Thursday
Jan102013

The Problem

Jessica Alexander


 

When I was ten, my mother burst into a flock of pigeons. The school bus had rounded the cul-de-sac and I did not want to be well by the time it reached my house. My mother was drinking coffee in her rocking chair and I was throwing myself against my rocking chair.

She said, "If it were up to you, dear, there would be no information. People would sit at desks all day, crying."

Then the bus stopped at the foot of the drive and all of me sunk like stones to my stomach. That's when my mother burst into a flock of pigeons.

 

This is my problem: I am trying to say one nice thing. Instead I'm telling you, I know your mother was a much older woman. Old enough, you suggest, to be my mother. That and location is what we've got in common. We're at our high school reunion. You say you always liked me. We smoke on the balcony. Inside your wife plays show tunes on a grand piano, the guests get drunk on cocktails, crowd the sitting room, and sing too. You put your hands on the small of my back, pull me to your chest. If I blink, my lashes will dust your armpit. I don't dare. I'm trying to think of one nice thing to say and then the piano stops playing.

We look over the balcony. A cab passes. Two men with a woman between them stop and watch a door revolving. You've dropped your cigarette into the street. We're waiting for me to say one nice thing.

I say, "I always liked your mother. I used to watch her garden and once I drove a nail into my palm and told her I'd fallen. She seemed so regular. I was rather taken with her."

You suggest the word obsessed might better fit the context.

"Yes, perhaps. One spring I tore up her daffodils and blamed the strangers. I said I'd seen them. They loiter in the evenings. We sat on the stoop drinking lemonade and waited, but, of course, the strangers never came."

"Sort of Freudian?" You say, "Your problem?"

I assure you nothing but Freud is Freudian. I need only more mothers and don't know how to make them love me. "Do you need more mothers, or more fathers?" I say.

Inside the guests trip into shoes and jackets, their heads are thrown back, they are laughing, or yawning. In contrast, you look alert, and perhaps a little sad.

"Maybe it worked out for you," I suggest. "And you would like to be a father, maybe a mother someday?"

You find my line of inquiry disquieting, and say so.

I don't see the problem. I am doing what people do. I am getting to know you. "Maybe it did not work out and you were looking for a father—"

"I'm not looking for a father."

"Or you were looking for a mother and the next thing you knew—"

"Look for them?" You say, "I cannot get away from them. I have acquired," you sigh, "too many mothers." You look over your shoulder. The guests are going out the door. And some, below us, already in the street, hail a taxi.

"I'd better go,  you say. Then, for no apparent reason, add, "Have dinner with me. Thursday."

 

I did not want to go to school the day my mother burst. I'd left one loafer in a gravel pit and stray cats had pissed all over it. At school the teacher would point to a footprint that entered the cafeteria and ended in me. He'd smile, rather glumly, and ask if I lived in a barn, or some comparable domicile full of animal shit.

"If it were up to you, dear," my mother said, "there would be no evidence, no truth, laws, or logic. The criminals, the jury, the lawyers and the witnesses would sit in courtrooms crying—and the judge, he would be crying too."

That's when, or a little before when, my mother burst into a flock of pigeons.

 

You've become such a pretty man, you've ordered wine, and chose to dine outside, where everyone can see us. Green ivy sprawls lewdly up the building's facade. The server brings us so many plates we did not order. Ugly people, like me, would distrust this, but you thank her. You say, try this. You pile duck breast, apples, and onion onto your fork. You raise it to my mouth. Everyone at this restaurant is a pretty person. Everyone is feeding a lover, or being fed by one. Ugly people, like me, find romance mortifying.

You repeat, "You simply must try this."

I am beginning to believe I've been brought here under false pretenses. Or perhaps, there's been a terrible misunderstanding. I look around and say, "Where are the mothers?"

"Mothers?" You say and duck breast drops from your fork to your lap. You dip your napkin into my water glass and dab at your linen slacks.

"Yes, mothers." I say, and switch our water glasses, "I was under the impression you could not get away from them."

 

The day my mother burst, you stood at the foot of your driveway. The sunlight was so perfect it deserved us, running to our most beautiful forgetfulness. You ignored it. Your red fists closed around the straps of your backpack. You distributed your weight evenly, or so it seemed, between two loafers. I wore one. I could not find the other.

My mother said, "If it were up to you, dear, anger would be the private emotion. Drivers would not curse across the crumpled hoods of cars but crouch in streets like bonsai trees and commence sobbing."

 

"It won't come out," you say. You fling the napkin to the table.

"Mothers," I say, "possess a wealth of knowledge on the subject of stain removal."

You stab your fork into a slab of duck breast. "I'm tired of talking about mothers," you say. "We're supposed to get over our mothers, you know." Your cheeks are full of meat. You're no longer trying to feed me. "Marry, divorce, marry again." Grease drips down your chin. "That's what I want to talk about. Normal stuff. Not what do you think of, but what have you done, where have you been."

 

You were over-zealous, I guessed. You hopped from one foot to the other, shrieking, "The bus! You crazy bitch! The bus!"

I threw myself against the rocking chair. Tumbled down three stairs, and lay on the front lawn gazing at that hungry, stupid sky.

"You seem frustrated, dear," my mother said, "Perhaps, things aren't going as you'd intended. Perhaps, you think I'm teasing you. But I've only tried to tell you, I have been frustrated too."

The bus stopped. You turned around and cut your eyes. Your red fists swung at your sides. And then, as if you'd willed it, every mother on the block burst into a flock of pigeons.