a fresh start: the new beginning she’d needed for years. Shaun would be fine with his loser father; in fact, they’d be like two peas in a pod. With that thought in mind, she removed the lid of the urn… and screamed.
As the storm intensified outside and the lights of the apartment flickered overhead, she stumbled out to the kitchen where Shaun stood preparing sandwiches. Her breasts were dark shapes visible through the damp clinging fabric of her slip; he averted his eyes as she held the urn out before her like some terrible offering. “Where is it?” Her voice cracked, thundered, “You little bastard, where is my money?”
He hung his head, saying nothing; he was afraid to look at her, and his reticence only infuriated her more. Without warning she flung the urn across the room, catching him squarely in the forehead and dropping him to the ground. It bounced away with a hollow gong and rolled across the floor to fetch against the coffee table. In a weird stork-like gait, she strode across the chipped linoleum and kicked him once, then leaned over and began to scream incoherently at this boy who reminded her so much of his father.
With his head pounding and the whiskey reek filling his nostrils, he stared up past the tapering white towers of her legs into her dark wrath. He moaned and tried to roll away, but she hit him repeatedly, her doubled fists clubbing his gashed forehead; blood spattered onto the cheap laminate cabinets. “Mom, stop it, please. No Mom,” he cried, his voice dissolving into hitching gasps as her stormy rage went unchecked.
Finally her fury subsided; he was left with the sound of her sobbing next to him. “What have you done? How will I get to him now?” she wept, clinging to her son. Shaun pushed her away and climbed to his feet, then pulled from his pocket the necklace he’d bought that afternoon with the urn money. “Happy Birthday, Mom.” Tears streaming down his bloody cheeks, he placed it clumsily over her head. “I’m sorry. I didn’t know any other way to keep you from leaving.” With the sound of his mother’s sobs trailing behind him, Shaun walked slowly back to his room and closed the door.
Kip is chronicling the life of an exiled Nordic Warrior King at www.misterass.com. He writes to keep the flying monkeys away.