42. Into the Mind

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London was dreary under the veil of grey cloud in the sky, but the detached young boy didn't care if it rained. He huffed to himself as he stared at the cracked red paint on his front door, wishing the walk home had taken longer.

Slowly, he opened the door, and his eyes landed on her, holding a long cigarette in one hand as she sat at the kitchen table. Her head swung toward him.

"About time, what took you so long?" She stood, long legs on display in a tight denim skirt.

"Sorry mom." I dropped the bag of food on the counter and she held out her hand for the change.

"It's late, dinner and then bed, okay? I gotta go to work soon." She chewed a piece of gum, clicking her molars together as she spoke. 

"Are you gonna be home when I get up for school?" I dropped my eyes to the floor, hoping she wouldn't be angry with me for asking. 

"Of course I will! That only happened once... and I told you, sometimes Mommy has to work late to make extra money for you and me, okay kid?" I found her clear blue eyes, sending me an empathetic look.

"Okay mum." I nodded, hoping for the best.

When I woke up the next day, there was no sign of her.

It wasn't until I was rinsing out my cereal bowl in the sink that she came stumbling through the door, a man I'd never seen hot on her heels. It was the third stranger this week.

"Derek sweetie, I want you to meet Charlie." She beemed, tossing her long dark hair over one shoulder. It was much messier than it had been when she left for work.

"Hi," I mumbled, not even looking at him.

"Hey kid. You behaving for your mama, here?" The man asked. I turned around and saw he was feeling her backside, not even looking at me. I walked past him to get my backpack.

"I asked you a question!"

"Oh shh, he's just shy." She smiled at me. "You have a good day at school sweetie, I'll see you tonight." She caught me by the strap before I was out of arms reach and pulled my against her for a hug. The cigarette smoke and alcohol on her breath invaded all of my senses and I pulled away before she had a chance to kiss my cheek with her cheap lipstick-covered mouth.

"Gotta go," I excused myself, slamming the red door closed behind me.

As I walked down the path from the little townhouse, one of many in a long line of low-income houses in my neighbourhood, I felt real hatred in the pit of my stomach. I felt anger at the man who had his hands all over my mom, and anger at her for letting him. She always let them, and when they got clingy or she got bored, she'd pick a fight and they'd say all kinds of awful things before she slammed the door. 

Around my ninth birthday, I remember she brought home a guy I actually liked, and it had surprised me almost as much as it surprised her. He was mild-mannered, friendly, and he seemed to genuinely care about her. She came home with him more than any of the others, and for the first time, I thought maybe we could be happy.

That was the most peaceful month I can remember, until the poor bloke realized she was using him for his money, which she didn't even try to deny, and left. 

The next day she brought home a deadbeat I knew from previous dates, and something inside me snapped. I went into her room while she was at work and dug up an old box from her closet. She never let me touch it, but I knew for a fact she had a photo of my dad in there. I dug through the contents until the image I was looking for appeared. 

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