Fate’s mother

More backstory for novel #2. Enjoy!

The last thing Fate remembers about his mom is waiting on the bus with her downtown. He doesn’t know how old he was — maybe three? Four? He was lying on a bench in the bus stop vestibule, the cold a shock through his coat.

“Get up off there, Flyn,” she said, mean. But her hand on his arm was gentle, as Fate recalls. He remembers her hand, its soft warmth penetrating through the nylon Thinsulate and cotton. Her vibrant rejuvenating energy. Fate knows she was mad. Her voice screamed HATE but her hand said LOVE. Like rainbows shooting through his coat, his thin cotton t-shirt. His skin.

“Come on, now.” She helped him up off the bench and lifted him into her arms. He rested his head on her shoulder as the bus shrugged to the curb. She smelled like the coconut lotion she kept on the bathroom counter. She carried him up the steps and fumbled with the money, but she didn’t put him down. She carried him down the aisle as he silently eyed the other passengers’ kind curious glimpses.

“Here you go.” He blinked as she plunked him down unceremoniously on a scratchy seat that smelled of ammonia and garbage, the indifferent backs of tired bus riders’ skulls retreating down the aisle like totems. That’s where the dream left him.

She was gone by the time Fate was five. He doesn’t know why she left, doesn’t know where she is. It came on slow, he thinks, but it’s hazy. She got a job working nights at the laundromat, and would come home in time for breakfast. Then it was lunch. Once dinner. And then she quit coming home altogether.

At times he worries about her and at times he misses her. Other kids have moms. Other kids’ moms do the things moms do. No one does these things for Fate. With his dad, he learned to microwave hot dogs and mac-n-cheese. He learned to eat apples and other fruit that didn’t need to be cut up. He learned to swipe said fruit because nobody ain’t never gonna buy him no fruit and he was always hungry for it. He always wore a sweatshirt with big pockets and there’s no telling what would end up in them. A kid needs a lot of things. A kid needs a mom.

Fate remembers the sound of his mother screaming when his dad used to beat her. he sounds of the slaps too; less as discreet sounds, more as an awareness of sound waves, of molecules being moved through time and space at the frequency of anger. Fate stores these memories in his cells.

Fate thinks of his mom whenever his dad beats him. In those times, the slaps coming faster and faster, morphing into punches, Fate thinks of her. He thinks he knows her then. At eight years old he knows well the futility of fighting it. He likes it in a way. He knows the end will come. In his cells, he knows he will get out, survive. Like her.

By nine, with two black eyes that everyone conveniently holds their tongues about, he suspects he can survive anything. He misses his mom, misses that kind hand on his back, her rainbows. Fate wants his mom back, like a malnourished child wants a meal, but at the same time he knows why she went. In those times with his dad, Fate feels he becomes his mom. Talking mad, touching love.

Today, at the library where he goes after school for the quiet, he Googles her. And he finds her. Yes, it’s her. His heart is careening, shooting rainbows. In the Facebook photo she’s holding a little girl on her lap, their twin faces pressed together, his mom’s hand on the girl’s face. Yes. The hand is hers. Fate would know it anywhere.

Why wasn’t he enough, Fate wonders. Why leave him behind, like Grandmama’s good china that Daddy smashed one night not long after mom left when it was clear she wasn’t never coming back. Like that coconut lotion she left on the bathroom shelf, like the million undone things she left behind. Then Daddy beats him and he knows again, fresh, why. The punches go deep into him like he has no center, like he is not himself, like he is not anyone. No. See, Fate is no one. He’s twelve years old and he is sure of this.

So when he sees his mother’s hand on a little girl’s cheek, it pleases him in a way he can’t name, can’t figure out because he is only twelve. No one has taught him yet about transference. He was his mother’s child once. She talked mean but touched soft and put rainbows in him. These things feel like love to him. Yet. His daddy loves him too, loves enough to beat him. His daddy talks nasty and touches worse but other times they laugh.

People are weird. Even at twelve, Fate knows this and he accepts it. Fate knows he is many things to many people. He looks at his mom’s hand for a long time and it puts him back there on that metal bench. Lying. Waiting. Fate still keeps the coconut lotion in his pillow case and he smells it at night before he falls asleep but he never uses any. He closes out of the browser without a word to his mother.