My Other Mother Ch. 15byAmeaner©
Roxanne still slumbered cozy and snuggly in her bed, the only thing of hers left in the room save for the large athletics bag underneath it by the time I'd completed my last trip to the dumpster and back. My mother's insistent desire to leave nothing of ourselves or Roxy behind smacked a little of paranoia to me, yet part of me agreed with her feelings on the matter, the same way I took seriously her feeling of being watched and perhaps for the same instinctual reason.
I watched Roxy sleeping, envying her that on account of my own weariness and the peace sleep offered, but couldn't guarantee. Too much had happened, things that could and did follow me to sleep.
Quietly locking and closing the door behind me, I made my way through the near darkness of the outer hall to the main staircase and began the morose climb to our floor when something stopped me.
The building was quiet but for the low sound of sobbing despair, the kind of crying that spoke of having nothing left and nothing to ever hope for. It was a man. I couldn't tell from where the sound was coming, but I knew the empty, mournful echoes originated from somewhere inside the building as surely as I also knew it was Joe.
I stood listening to him, wallowing vicariously to the abject misery that Mum had planted in the soil of his spirit, eyes closed while I willingly underwent this dark, punishing experience. I stayed still for a short time after he finally petered off, only digging the curved, plastic pint bottle out of my back pocket for a swig, closing my eyes and grimacing at the taste of both the liquor and my current feelings as I screwed the cap back on.
I didn't feel much better after another long, hot shower as I stood alone in our empty room, looking at our two black athletics bags in the corner. A small, sad smile crossed my lips when I pictured the bed against the wall, remembering our first few nights there. Even the cardboard I'd adhered to the gaping hole in the plaster in order to keep Mum's 'slithering monster creatures' at bay had been taken down and removed.
With a sigh, I put my blue plaid work shirt back on over my gray T without bothering to button it up, instead walking to the wall switch, cutting power to the overhead light, then moving to the large black bags to rearrange them slightly. A moment later I was sitting on them, my back against the wall, head resting beside the open window.
This was her final instruction, to wait there for her, and that's all there was left to do besides imagine what horrible, underhanded things she may be up to at that very second to ensure our future. This proved pointless and too obvious a distraction from my own feelings of guilt and self disgust to work. At this point, I was actually afraid to sober up and the irony that I'd probably be leaning on my own parasite from then on didn't escape me.
"She'll probably win."
"No, she won't."
"In the end..."
"No. She won't. It can't be allowed."
"She'll get to you easier than she got to me. She already has. You're too much like her to resist and you fuckin' well know it."
"In that case, we need to be big enough to find that balance she talks about. We have to find it within and between us. You can't ignore me anymore, you know, and we have to stop thinking of us as he, or me. You know you need my strength like I need your caution. We need us. She needs us."
" ... I'm scared."
"I know. ... So am I."
I was awake while the doorknob was still turning, completely and with all senses fully functional. This, I knew, was due to the parasite, the persona I'd spoken briefly with last night and for half my life.
It was daylight again and even the weight of the day before couldn't keep my apprehension at bay when the door opened and my mother entered. She carried a laptop bag and was dressed in a smart gray suit with a skirt that almost reached her knees. Her blonde hair was up as a professional would wear it and the dark streaks through it brought out the black satin blouse she wore, tastefully buttoned to the collar under the sharp jacket.
While her eyes retained a neutral expression, she glanced around the room, regarding me with careful satisfaction afterward and saying, "Nice. Just like Roxy's room. She's waiting down in the car, by the way. She's decided to go with George and Phil."
"How are you feeling?"
The question was a bit unexpected, but welcome. I smiled fractionally as I looked at the rough hardwood floor and replied, "I'm getting by. How are you?"
" ... Well... I take it you got my note?"
"Okay. You know, now is probably not the best time, hon. Let's just get her back out to George and Phil so we can..."
"Sure," I agreed, adopting the same neutral expression.
"Would you mind lugging the bags? I have a rather important one of my own and appearances are appearances."
"I understand," I said, turning and grabbing them up, throwing each over a shoulder.
"I'll be down in a few minutes."
It was a quiet ride out past the airport, one that I didn't enjoy and that soon overshadowed the small bit of positivity that Mum and I had created between us before we left our home for the last time. Surprisingly, she was in back while Roxanne rode beside me in the front passenger seat, looking forward through the windshield with uncertainty. I remembered how I thought it vaguely odd the evening before, how quickly she leapt to this option of leaving town with two strange men. Did she get a little 'go with the flow' yesterday evening along with Vivian and Taylor? I remembered how I'd hoped to depend on her to help me with Mum if need be. I was an idiot.
Getting out of the car in the yard to remove her bag from the trunk was quite uncomfortable. I kept thinking that the guys were looking out the window and pointing to the kid who'd been lapping their cum straight from his mother's pussy the day before and too drunk to realize it, but I got over it enough to give her a nice hug that she returned as sincerely as I'd given mine.
"Kathleen gave me an email address, so I'll be able to keep in touch," she promised with a tear at the corner of one eye.
"It'd be great to hear from you. We'll both miss you a lot. You were our best friend here."
"Same here. Were it not for you and Kathleen... Well, I hope everything works out for you two."
"It will. I wish you all the best, Roxy baby."
We kissed for long moments, then hugged again before we let go. She turned to Mum and I knew instinctively that it was time for me to wait in the car and, considering where I was, that was a welcome mercy. Through the open driver's side window, I could just make out their sniffling, thick voices at the rear of the car.
"Now, that money I gave you is for you, baby, not them. (sniff) You don't even let them know you have it, alright?"
"They pay your way and if they hit hard times, that's their problem. You take your money, pack a bag and you bail."
"And if you find a place you like, (sniff) a life you want to live, a man who'll treat you good, grab it. It's all about you, Roxy."
"Okay, Kathleen. (sniff) Thank you for everything. I love you."
"I love you too, baby."
After some more hugging and no small amount of kissing, they parted. Roxanne watched with her bag on the ground beside her as Mum got into the front seat of the car, as we left the driveway and headed down the road and away. Despite how I was feeling about the place we'd just left, I reached out and put my arm around Mum's shoulders as she cried softly, easily sympathizing and gently pulling her closer until she laid her head on my shoulder for a while as we drove. Roxy really was cool and I knew we'd miss her, knew she'd probably never send that email.
By the time we got back to town our moods had lifted somewhat, even though that careful neutrality that existed between us at our room continued, neither of us speaking. She'd turned the radio on, tuned to the city's home of rock and roll, and I found my spirits lifted a bit further, the music making me look forward to the highway all the more. It was shaping up to be a very nice day and I could imagine tearing down the highway with the windows down, our troubles becoming smaller and less important with each mile between us and Saint John.
Of course, I knew this to be no more than hopeful delusion, especially when the news came on at the top of the hour as Mum directed me away from the highway.
"-will be facing charges and sentencing this Friday. A Saint John man was found dead this morning at his Duke St. residence by neighbors. Apparently, Merle Cunningham fell to his death from a poorly lit, third floor, rear landing after a railing broke free. Police have questioned the building's owner, but are not investigating. Strong words in City Council yesterday over the proposed-"
"Isn't it something?" Mum asked in a low, almost disinterested tone as though she only meant to make small talk during our silence, subconsciously feeling in front of her seat for the laptop bag. "I mean, the guy probably dumped his weight against that railing every time he used his back door late at night after a big drug deal while he fished for his keys. Just one of those funny things that people repeatedly do so casually, one of those subtle habits that people have without ever thinking about it. ... I guess that railing held up for as long as it could and no longer... Take a right up here, please."
I nodded, the only response I could give while being as silent as the chill that ran up my spine.
She directed me to a funeral home on the North end and, while I had to admit to myself that I was surprised, it somehow seemed I shouldn't have been, at least not lately. In fact, I had to stifle a dark, humourless grin as I exited the car, my gut cramping.
"I wish you'd dressed a bit nicer," she informed as she took my arm on our way across the parking lot, laptop bag safely in hand and in her sight. "In fact, I notice you don't wear the nice clothes you used to prefer very often anymore."
"Not the same life."
"I suppose not. Anyway, it's not that important. It's only your grandmother."
She found the correct parlour quickly by asking a short, suited man in his sixties. He seemed surprised, probably by the likeness between Mum and the corpse the place temporarily harboured, but showed us the way, urging us to sign the guestbook.
Inside the parlour, his words were largely ignored as we looked around at the crowd of people that wasn't there. There was nobody there at all other than the presumed contents of the closed casket at the head of the room.
"Ha!" Mum commented before looking the suddenly staring man directly in the eye to add with a genuine smile, "See to it that we're not disturbed."
" ... Yes, Ma'am. I'll post myself outside the door. Should you need anything, I'll send for it immediately."
"Thank you, Sir, that's most kind. You're excused."
He nodded respectfully, backing out of the room and softly closing the tall, double wooden doors as I watched.
"Not exactly Miss Popularity, was she? Haaaaaaa!"
Her mood had changed in the rapid way it sometimes did and at the expense of her crazy, dead mother. I watched without comment or expression as she walked idly around with a grin, looking at the rich surroundings as though it were a mansion she'd just inherited. I removed the pint from my back pocket as she went on.
"I used to daydream about what this would be like when I was young. Of course, Sheila and Dad were there in those dreams, but I'd imagine how good it would feel to know I could live free of her and be happy with the people I cared about... I had to come here today."
I took a sip and put the cap back on, securing the pint in my back pocket under the untucked tail of my shirt as I replied, "Not exactly like you pictured it, though."
"No," she admitted, her smile faltering a little. "But this... It's just as good in its own way."
"Maybe, yeah. Plus..." she trailed off, only now turning to eye the shiny, black casket, "I just wanted to make sure."
"You didn't leave much doubt the other night."
Pursing her lips in a wicked smile as she sashayed up to the side of the casket, she looked it up and down before replying, "The way I felt about her went beyond hatred and fear. It's that thing that you learn to feel for people like this that's comprised of both those emotions. Fostered and nurtured over time... You know, she was nudging us when we were kids. I just didn't realize it then, but now I remember certain... aspects of her control. She'd make us take turns crossing the street with our eyes closed, ten times in a row each while she watched through her bedroom window. It wasn't a busy street, we lived in a subdivision, but it was the point she was making with us. I don't know if you can understand..."
I declined answer as she felt along the edge of the lid with her nails, finding purchase before using both arms to raise the lid.
My gut cramped worse as I obliged, looking inside at the pale, concrete face of my late grandmother, whose face actually retained some of the fear Mum had left it with the last time we saw her.
"I had the chance once. I was fifteen and she was standing with her back to me in front of the basement stairs. The door was open and she was just... staring down there. I don't know what at, it was dark down there, but I thought, "Just bolt up out of your chair and charge her. Knock her down the stairs and then run down and make sure she's done for." But there was just this odd something about the situation. It was so creepy and I got scared. I often wonder, you know, because Sheila was still there and Dad was still alive. I could've had this moment the way I'd always dreamt if... Well... I always wondered about that and it particularly comes to mind now. Naturally, I guess."
"I'm, uhh... sorry I compared you to her."
She allowed moments of silence to pass before closing the lid, staring at its polished surface before quietly replying.
"And I'm sorry about the other thing I said, too."
"That... really disturbed me."
"I'll never do that, Mum. I'm going to take care of you. I'm going to save you from yourself."
Now she looked up at me, her body slowly turning afterward as her expression reacted to the tone of my voice.
"She wanted away from us," I said.
"Roxy," she assumed I meant.
"You were playing it pretty fast and loose in front of her, maybe with her. Weren't you?"
"What do you mean?" she asked, turning suspicious and a little defensive.
"You nudged Vivian and Taylor right in front of her like you did Joe. I was watching in the rearview and I saw her reaction. I saw the look on her face when we got to Frank's place too, but I misread it at the time."
"Roxy loves us," Mum protested.
"Roxy is also afraid of us, or at least you."
"That's malarkey," she responded in a level tone.
"Afraid enough to go traipsing off across the country with two strange men she'd only just met and screwed. She was pretty nervous about it too, but apparently she was a lot more nervous about staying with us. And you let her go, encouraged her even because you knew as well as she did that it was best for her. I have to wonder what else she's seen."
"You have to wonder?"
"Wouldn't you?" I asked, my neutral demeanor straying dangerously close to flippant. Mum always hated flippant.
" ... I don't care for your tone. And I certainly don't care for being questioned like this, or your implications that I was playing with Roxy. But if you must know, she was of use to us. She saw what she had to and no more. Don't insinuate that I don't know what I'm doing, or would use someone I cared about, please."
"Oh, you know exactly what you're doing. I doubt there was ever a time when you didn't. It's your changing morals that I'm forced to doubt."
That angered her, but she fought to keep it in check, possibly knowing I had good reason for my doubts.
"This is about yesterday, isn't it?" she barely seethed. "Just you remember whose morals started that. And while you're at it, keep in mind that you're the only one who now has a problem with it."
"Uh huh. See, the problem is that my morals have been influenced by yours. Now we're both just as bad."
" ... Do you have some point?"
"Yes, I do. We have problems, you and I, and we both know it. Two people came to know about us and our long term family guest: One pities us, but never wants to see us again; the other loves us, but couldn't wait to get away from us. They see how it's warping our lives better than we do and they don't want any part of us, meanwhile, you run around nudging people when you're not busy killing them like the world's your playground, making up right and wrong as you go, while I let everything slide because all I can think of whenever I'm around you is fucking you. My own mother."
"Well... excuse me while I remove your point from my heart!"
"We can't go on like this," I told her flat out.
"What do you mean, we can't go on like this!?"
"I mean we need to set some ground rules between us here and now. Before we even get in that car. Wherever we're going, I don't want to end up feeling like I did in this town, and that means we settle up before we take one step out that door."
I was adamant while she was angrily affronted, though her reaction remained one of strained self control.
"I told you in my note that we'd talk, what do you want!?"
"I want no more stuff like what happened yesterday, first off. Also, we have to both stop drinking. You know why."
"You say that with a bottle in your back pocket!" she shot back.
"If you drink, I have to drink to be on your level, just so I can handle you."
"Pah-haa! You handle me!? On my level!? Let me put it to you this way, sweetie pie: Get your ass out to that fuckin' car, pronto!" she commanded through her teeth with that gravely sound to her voice.
"You're finding that you're other son isn't that preferable, aren't you? Imagine how I've been feeling."
"I said out to the car! Now!" she shouted, pointing at the door.
I could hardly believe I said it and she didn't know what to do with it. I thought she was going to explode, but I'd noted how she didn't try to grab me by the hair and/or slap the shit out of me, so I knew I had hand. And hand was what I desperately needed if I was ever going to save Mum and I from ourselves.
"I told you I can handle you and that's exactly what I'm going to do," I informed, "just as I promised."
Her upper lip trembled as it curled to the smallest sneer just before asking, "Care to look me in the eyes and say that, hon?"
I even smirked when I did just that. Well, I mean I looked her in the eyes. The thought of repeating my claim was the furthest thing from my mind when I found myself startled to be sitting in one of the long, soft leather couches in the parlour and looking at a very peaceful seascape painting on the opposite wall. Drawing in a sharp breath, I looked wildly around for a second, realizing she'd caught me so fast that I didn't even realize it was happening with a growing inner fear of how long she'd had me mesmerized and what all she'd been doing during that time.
I discovered her sitting right beside me. She was looking at the same painting, calm now.
"Well... We should have done that a long time ago," she stated.
"It was my intention just to hold you for a minute, to show you... But I could... feel how you felt about me just then and I had to make sure that didn't go too deep. I couldn't resist exploring your feelings for me and this situation, but I understand how you feel now."