Monday, December 12, 2016

Three Stories by S.J. Culver

Meeting My Mother For The First Time

I met my mother once as a teenager, that is, she was a teenager; I was 26. I had just come out of the market with the groceries for the Moroccan dinner Louise was going to make, and there she was, my mother, waiting on the front stoop of our building. Feathered hair, high-waisted jeans, deep tan. She looked about 16.

“You cook?” she asks, snapping some gum.

“My girlfriend does,” I say, startled.

“Got any pop in there?” she says, nodding toward my paper bags, and so I invite her up for a soda. I see her eyeing the booze bottles once we’ve gotten upstairs, so I suppose they’re still exotic.

Silence, once we’re sitting at the kitchen table, and I find myself praying Louise gets home soon. The gum snaps, a hand runs through her hair, and I’m fascinated by the hideousness of her plaid shirt.

“What’s it’s like?” I ask, meaning her life, because the images that run through my head are bleak—trailer parks, unemployment, my grandfather’s Doberman Pinschers. If she really is 16, Youngstown Sheet and Tube has just closed; U.S. Steel and Republic Steel will fold within a decade, before she’s my age. Central Ohio is becoming a wasteland, one that she will burn to escape.

“What’s what like,” she says.

She’s a cold fish, this mother of mine.

“Your life, you know,” I try to clarify, smiling encouragingly. I feel little pinpricks of sweat beginning at the edges of my face.

She eyeballs me, up and down. Her gaze catches on my white undershirt, my tattoo, my thick diver’s watch.

“You’re weird,” she says, downing the rest of her drink. The ice cubes clink against her teeth or the rim of the glass, I can’t tell. “I gotta go.”

She stands up, and I say something about staying for dinner. She doesn’t know what Moroccan is, makes a face. She walks toward the door. I want her to stay, I have so many things I want to ask her. Things I cannot ask her present iteration, things her future self has willfully buried under the weight of half a lifetime.

On the radio a song plays that she can never have heard. I reach out my hand to her arm, to stop her before she reaches the door, and I am shocked by the coldness of her skin.

“Don’t touch me,” she says, jerking her arm back.

I had to let her go, then, and her picture on the wall rattled as she slammed the door behind her. I put away the groceries and opened the wine I bought to go with dinner. I poured some into one of the mason jars we keep behind the nice glasses and plates in the cupboard.

I had finished the entire bottle of wine by the time Louise got home, and she was angry at me and asked me what had happened, but I wasn’t drunk enough to tell her about meeting my mother for the first time.