“Michael, can you come into the kitchen?”

“Sure, mother.” He walked into the house from the garage. Stink from cigarette smoke assaulted his nose. All the lights were off and, as usual, the blinds were closed. Michael was surprised to see his mother in the kitchen. At this time of day, she usually watched a talk show, still in a good mood. Her “happy” pills saw to that. From her tone, the pills weren’t working at the moment. He set the blanket and empty picnic basket on the counter.

“What’s this?” she asked, taking a drag from her menthol flavored cigarette. A smoky haze caused the stainless steel appliances and walnut cabinets to appear like apparitions. The house mourned in silence, except for the sizzle and burn as she sucked deadly chemicals into her lungs. She wobbled, unsteady on her feet, a frail shell of a woman.

He’d seen old pictures of his mother before his parents divorced. When they’d been together, she’d worn her hair up, in curly piles of blond. Her skin had always been tanned and her honey-colored eyes alert. Not long after dad left, everything changed. She stood in front of Michael now, her hair stringy, skin patchy, and vacant eyes underlined with dark circles. Brown sweats, four sizes too big drowned her body, and fuzzy, drab-looking slippers that at one time were probably white, adorned her feet—a wrinkled potato.

Michael towered over her. She barely reached his bicep. But, as she stood there, a cigarette in one hand and a half-filled wine glass in the other, his stomach started to twist in knots of fear. For her, for him, for the way he knew their confrontation would end.

Michael hated days like today.

“I made dinner for my girlfriend and me.” No point denying. Despite her dirty, half-stoned looks, she was quick as a bull whip.

“Ah, young love.” She crushed the cigarette in an ashtray on the counter, picked up the basket and put it away, on the bottom shelf, in the pantry.

Right then, it occurred to him that perhaps he shouldn’t have used the stupid thing. It belonged to his parents. Who knew how many memories it contained? He also noticed bread crusts on the floor near the trashcan. In his hurry to clean up, he’d apparently missed. Ah crap. Any sort of mess pushed a mad-button on his mother, setting her off.    

When she faced him again, her wine glass had been refilled and she held an extra glass. Michael knew she’d filled it for him. Not good. He pulled abarstool from under the counter and sat.

She placed his glass on the marbled granite countertop next to him. Then set hers down, too. From the elastic of her sweats, she pulled out a box of cigarettes, opened it and grabbed one along with a banana-yellow lighter. In a quick motion, she sucked the cigarette to life. Her ashy hollowed-out face and bony body reminded him of a rotting carcass.  

 The time had come. No sense trying to fight the inevitable. That only made matters worse. He hunkered down, pressing his forearms into the edge of the counter. With a flick of his chin, he motioned toward the wine. “No thanks, I have a game tomorrow.”

“Suit yourself.” She scooted his glass over next to hers and before he’d totally prepared, backhanded him across the face. “That’s for taking my stuff without asking.” No need to yell, her hand spoke volumes.

“Yes, Mother. It won’t happen again.” Michael lowered his gaze. His face stung a little, but he didn’t let the fact that he’d felt anything show. He breathed in deeply and swallowed. She wasn’t done.   

“You make me sick. It’s your fault your father left.” He watched her face now, could see the near frenzied anger dancing in her eyes. The silvered light from outside made them flicker. “If you’d never been born, if that stupid ali—” She stopped, frightened and looked around the kitchen. After a moment, she continued, “Frank and I would still be together. You ruined everything.”

He closed his eyes and forced his heart to slow down. Do not feel. Don’t let her get to you. It didn’t help. Rage tore through him. He hated everyone. His dad, the guys on the football team, and girls. Cheverly. His mother. He pounded a fist on the counter, allowing the fury to build.

“Mother.” The word came out more anguished than angry. He opened his eyes in time to see the wrath on his mother’s face ease. She caused him pain to lessen her own. He knew it, accepted it, and allowed it. But, he’d only suffer so much.

Maliciously, he went on, “It’s your fault I’m alive. Remember that!” Her hand came up to hit him again. He smacked it away. “Enough!” He may’ve allowed her emotional abuse and permitted her to slap him around some, because he felt sorry for her, but he wasn’t taking any more. Not today.

“Don’t talk that way to me. I’m still your mother,” Catherine yelled, pounding her cigarette on the edge of a quartz ashtray. 

Michael glared, but didn’t say a word, stifling the rest of the words he wanted to spew her direction. There wasn’t any point and he knew it, so he held his tongue.

“Fine!” She picked up the glass of wine she’d poured for him and threw it across the kitchen. It smashed against one of the mahogany stained cupboards, next to the refrigerator. He watched it shatter, the broken pieces flying everywhere. One of the glass shards struck him below his right eye. He felt the cut line with blood and trickle down his cheek. The stench of copper and fermented grapes swirled in the air, an interesting combination, especially when added to the lingering cloud of smoke. “Clean up the mess in here.” She lifted her wine glass and shuffled out.   

“Yes, Mother.” He went and picked up a piece of glass. A drop of blood dripped onto the bone white tile. I have to get out of here.

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