Warning: This work has been rated 16+ for language and mature content.
Before Edward ran away from home driving a borrowed pick-up stashed with a stolen six pack, he made sure to leave a final goodbye – on a Post-It note hastily stuck on his mother’s sleeping forehead he scrawled, “She’s all yours now buddy.”
It was sick. It was sick and stupid and reckless and somehow Andy still thought it was awesome. That he could actually get in that truck and go…
Andy knew that Mom had always liked him better than Edward. In the way of egalitarian and progressive parents, she had never expressed a preference. In the way of sensitive and perceptive children, they had never needed her to.
“Some people just mature sooner,” his mother had said. Over the years, the force of her love had inspired in Andy pride, joy, fear, guilt, anger, humiliation, and resignation.
Andy stared down at the ashen gray countertop as they sat placidly waiting for the hot gooey slop they would shovel through one opening and expel out the other. Nervously, he fingered the small slip of waxy paper they’d been given up front: “64.” They were now calling order number 37. It was Senior Special. The line stretched to the door, and yet there was hardly enough noise to drown out the pounding in his own mind. He wanted to throw up.
The dark shade of his mother in the peripheries of his vision bobbed suddenly. “Andy, baby, you know your brother always thought I could never understand him.”
Involuntarily, he flinched and glanced around. Mom’s sharp Southern twang was unnaturally loud in the sleepy fast food joint crowded with geriatrics quietly munching their tasteless mush and the occasional teenage couple whispering furtively over a shared Coke. He was convinced that all those Vietnam vets were staring and silently sniggering at this pasty Mama’s boy waiting for his Happy Meal. Andy was just old enough to find it humiliating to eat out with his mother, but not quite old enough to have anyone else to eat with.
Mom smiled humorlessly, wine red lips too bold for a woman half her age and size. “But you baby – I always appreciated how mature and sensitive you are, how you value your parents’ wisdom and aren’t too embarrassed to be seen with your mom.”
Andy nodded stiffly. Nothing was ever lost on the bitch. (He was just young enough to be shocked at himself for thinking that.) The counter boy called order number 43. Andy began jiggling his knee under the countertop.
“Wouldya cut that out for God’s sake it’s annoying” – Andy’s leg jerked to a halt of its own accord – “but you want to know what his real problem is, baby?” He didn’t really want to know. “No sense of perspective. You saw, you know how caught up he gets in his stupid dares and games and fantasies.”
Andy’s mouth was stuffed with cotton, and yet somehow words came out. “Yeah – yeah I know.”
“See, I’m your mom, right? So naturally, you guys don’t really believe I had a life before you were born.”
“Of course you did, Mom.” He infused the bland fact with the emotion that made it a lie.
“And you – you two were the ones born with a silver spoon down your throat, but you – you think I couldn’t understand the pain?”
“No, Mom, I don’t think that.”
“You think your generation owns the damn copyright to obnoxious music and reckless sex!”
“Mom, please…” Andy tucked his head low between his shoulders, dismayed to find there was no shell to retreat into. The small “Order 64” sheet [Note to self: phrase better] slipped from his sweaty palms and he welcome the excuse to duck beneath the table for it.
Mom didn’t even notice. “’Cause let me tell you something – the art, the music, the political ‘enlightenment’ a washed-out old conformist like me could never appreciate? I gave that to him. It all came from me.” She snorted. “Certainly not from your father.”
Andy looked up at his mother then, trying to melt away the blubber of domestic life, trying to peel back the layers of old-woman skirts and cardigans, trying to reverse the decades of perms and dye jobs and worthless wrinkle creams to uncover the sexual being his father married hiding inside the old harpy he later divorced.
Quickly he stopped trying. His stomach turned with nausea even as it grumbled with hunger, and Andy remembered he hadn’t eaten for over 24 hours. They called order 52.
“For four years he didn’t call, you know that? Maybe he called Dad – maybe he called you.” He had. “But do you know what he said to me? He said I could just read about him in the papers. And look how that worked out. You know how childish dreams like that work out.”
He did. But still he dreamt. Andy was at the age when his blood sang for such a dream as had consumed his brother, when the very unreachability made it all the more admirable that he had reached. At such an age Edward had left, making for half a family.
“He’d never believe me when I told him I’d been through this phase, I’d had my share of fun and mistakes and regrets. Wouldn’t listen to me when I told him to go to college, to keep his options open at least and not be so damn stupid about it. Convinced I wouldn’t ‘get’ it. But I understood perfectly” – she spat the word out like a worm – “I still do.”
No. No, Andy realized, she didn’t. If ever she understood, she didn’t anymore. Maybe before they gave you your Respect Adult license they made you block out what it all meant to you, block out the heat, the anger, the opportunity. Maybe those who refused became poets and artists and gang members.
Or maybe they ended up like Edward.
“My first child…I was so – so unready, you know. You don’t see Mommy that way, baby, Mommies are supposed to have it under control – but I had no idea what the fuck to do.” A ragged sigh. “But I saved up and I studied and I trusted and I…I was convinced I would be the best mother in the whole world. I do understand about childish dreams, baby.” She let out a strangled laugh. “We told my folks he was a preemie, but really we got married about two months in – what a conversation that was! Just about put a gun to his head for that.”
She stared, past the plastic stools and greasy countertops and poorly parked minivans, past the highway into a world he couldn’t see, times he couldn’t remember. “Just about put a gun to his head,” she whispered. “For my child…”
“Goddammit, Mom – no! Just…no!” Four days she hadn’t cried. Not when they got the phone call, not when Dad flew in, not when they were taken to see what was left. She hadn’t cried and he had hated her for it. And she’d seen that, and she’d hated herself, but still the tears wouldn’t come.
So why now? Why here? Why crumple like a hollow can here in the middle of a crowded fast food joint, where everyone was definitely staring at them now?
“Gun – gun to his head,” she muttered between racking convulsions like the pangs of birth.
Andy fumbled for his wallet. A birthday gift from Edward. It was just too much. He couldn’t, he just couldn’t –
“My baby…a gun…”
“Order number 64.”
– just couldn’t be the good son anymore.
Blindly he shoved out a fistful of crumpled bills and slammed them on the table.
“My baby…just left – ”
Andy looked down dimly at the quivering mass hunched sobbing over the tabletop. So many things to say after so many years…but the words died on his lips.
“Order number 64, sir? Order number 64.”
So let them.
“A gun – Jesus, a gun – ”
Always, his big brother did something, made something, lived something, and left Andy on the sidelines with the words. So swallow the words.
Andy strode to the door, shoved it open, and left.
“Last call for order number 64.”
A dying woman sat trembling in the molded plastic chair fastened to a greasy table at the nameless fast food joint she had wandered into, ages ago.