After the funeral, he takes you back to his mother’s trailer—he wants to show you where he found her. He fumbles with the keys. Perhaps they suddenly feel foreign: triangles mixing with hexagons—in his grief he can’t distinguish them.
You walk into cat-piss stench, though it’s been years since his mother owned one. There, at that card table, younger-you nibbled pork chops smothered in her ketchupy brown sugar sauce, cat on the tabletop licking up scraps.
“Right here,” he points to the space before the recliner. Now that he’s shown it, you want to go. Instead he lays down and works his arms and legs into angles only a dead person would tolerate. “I found Mother, like this.” A week ago he called you, frantic, from this spot, but you heard only his gargled throat noises and Bob Barker in the background.
“I’m so sad, Bevvy,” he whispers, but his eyes are dry. You’ve wanted him to cry all week. You imagined stroking his hair, whispering lullabies stored up for your someday-children. But now you think only about the carpet fuzz that will layer his dark suit, how he won’t bother with dry cleaning, so the ammonia stench will linger for the next occasion. He stares at the popcorned ceiling. You glimpse a boy-son who suddenly wants his mother—not the way he had her last: teetering on a last wheeze, angry white knees poking up between chair wheels, but the after-death picture-perfect way: the afternoons when she could still bend to carpet and push around his toy cars.
When he finally does get up, he’s not the same.
Once he said he had a secret. You were brushing your teeth; he hovered in boxers. Heart against ribs, you had white-knuckled the sink’s edge. Just married and still in love, you knew whatever he told you, you’d live with.
“I wish she was dead.”
“My mother.” He’d sunk onto the toilet seat, hands to head, his hair puffed between clenched fingers.
“Don’t we all sometimes.” You had actually laughed.
When he looked up, black pupil had swallowed up blue iris. “No. This is different, I actually plan out the accidents. A bar of soap under the tub, a rug flipped up. She phones, and I think, one of these days—” Then he cried, “I’m just so tired…” and you’d cradled his head against your side. You’d imagined worse secrets, but he didn’t want your relief. He wanted not to feel like a monster.
Which no one could accuse him of being: not the nurses who dressed his mother for his daily visits. Not you, who hoped for a Sunday breakfast where she wouldn’t call, her pills mixed up again, demanding he come sort them out.
He brings home her war glass first: easter yellows, pinks, blues. Her corner hutch follows (the glassware needs someplace to live). He says they’re worth something, but your Google search says not much.
A garden of porcelain cats grows across your window sill. The fat part of the watering pitcher bumps one off. You gather the pieces in a plastic sandwich bag but forget to toss them in the trash. You discover him weighing the bag of pieces in one hand.
“I’m sorry,” you say.
“It doesn’t matter. It’s just cheap crap.” But he finds glue.
“Now? It’s dinner time.” You say it carefully—he’s as fragile as those cats.
“Then afterwards,” he says. Afterwards, you dry dishes while he sits at the table, glossy pages of Cooking Light spread beneath the pieces he lays out, then numbers. He returns the glued cat to the ledge. The ear is chipped; the tail slides off. He sighs.
He brings home a 1980s waffle iron, a vacuum cleaner with clear plastic sides showing sucked-up buttons, and a hand-cranked mixer that belongs in Savers, not your kitchen. There is also the recliner, grease stained from his mother’s unwashed hair. It squats on your porch because he can’t slide it through the door.
He presents them excitedly, like treasures.
“But…but I don’t need them,” you say. You question your memory of him, slouched half-naked on the toilet, guilty for wishing her gone. Now he wants her back.
“You’re always complaining about our vacuum cleaner. Our waffle iron smokes. The beaters on our mixer are broken. Honestly, Bev, I thought you’d be pleased.”
“I won’t use them. They’ll only take up space.”
He stands very still and gives you the queerest look. “I should never have told you.” The chill sucks your breath away.
Somehow, he pulls the recliner into the living room. It’s the chair younger-yous once giggled past to his bedroom, the chair she supervised from as he fiddled with her heat exchange instead of working. (Later, his boss did something you’d never do…threw him out.) You find him, feet up, fast-forwarding reruns of Buck Rogers. Her tiered end table and the brass lamp, too old for modern bulbs, flank the recliner.
“You don’t need to buy a dresser anymore,” says the back of his head.
“Stop it, Treehorn. Stop it. This is my house, not your mother’s.” He turns and his eye-whites narrow.
You stalk to the bedroom. Her dresser welcomes you. You yank open a drawer, expecting your folded shirts inside. The stench of floral old woman and cat piss billow out: bare except for a yellowed tooth stuck in back. You gag.
The baby-sized hole in your relationship has grown into the overweight shape of his mother. You’ve missed him for weeks. Shoes on, you lie down on the comforter, craving him to miss you back.
When your eyes open, he is silhouetted against the darkening window. He smokes over you. Downy grey ashes flick your face. Your instinct is to yell, but his eyes check you. Exposed, you flip the comforter over yourself, but you can’t hide the burst of fear: what he’s wishing now.
M.E. Kopp lives in Minneapolis, MN, ghostwrites ebooks for a living, and has been published in various lit mags across the US and UK.
Photo by Daderot (http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AHigh_chest%2C_Philadelphia%2C_1760-1780%2C_mahogany_with_tulip-poplar%2C_brass_-_Winterthur_Museum_-_DSC01449.JPG) via Wikimedia Commons.