This story was inspired by the Kate Bush song, "Mother Stands For Comfort."
It’s always the mother’s fault.
That’s what they always say. “What kind of childhood must he have had, to turn out like that?” I see it now, when I go shopping. Their faces say it all. She must be worse than Joan Crawford. She must be a real sicko.
Years from now, some hotshot psychiatrist will use my son as a case study. A profiler will say, “He must have really hated his mother, like that Winthorpe kid.” I’ve become the new Medea, the apotheosis of maternal failure.
Looking at the evidence, I can hardly blame them. All those dead girls, decorated with glitter, body paint, and feathers. There’s the silver girl, her skin metallic, her lips dark blue, with crushed shells on her skin and on her eyelids. Her nipples pierced with crystal gems. She was, perhaps, his homage to sea nymphs. And the harlequin girl, dressed in motley, with black and white diamonds meticulously painted on her body. Faux pearl teardrops rest on her cheeks. And no one can forget the bead girl, with every pore and surface covered with glass beads and marbles. How long did he work on her dead body, as she rotted, as her fluids oozed? The blood, mucus and shit became apart of the glue. Then, the spice girl (ha, ha), every bit of her slim body pierced with cloves, so as she liquefied, the air around her was perfumed like a grandmother’s autumn kitchen. Ornamented dead girls, each one an avatar of me, his mother, the art teacher. My son, the artist, seeking approval from his mommy. The girls never suffered, I’ll give that to him. There was only one stabbing, one of the last ones who probably fought back as soon as she realized who my son was. Most of them died with overdoses of the cheap heroin and liquid coke my son pumped them up with. My darling boy was sick, but at least he wasn’t a sadist. They died ensnared in beautiful dreams. At least, I’d like to think so.
I suppose I knew that something was different about him for a long time. There was nothing unusual about his first years. It’s the same old sad story. Young, idealistic couple gets married, has child. A year later, the husband has some sort of vague crisis, leaves the family ‘to find himself’ in Japan. Divorce papers, three years spent living at home with the parents, news of the ex-husband’s remarriage… I sound bitter, don’t I? But really wasn’t. To tell the truth, I viewed those years as a challenge. Holding down a job, getting my teacher’s license, moving to a new apartment, and raising a child gave me, I don’t know, a kind of energy. I looked at each day with excitement, and a sense of purpose. ‘What else do you have to throw at me, God?’ That’s how I thought.
Lyle was my angel in those days. He was a perfect child. Brown hair, clear blue eyes, and a crooked grin that could melt your heart. As a baby, he didn’t cry unnecessarily. He was like an old man—stoic and patient, waiting for milk or a diaper change with a minimum of fuss. As a toddler, he passed right over the Terrible Two stage. My little crocodile was very aloof. He was almost Zen—that’s what one of my girlfriends called him. One time, he fell off his tricycle on the sidewalk in front of the apartment building. I was grading assignments that day, when I saw him come inside. I didn’t look up until I heard the faucet running. He had moved the stepstool over there, and was calmly running cool water over a bleeding gash. The blood of children is a surreal thing to see. It’s hyperreal, a bright, fairytale red against unblemished, poreless skin. It looked as if someone had pasted a piece of red velvet onto his forearm. Except, that it flowed. Needless to say, I was terrified. But he said, as calm as a bodhisattva, “Mommy, get the stingy stuff.” He meant the iodine. I did, and when I put it on the now clean wound, all he did was flinch. A tear squeezed itself out of the corner of his eye, like a pearl. That was all. When I asked him about where the woman was who said she’d watch him, he told me, in not so many words, to calm down. I was livid. He was calm. I was the one who had a migraine; my wounded crocodile gave me aspirin, and told me to lie down. I realized, that day, that I’d been blessed with an angel.