by CL Bledsoe
Boy's mother suffered from a degenerative bone, muscle, and tissue disease which, over the course of Boy's life, had eaten at her until she withered and shrank like a puddle in the sun. By the time Boy entered high school, she was forced into a nursing home, as she needed constant care and supervision, and by the time he graduated high school, there was nothing left of her but a mouth, an ear, a set of lungs, and a pile of bones.
Boy's father visited her everyday, bringing chocolates, lip glosses, ear rings, and anything that occurred to him that might bring her some comfort. Boy visited infrequently. He was overwhelmed with guilt every time he saw his mother because she had begun showing symptoms of the disease right after he was born and he blamed himself, and because he knew, deep down, that if he truly loved her, if he was truly a good son and a responsible person, he would release her from the prison of her dwindling flesh.
The disease was passed genetically, usually manifesting itself in the fourth decade of a victim's life, which explained some of Boy's difficulties getting started in life.
"You act like you've already got it," his aunt once told him, "you've still got twenty-five, thirty good years."
"I've never been good at math," Boy said.
This conversation happened just after Boy's mother's most recent operation, in which her lungs had to be removed because she'd developed pneumonia. Boy's aunt had driven him to the hospital to visit, at his father's request, as Boy's father refused to leave her bedside.
The doctor was talking to Boy's father as they entered.
"We managed to save her mouth and several ribs, and an ear," the doctor said, brightly, "and most of the bones of her pelvis."
Boy's aunt nudged his father, "that's the part you really need, eh Willy?"
"She'll need constant life support, but she'll live," the doctor concluded.
"Thank God for that," Boy's aunt said.
Boy looked past them to the mouth lying prone on the bed, asleep. Her lips were flaccid and they'd managed to save part of her chin where she sported a beauty mark. Above the lips, a few stray hairs sprouted from the bit of upper lip they'd saved.
"She is just pretty enough to eat," Boy's aunt said. "Willy, you sure got lucky with this one."
Boy's father nodded sagely while Boy's mind filled with ways to end his mother's misery.
The first symptoms of the disease were loss of memory and muscle control. Every time Boy's mind stumbled, he felt his flesh wither. If his leg twitched strangely, he knew it to be a sign of the end. Once, he'd fallen asleep on the couch with his legs propped up on the high, hard arm, and woke to the phone ringing. He tried to jump up to answer it, but both of his legs were asleep. He crawled for the phone, and when it quit ringing before he could get to it, lay on the floor in the hall crying for himself for a long while, until he finally got up to urinate and realized his legs were working again.
The guilt of his mother's suffering weighed on him. He began visiting her, though she rarely recognized him. She slept most of the time, but sometimes he entered her room to find her crying. The first time this happened, he'd resolutely placed a pillow over her mouth and held it there for several minutes until he noticed a sign on the wall that said that all the pillows in the nursing home were made of extremely breathable cotton in order to prevent suffocation "accidents."
Once she realized what he was trying to do, she thanked him.
"That's my Boy," she wheezed, and he was filled with purpose.
Next, he tried to unplug her life support, but the machine plugs were bolted into the walls and equipped with alarm sensors in case of tampering.
He thought about sabotaging the machines themselves, perhaps injecting something into an IV drip, but these, likewise, were all reinforced to prevent tampering.
"Don't you quit on me, Boy," his mother said. "You were always my favorite."
In between bouts of attempted murder, Boy sat at home and wrote out detailed plans, but when he went to the nursing home to attempt them, there was always some obvious flaw he hadn't noticed. He couldn't figure out a way to do it that would allow him the time to complete the task and also not lead to him being caught.
"I don't want you to be blamed for it, if we can help it," his mother said.
It was disheartening work, and to keep him motivated, he wrote out every memory he had of his mother before the degeneration, but it had begun just after he was born, and his memories of her as a whole being were few. There was the time she was standing in the kitchen...there was the time somebody asked something and she didn't know the answer...there was something about green stamps and a vacuum cleaner.
Meanwhile, his aunt had taken to dropping by regularly to check up on him, bringing food and vitamins, and laxatives for Boy's father. Every time she burst into the living room Boy had to hide his murder plans and sketches or pretend they were homework.
"You know," she said once, "your father didn't even graduate high school and he never went hungry. It's a shame the apple fell so far from the tree."
Boy nodded and asked her to hand him a glass.
"Why?" It's empty," she said.
"Pick it up by the glass part and try not to smudge it," he said. He held it up to the light, admiring the perfect set of prints and smiled.
"You're such a strange boy, Boy," she said.
It should be noted that Boy's father had been something of a drunk and womanizer before his mother's recent degradations. The day she went into the nursing home was the last day he'd drunk hard liquor.
"Best thing for him," Boy's aunt said, "tragedy brings out the best in people. Ow," she added as Boy surreptitiously plucked several hairs from the back of her head."
"Must be a draft in here," Boy said.
Later that day, he went to the nursing home only to find his father in bed with his mother, nibbling her ear.
"Boy," his mother said, as he stood, staring in disbelief, "I'm so happy," she said, "I'm so happy."
Boy's father snored softly in the bed beside her. On his way out, Boy threw away the perfect set of prints, the hair, the toenail clippings, and all the other evidence he'd amassed. He went home and climbed onto the shelf in the top of his bedroom closet where he and his sister had their clubhouse when they were both very young. The walls were still littered with crayon drawings of houses and smiling parents they'd made when they were kids. Except now, the thin plywood strip of shelf bowed under his weight. He refused to climb down, though, until the wood finally cracked and split, dropping him to the floor with a loud thunk. His aunt, who'd been going through drawers in Boy's father's bedroom, came running in.
"What happened, Boy?" she asked.
"'Nothing gold can stay,'" Boy muttered before passing out.
Boy's arm wasn't broken, no matter how much he wished it to be. He returned to the nursing home in hopes that his mother might want to die again, and this time, noticed his father chatting to one of the more full-bodied nurses slumping around the nurse's station. The cow laughed and Boy's father leaned in close to nip her ear. Boy went into his mother's room, but she was sleeping softly. Her lips were curled into a smile, and as he entered, she stirred and spoke Boy's father's name.
"No," Boy said, "it's me."
The smile faltered and they spent an awkward moment in silence before Boy turned and left.
Days went by until Boy received a frantic phone call from the nursing home, trying to reach Boy's father.
"She's in the ambulance now," the nurse said, "what's left of her." Boy wondered if the voice belonged to the cow.
He tried to find his father and couldn't, since it was lunch time, and he was probably out somewhere, eating.
Though he hated to, Boy called his aunt.
"Her own ear?" his aunt said, on the drive over.
"Yes," Boy said.
"Ate it? The whole thing?"
"Yes," Boy said. "And her upper lip, also, apparently."
"Why would she do that?"
Boy stared out the window as the beige hills flowed by. "Maybe she was hungry," he said.
At the hospital, they had to wait a long time while Boy's mother was in surgery, and finally, they got in to see her. There was nothing left of her but a bottom lip, which looked partially chewed. It quivered and tried to speak, but only half-formed vowel sounds emerged. Boy's father was nowhere to be found, so Boy sat with her until she fell back to sleep.
Afterwards, he asked his aunt to stop by the nursing home and tried to find the nurse he'd seen his father with, but it was her day off.
"What's her name? Where does she live?" Boy asked.
The other nurses all stared at him like dumb-eyed cattle until he finally left. His aunt was sitting in her car outside, so he turned around the corner of the building and set off across the field behind, determined to walk home alone.
"She wants to die," Boy said, when his father finally dragged himself in, drunk and stinking of sex. "That's why she did it. She was trying to kill herself. While you were out..." he gestured to finish the sentence.
His father dropped his head and cried wretchedly for several seconds. Boy waited for him to finish. "What are we going to do about it?" Boy asked.
His father shook his head.
"We have to help her," Boy said. "It's either got to be you or me."
His father nodded for a long time until Boy got tired of watching him and went to bed.
The next day, Boy woke to the phone ringing. It was strangely reminiscent of the time on the couch, but this time he answered it.
"What did you do?" the voice said. It was his aunt. "I hope you're happy. Your father has been arrested. He's probably going to prison for the rest of his life. Which means you'll have to get a job. Or worse, he's going to go back to his old ways, now, catting around. I hope you're happy," she repeated.
"What happened?" Boy asked.
"Like you don't know," his aunt said and hung up. Boy went into the kitchen and found his father sitting at the table, reading the paper. His father nodded at him and Boy nodded back.
"I thought you were in jail," Boy said.
"Bail," his father said. "Probably won't even go to trial."
His father described the scene to Boy. He'd gone early, as soon as visitor hours started, and spoken with Boy's mother for a long time. They'd made peace and it was like it used to be. Then, when she was perfectly happy again, they kissed and he swallowed her and that was that.
"I didn't chew," he said, holding Boy's eyes for a long moment.
He was the most sober Boy had ever seen him, and Boy realized the man could never not be sober again.
There was a sudden banging on the door. Boy glanced out the window and saw that it was his aunt.
"Locked it," his father said.
They exchanged nods again and Boy began to fill his bowl with cereal. Aside from the banging on the door, it was quiet, peaceful, a perfect moment.
About the author:
CL Bledsoe is the author of two poetry collections, _____(Want/Need) and Anthem. A third collection, Riceland, is forthcoming later this year. A chapbook, Goodbye to Noise, is available online at www.righthandpointing.com/bledsoe. A minichap, Texas, was recently published by Mud Luscious Press. He has fiction in Pindeldyboz, The Pedestal, Hobart, and elsewhere. His story, "Leaving the Garden," was selected as a Notable Story of 2008 for Story South's Million Writer's Award. He is an editor for Ghoti Magazine, blogs at Murder Your Darlings, and also writes a flash fiction serial called ""The Idealists" which appears every two weeks.