I rubbed my finger under my nose, a gesture my son recognized for what it was: displeasure. Out of habit, I rubbed my hands on a yellow calico dishtowel, even though my hands were clean. I extended a hand, which she took, limply, not even the good sense to give it a decent squeeze.
Over time, I came to like her, then respect her after finding out that her origins weren’t the best, that life was difficult for her for a number of reasons, though, god, she was a beauty. When my son circled her tiny waist with his muscled arm, I felt a twinge, and chased thoughts away that no self-respecting mother should ever have. I thought of the beautiful grandchildren they might give me some day: his brains, her good looks.
He stopped bringing her around as often. I hadn’t thought much of it. He was busy climbing the ladder. His ambition he got from me, I was always proud to say. He was in and out of the house. The steam wasn’t even dispelled from the shower and I’d go in to breathe the clean smell of his after-shave. I still picked up his towels from the floor, why not?
Three weeks before Christmas he told me that he and the girl with the tiny waist were over. He wrung his hands and I felt like I’d been slapped. I’d invested time in the girl, I protest. I’d imagined two beautiful grandkids, a boy and a girl to keep me company once I slowed down. Their faces I conjured in prolific luminosity. I called them various names at various times in my head.
I felt led on and I told him so. Enough, he said, holding his head. It’s over.
Well. I said it like an indictment. He waved me off. I saw the circles under his eyes.
That night, I lay in bed, worrying my fingers, a habit from my childhood after the death of my mother. I thought it could keep any more loss at bay. Eventually I fell asleep. I dreamt that my mother had returned, with two children, who I mistook for children of my own. They both looked just like her.
On New Years Day, my son introduced me to a girl whose name I would never learn to pronounce. I felt her cunning right down to my marrow. She will be the ruin of you, I told him, quiet that night. After the shatter of glass and the slam of the door, I worried my fingers and took a sleeping pill. I felt a pain in my lower region. I wanted to call it resignation, but I feared something else.
My mother came to me, again, that night in a dream. I asked her about the children. What children, she asked me. I looked behind her and under her apron. She held her hand up, pushed me away. I woke before I should have, groggy and sweating. My son sat at the kitchen table, he fingers a tent held up to his forehead. I started the coffee and busied myself with nothing at the sink.
When I handed him a steaming mug, he took it without the edge I hoped he would still have. It would get him through.
Instead, he took one of my hands in his. Everything is ahead of you, I said, my voice braver than I felt. His cell phone rang and he dropped my hand on the cold table, and left out the back door. I watched him from the kitchen window. The cold air blew through the door he left ajar. I drank that pot of coffee right down to the dregs and vowed to put up a fight. LS