The Mother

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Literary Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
Prepared to give his forgiveness, a son visits a wayward father only to end up confronting himself with a pang of indignation over their family's plight. Seeing the truth of his father's choice, he ponders whether he would truly forgive his father... or commit a crime to forget.

Submitted: May 30, 2017

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Submitted: May 30, 2017



The knocks burn his knuckles. Instead of some prayer, nothing runs through his veins. He stands there on the doorstep determined to live for a while with some sin he does not intend to correct, nor challenge, nor punish, nor neglect. He thinks it too late now to allow himself the responsibility of that sort. He only wishes to confirm the futility of his father’s mistake.

Calmly, Timothy roots himself in place as if beside the brook where the Bible says he can produce fruits in due season. A bulky rain-proof envelope is clutched in his hand, a threadbare duffel bag lumped patiently by his feet.

It is around seven in the morning, a clear May Wednesday. The place honors itself as Grace Park. Unlike the real grace though, the tired two-floor box of House #026 squats in the corner of a shoddy block where vehicles eternally roar by, spewing fumes to the air. A rusty iron fence separates from the sidewalk the strip of yard where Timothy waits beside a guava tree. To his left, a scraggly grape vine twirls its way on the grillwork and then up an electric post to infest the sagging wire lines. Its yellowish leaves look grimy and crumpled and hopeless, like street urchins full of both innocence and strife.

#026 frowns from the soot of dust and dead webs.

Timothy’s fist rises again when the door finally peels back. A man fills the gloom leaking out over his heavy shoulders. Timothy watches him wince through the dusty sunshine exploding upon him. But after a moment, Timothy realizes the man is in fact squinting down at him. Straight through to his own eyes where all his yearning for this moment deprives him of any resemblance to the father who has allowed his life to spill away and reassure that this day will be met with precision and must thus be met with precision.

The chest-out stand. The hirsute arms. The buffalo skin. The bald hair that has loathed the forehead he now wears a pair of pale blunt horns. The furrows of calculation between the thick brows growing like the wrong burning bush. And of course that! Timothy would have laughed. The bulbous nose which he and his two brothers feel lucky not to have inherited.

Timothy can’t be mistaken then. He is certain he is aligned to this man by flesh and blood so that it quietly angers him to think how much, after all these years, his father has remained straight-backed and untrampled. But in place of the clean shave, a rough beard now frames the hard jaws, making him look like the difficult man he may have always been after all, his eyes bloodshot, vein-webbed and vague.

For a fleeting moment he sees himself in his father’s vision—a tall lanky boy of twenty-seven with a cap of clean-cropped hair and cottony eyes and a tight flame-orange shirt. Much of his history hovers before him, his face flour-pale and mellow-boned, ears somewhat peaked, almost elfin. He observes his father’s gaze fall to the dirt-splotched shoes he wears, and then to his derelict bag, before slipping back up to his face where a resemblance of his mother deprives the man of any shock which Timothy has not anticipated anyway.

His father inhales the city before stepping aside. He holds the door back for Timothy, as if he’s still the eight-year old son the father refuses to whip for coming home too late from playtime. Or it may have only been that he has in fact remained eight years old, in him fossilized some recognizable meekness which blunts his capacity to destroy.

Timothy picks up his bag. He reminds himself to be careful not to touch even his father’s clothes. He’s afraid that such physical contacts would taint the frankness he has brought with him as the only virtue he can readily accept with courage.

As the door clicks shut behind him, he shudders at the grief swallowing him. The cramped room crushes the breath out of him. His eyes flutter around in panic, as if he comes trapped by his own determination. Bruise-blue curtains drawn shut against any shard of light that might otherwise pierce the domestic smell of congealed diapers and unwashed cat and dried pee lingering beneath the bitter imprints of cigarettes. Frozen figures grope in the shadow. A set of couches with ripped upholstery, their foams gorging out some odor of sweat and, strangely too, some stains of regret screaming to be scrubbed away. A television sits back in the corner, beside a cabinet of shelves crumbling from a clutter of objects blurred against each other. Right before him, a steep flight of stairs shoots up to a dark hole in the ceiling, while two doorways flank him like prison guards. His father leads him to the left.

“I’ll fix you something to eat.”

Timothy nods at the gruff voice. He shuffles after the grimy heels patting across the floor like meat loaf. The kitchen opens even shockingly narrower with only an island table eating the space that should have been rightly cleared for affections. The linoleum cracks under their footfalls. The sound of a dead heart.

“Do you drink coffee?”

“Yes,” Timothy answers.

The coffee tastes like an old, damp paper. Obediently, though, like the son he has never been for this father, Timothy sips on from the chipped mug. He lets not even a droplet of displeasure leak into his stingy gestures while his heart squeezes at the sight of his father reduced much into this finite obligation, as if he truly belongs to this foreign care, negotiating his bustle around this awkward crumb of space, which the table has left over as if for just such moment. For just such love long lost but all of a sudden found again. Here!

“So how are your brothers?” his father asks with newfound interest, the detachedness he has exuded at the front door gone. He heats a pan on a stove to warm some slices of bread. “Your mother?”

Timothy blinks down on the ghostly rings marked on the lacquered table by the bottom of some glasses. He covers some of the rings with his envelope and flicks his eyes up to the splattered sink where a chaos of filthy dishes wails to be washed. A spider is creeping up to the lip of a plastic glass lying on its side, oozing with something white and gooey. He has expected such questions, however fake they come.

“We were finally able to persuade her to stop doing other people’s laundry,” Timothy answers.

“Your mother can be real stubborn.”

“She’s suffering from gout now,” Timothy announces without hesitation, with pride.


“But other than that, she’s okay. She’ll always be. She’s covered by a lot of policies my brother and I work hard for.”

“Yes, she deserves it. It’s good that you look after her.”

“Like you never did.”

“Timothy, please.”

“Sadly, we can’t stop her from doing some serious gardening in the backyard. She said that’s the payoff for having the job that feeds us taken away from her.”

“She can be real stubborn,” his father insists. “She has always been a no-nonsense woman. Always loves movement. You all still live in that old place?”

Timothy blinks up at his father who holds his stare for a second the length of a passing storm.

“You mean our late grandparents’ place,” Timothy corrects.

The silence swells with the bland smell of a hot oiled pan.

“Why did you leave us?” Timothy’s question arrives along with the plate of eggs and toasts served under his chin. His father then withers onto the chair across him and looks away. He must feel as if the inquiry has been uttered by God and not from a son who has grown out of his own seed, and that his redemption as a father depends upon the truth which can painfully slice all of them even further apart.

“This isn’t what I’ve wanted, you must know,” his father sighs.

Timothy imagines a cockroach crawling in his father’s heart.

“This isn’t what we’ve wanted either.”

“I have always adored your mother.”

“Have you?” Timothy mocks.

“No doubt.”

“Do you know how much it made her the kind of mother we never wanted?”

“It’s what she wanted, Timothy.”

“You know nothing, like you know nothing about her at all. That must be the reason why you left.”

Hair all tossed up like a tattered halo, his father stares through the brown odor of grease and rot and souring fruits.

“I have always adored her,” his father grits his teeth this time.

“So you left us then because you hated your sons? You were jealous of us?”

His father grimaces in confusion. “It isn’t like that, Timothy.”

“It wasn’t your responsibility to see through everything. To take on all at once what a mother is, what a child is. What you are. But you dumped all those obligations, all those roles, to her.”

His father brazenly holds a bewildered smile against this. He leans forward, clasps together his ham-thick hands on the table. His nails are lined with dirt. He might not have expected any of his sons to speak this way; the surprise winking out of his eyes feeds Timothy with more courage to understand the gap of years between them demanding to be bridged.

“I’ve always rocked you on my lap as a boy, always ruffled your head lovingly. You’re the one who wouldn’t cry when I bring you nothing. And you’re the one I would buy more toys for, Timothy. I knew even way back, you would be my enemy.”

A solitary tear wells out of Timothy’s eye. It isn’t his wish to provoke his father. He has long decided not to condemn him nor see him condemn himself, for it is not in their hands to know how hate should be righteously shared between them. Nor is it in their hands to foresee and to measure the expanse the pain of such moral contamination would transcend. Timothy tosses his quivering eyes over his father’s head to the only cupboard clinging on the wall. An army of ants snakes its way inside it through a thumb-sized hole that must have been nibbled by some wood-worms dead by now.

In the bus, Timothy had secretly talked himself into steel while his fingers fumbled from one of his rosary’s crystals to another. Arriving at his father’s door, he imagined he would have that kind of mercy for as long as he stayed here, seeking his father’s honesty so that Timothy’s forgiveness may come out pure and complete. He pulls out a kerchief from his pocket and presses it between his eyes.

“The woman in this house. Do you adore her?”

“Your mother’s the most fascinating woman I know. I wish you’d tell her that for me.”

“I don’t see her around,” Timothy notices distantly.

“She leaves early before six. She works in a nearby bakery.”

“And the kid?”

“Finally getting his last year in high school. Loves basketball like it’s his life. So sometimes I would play with him as if it’s my life too. It doesn’t hurt to pretend if that’s what inspires the man in him to earn passing grades. Still in bed upstairs.” His father cocks his eyes up to the ceiling. “He oversleeps during summers.”

Timothy attempts at a smile so wan and so pale it may have been nothing. “And you?”

His father sinks his chin to his chest as if in apology to something justified. His crumpled teeth-yellow shirt glows in the gloom of the kitchen. A splotch of red has soiled it by the neck the same way his father’s blood has soiled his veins.

A skin of light from a crack in the kitchen window slashes down the air between them. It reveals nothing more than the space they both find hard to breathe. But as if it’s the clue to the climax of his hope, Timothy flips up the flap of the envelope, pulls out five copies of his and his brothers’ birth certificates, fifty copies of his university records, cum laude, Political Science, Law.

Carefully, he nudges the thick sheaf forward. It slides across the light between them where dust motes wink like small, old-time proverbs begging to settle.

“Ma made sure at least one of us would get there.” Timothy gestures at the sheaf of documents which his father fingers hesitantly, nervously, as if the fires of hell have licked their way up to burn the mortal roots of the counterstrokes the papers bear. It comforts Timothy to think how the tangible, so simple and concrete, can carry out this retribution he may have only unconsciously acknowledged. “But with that I’ll make sure all of us get there. I’m relieved to think I could dare come here with no knife and yet—”

An infant in the house shrieks awake. Its father pounces out of the kitchen; and Timothy—he too jolts awake like a lamb to a gun shot.

“I’ll show you your bedroom,” the father tosses the words over his shoulder as if he has always known this time would come and a room must be saved for the child who seeks it. But Timothy simply smiles at the documents piled before his father’s chair.

The grumpy voice of a teenager rousing up from sleep seeps through the ceiling. Timothy blinks down at the plate of breakfast. He stoops to gather up his bag from the foot of the chair. Without haste he gathers himself up too. He catches a glimpse of his father’s back disappearing through the door opposite the kitchen, his voice shrinking to a shushing. It sounds almost like a maternal crooning against the cry of the newborn.

Timothy flicks his eyes at the lighter by the stove. And then at his life on the table. He longs to ignite a semblance of hell where his heart could deliver it. Let this house burn down into silence as it has burned down another! And yet such hell would consume nobody but his mother. It is enough that the moment has arrived burning and the son has been the smoke.

And so like smoke, Timothy fades through the front door.

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