Monica sees her dead son in mirrors. He’s always standing somewhere in the room behind her, staring, silent, sullen. Sometimes in the mirror her son is younger, just five or six, playing with his trucks or trains. But most of the time he is his 10-year-old self. He watches her brush her teeth, put on makeup, straighten her clothes. He glares, resentful.
It’s three a.m. and as her child lays beside her, she writes. She writes in a notepad that isn’t a notepad. It’s the very last page in a bible that she found in the nightstand. What she writes with is no pen but an eyeliner pencil on its last legs. When she runs the tip across the paper it hardly gets the words out. But desperate are those words scrawled in cursive. And it’s desperation that muffles her sobs.
My neighbor had a baby once. That much, I got. Just like I got the cup of coffee more or less how I wanted it. Last week, at a different café, I ordered iced coffee but was served black coffee with a sinking scoop of ice cream on top. The waitress smirked at my accent, too, which made me want to flip over her tray.
My neighbor describes the circumstances leading up to the moment she could no longer say she had a baby. It happened a while ago. I’m not sure about the rest because my class just finished Unit 8 and, judging from the syllable count, her words are sophisticated and come from Unit 20, possibly even Unit 35.
The booth in the back right corner at Emilio’s is mine. The hostess knows just to nod at me as I walk in – no, I won’t be eating. The bright colored fairy lights that trim the bar really do it for me. It reminds me of how I used to do the living room for Christmas with the boys, except Emilio’s keeps them up all year. Dominic works Mondays and Wednesdays, Brady works Tuesdays and Thursdays, and Lacy gets the weekend shifts. They all know my order, although Brady does it the best. Dominic keeps giving me lemons instead of limes, no matter how many times I remind him. He’s like my oldest, Jackson – kindhearted, but things don’t really stick with him. Sometimes I swear, I’ll need to tell Jackson to put his laundry away thirteen, fourteen times before he does it. He gets that from his father. His mind is just somewhere else.
“Tell me about my other lives, Mama.”
“That’s not a good idea, Elm.”
“I’m not a child.” I stomped away from Mother and pressed my nose against the station window. I saw my eyes, brown, angry, reflected above fog and black rocks. If I looked at the horizon I could pretend not to see the other reflections, the vast white curve of Mother’s body behind me, the other girls tumbling around me. I could pretend to be alone on this empty wet and dreary world.
The day was barely there, full of mist and humidity, full of future ghosts that posed as inaccessible emotions. “Grab a few toys,” his mother said, “and put them in this. She handed him his father’s canvas duffel bag.
“That’s Dad’s,” he protested.
“Do as I say,” she said. “We’re going to visit your grandmother for a while.” He did what he was told, but thought it was all a bit unusual. His grandma only lived a few miles away, and they had never spent the night there. He did love visiting her, though; she had her own yard, unlike the small apartment that he and his parents lived in.
“I miss my mother,” I admit aloud, nearly in tears.
I am in jail again.
In NA, they say you have three possible futures on heroin: Jails, institutions, or death. But I quit going to NA after ninety days, once my court-ordered ninety meetings were up. I quit after I was free to go, but before I learned how to avoid those three possibilities.