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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Young Adult  |  House: Booksie Classic

Submitted: June 02, 2016

A A A | A A A

Submitted: June 02, 2016



Todd takes exit 38 smoothly with both hands on the wheel, eyes straight ahead. I study his profile, counting the grays in his hair. We pass the park I never got to go to when I was little and enter downtown Lowell. Holding my breath, I look at all the cafes I used to eat at with highschool friends and the sketchy bars we always got into. On our left the canal cuts through downtown and a group of kids run along the path that lines the water. An old woman sits on a bench, a tired dog by her feet, and her lips move as she gestures with no one there to listen.

It takes less than 10 minutes to get to the apartments. I step out of the car, a plate of brownies in hand, and start towards the red brick buildings. The sun is hot and I know my shoulders will be red before we get to the door. I stop though, letting its warmth cover my arms and ears, taking a deep breath. Todd stands beside me holding Charlotte, and James jumps out of the car and hits the ground, knees first. He springs up, I already know I’ll be sewing his dress pants tonight, and runs towards me with his hand outstretched. I reach for his small hand and it wraps around mine with the grip only a 7 year old has.

“Mommy,” he says, sniffling, “I don’t feel good let’s go home.”

“You just woke up, baby,” I say and pinch one of his cheeks. “Aren’t you excited to see Grandma?”

I get no answer and he grabs my legs, a tantrum brewing. Sensing this, Todd grabs his arm, pulling him towards the apartment.

Stepping around litter and cigarette butts, we walk towards the white door of 23 Cabot St. Trash spills out of a bag next to the door and James points to it, wrinkling his nose.

“That’s yucky,” he says to Charlotte.

“Yucky, yucky,” she giggles, and I try to stay calm.

I reach for the door but Todd gets there first. He knocks twice, two quick raps, loud and sure. I listen for footsteps and possibly some stumbling. My mom opens the door, breathless and smelling like soap and smoke. She looks at me and smiles, tan and tall, wearing a loose green dress. I’m hit with how beautiful she is, with her long black hair and high cheekbones.

She had me young, and still has her curves. I remember how men at the supermarket would hit on her.

“Is that your sister,” they would ask me, and I’d shake my head, grabbing her hand.

“That’s my mother,” I’d squeak, usually getting a slap on the head or pinch on the arm.

“Behave,” she’d whisper, leaving me in the soup aisle, where I would memorize the big words on the ingredient list until she got back, smelling like someone else.


My mom steps out of the doorway, arms open, and she feels small as I hug her gently.

“Hi baby,” she whispers, and even though I’ve gotten taller than her, I lay my head on her shoulder.

“Hello, my other babies,” she cries. “Come see Grandma!”

James goes to her slowly. He keeps his head down as she hugs him tight, sniffing his head.

“He smells healthy,” she says. “Now hand over the next one!” The air feels tense and Todd hasn’t said anything until now.

“Deb, she’s a bit tired. Maybe later.”

Her smile goes hard and she turns around, walking through the door. We follow her into the house, greeted by its familiar smell of weed and Febreze.

The walls are still dark green and my mother never got rid the huge red couch. She shows us the living room and I brush my hand over the small coffee table. The same table I hit my head on, my teeth cutting clean through my tongue. I never liked the sight of blood and fainted shortly after. My mother wasn’t scared though, driving me to the hospital, with the doctors and their needles. She wasn’t scared of needles. She wasn’t scared of anything.

I place the brownies on the same coffee table, now stacked with more birthday plates than we need. It’s my mother’s birthday today and she wanted to meet Charlotte.


“Hi, honey,” she whispered, over the phone two days before.

“Whats wrong,” I said, panicked. The clock read 2:30 am in bright green. I got out of bed and stepped into the hall.

“It’s my birthday tomorrow.” Her voice sounded far away and I could hear other people behind her.

“Come see me,” she pleaded, and I pictured her in a phone booth, shivering. I stared at a picture of James and Charlotte, and my heart ached.

“Are you,” I hesitated. “Mom, are you clean?”

She took a while to answer and I almost hung up, but she said yes. The noise was gone.

“Where are you, mom?” I asked, and there was another pause. I could hear her breathing on the other end. I expected an answer, but all I got was a quick goodbye and a soft I love you.  


We cram into the tiny kitchen, next to a countertop crowded with different pieces of paper and more birthday plates.  My eyes scan over everything, trying to find anything suspicious. I know all of her hiding spots, having some of my own. I help James sit on a stool and he, like me, looks around the room, so unfamiliar to him.

I check on Charlotte. She’s beside the fridge playing with a small plastic tube. It’s a lighter, and before I can take it away or scream, my mother comes up behind me. Charlotte looks at us, waving the exciting toy she’s found.

“Oopsies, that's not safe,” my mothers says, grabbing the lighter.

“No! It isn’t, mom! Don’t leave that kind of stuff around with the kids coming over.”

She ignores me and  asks Charlotte how old she is. Charlotte holds up two fingers.

“4,” she squeals as her grandma picks her up.

“Good, Charlotte! A very good Charlotte,” my mother says, giving her head a good sniff. I brace myself, ready for her to cry and kick. She doesn’t though, clinging onto her grandma and tugging her hair.

“Are you guys thirsty?” my mother asks and puts Charlotte down. She reaches into the open fridge for a six pack wedged between Capri Suns and Danimals.

“Do the kids want anything to drink?” she asks.“Is James drinking yet?”

“Oh my god, mom.” My hand goes to my hair.

“What, Sarah? And please stop pulling on your hair. Do you find clumps of it around your house, Todd?” She laughs, grabbing a bottle-opener.

“No, Deb. I’m glad though. I like her hair. Especially when it stays on her head.” He wraps his arm around me before I can tell him to stop talking and I tug on my hair instead.

“Sarah, stop it! She did this all the time. Don’t you remember Todd?” my mother mimics me, pulling on her own hair. “Her head was always red. My little black haired-red head.” She reaches for my hair and I flinch, putting my hands up to my face.

“Honey, what is the problem? I’m not gonna hit you.” A line she’s used everywhere. She never actually hit me, but people would stare. My mother would get embarrassed and she’d take me home, leaving me for a few hours. At her worse a day or two. She always came back and we’d square off in the kitchen. This time we have an audience.

“Mom! Don’t offer my children beer!”

“Stop freaking out! I was just kidding. God, you stress me out.”

“Well, you piss me off!” It comes out louder than I want it to and my head hurts. We make eye contact and she brings a bottle to her lips. It gets quiet and Todd comes over to me, grabbing my hand. He’s pissed and I can already picture him starting the car.

“I want juice,” James says.

“Of course, honey,” I say through clenched teeth. “Todd please get him juice.”

Todd moves over to the fridge, only stopping to look at the pictures of me, something he’s been doing since we were little. He has to squat down to grab the juice boxes and I resist the urge to remind him of his bad knees.

“Juice, then a movie. Okay guys?” He walks with the kids to the living room, juice in hand.

“You don’t have to yell, you know,” my mother spits. She leans against the counter with an empty bottle, another one already open next to her.

“Well you were being inappropriate.”

“I was kidding.” It comes out in a sneer. “You guys didn’t start drinking until you were 10.”

“Just stop. It’s your birthday behave.”

“Then drink with me, Sarah. I miss you,” she whispers.

I want her to hug me, but she reaches for the beer next to her instead. I grab my own and ask for the bottle opener.

“I’m glad you’re here, honey. Thank you for bringing the kids.”

“I’m ready to never bring them back, mom.” I hope this hurts and when she doesn’t answer I know it does. “I don’t want them to be around this shit, mom.”

“I drank around you all the time!”

“Look where it’s gotten us! We can’t have a decent conversation without a drink in our hands.”

“I wouldn’t call that shit you just pulled on me decent,” she laughs. She finishes the rest of her beer and reaches towards the radio. I can feel us settling into our old ways. These arguments have become the only way to talk to each other and they never resolve.

“I’m serious, mom. You can’t act like this around them.”

“Goddamit, Sarah. Fine! I’m sorry, okay?” She slams down the empty bottle. I flinch again and her face deflates. “If I try to apologize for everything I’ve ever done we’ll be here all night. I know I wasn’t the best mother, you think I don’t know that?” We're facing each other now.

“I don’t want an apology, I want my Mom.”  I know I’m about to cry and I turn from her, grabbing my hair. “You were never here.”

She has her hand on my hair now and I’m crying loudly, hoping the kids don’t hear me. I face her again and I’m not surprised when I see her tearless face. She never liked to cry, and when she did it was in her room, sitting up straight on the bed, soft and almost impossible to hear. I think about all the times I watched her, hoping she would let me come in. I wanted her to hold me and touch my hair.

I’m almost 30 now and she still won’t let me in. She’s touching my hair though. It’s not a big teary apology, but this is the first time I can picture things maybe being okay.


We’re a little buzzed by the time Todd gets back. I watch him take in the scene. His small wife leans against her smaller mother, and the room is quiet. No more fighting. He steps towards me, careful not to break this peace. He knows it might be short.

My head still hurts but my face is dry.  

“What happened in here,” he whispers rubbing my shoulder. “Have you been crying?”

My mother walks towards the radio, her dress moving with her hips.

“I’m fine, honey. Everything’s oka-” I’m interrupted by the music coming through the speaker. Todd laughs and I take his hand. “Dance with me?” I bring him to the middle of the kitchen and laugh. I hope the kids can hear me.

My mother turns up the radio singing along as she sets the table. Todd spins me around the room, singing the song, off key, in my ear. We dance until dinner is ready and Todd brings the kids back in.

The kitchen soon fills with laughter over mashed potatoes and ice cream cake. Charlotte sits in my lap, falling asleep against my chest, and James listens to my mom’s stories, icing all over his mouth. As Todd rubs my back in small circles I grab my mother's hand, surprising her, and myself. I’ve missed her, and I don’t feel scared or worried.


The lightning bugs are out by the time it’s time to go. I want to show the kids, but they’re asleep, snoring quietly. I listen to the radio in the kitchen. It’s playing an old jazz song my mother used to love, and I can hear her humming. The lightning bugs dance.


© Copyright 2018 Chloe McIntosh. All rights reserved.

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