Danny’s/Milardo Word Count: 4,173

 

 

 

 

 

 

Danny’s Dilemma

 

I hope Mommy’s home, thought six-year-old Danny Brower, as he stepped off the school bus and started up the sidewalk to the front door of his home. “None of the other mommies are nice,” he continued aloud, thinking of all the different mommies, each one of them, that were here sometimes when he got home from school, though they never brought their kids with them, if they had any. The doors squeaking and grinding shut behind him, the big yellow bus roared off to its next stop.

Which mommy’s here? Danny wondered, looking up at the front door, hoping that it was his mommy. Brow furrowed, he continued wondering, worrying, praying as he mounted the gray wooden steps that led to the front door of his small

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brick home on Turtle Street. I want my mommy to be here. Please, Father. Let it be her inside. He begged and prayed to God. None of the other mommies are nice. Please, Father. Don’t let it be any of the other mommies. I want my mommy. Mommy! He imagined shouting.

Breathless, tightening all over as he mounted the final step, Danny opened the screen door and then paused as he gripped the front doorknob before slowly turning it.

“My mommy! Please, Father. My mommy!” Again, he begged God, this time aloud, muttering his pleas under his breath. Growling like a tiger, Danny wanted to shout his pleas up at the gray November clouds, to wherever God might be. Breathless again, he slowly pushed the door open…and cautiously took one step inside. Softly closing the door behind him, listening intently, he gazed up at the red-carpeted staircase before him that led to the second floor, and then shifted his gaze toward the parlor to his right.

Which mommy? Again, Danny wondered. Mommy! He wanted to scream but didn’t dare.

“Mom…?” he finally called softly. “Mom…?” Heart quickening as he waited for a response, Danny worried that the brown-haired mommy might be

here, or the gray or orange or blue-haired mommy. They were always mean, but

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the brown-haired mommy was the worst of all.

It’s quiet…Maybe a good sign…Danny, unaware that he was holding his breath, pondered what might be. He didn’t want to get his hopes up too high that no other mommy was here today, especially the brown-haired mommy. He wanted only his mommy, with her long, soft blonde hair that he loved to smell, its sweet warmth safe, secure when he buried his face in it, and she hugged him tightly. Mommy loves me, he now thought, and I love Mommy. Finally exhaling, he began to breathe easier, and then he tensed again.

Aware of the quiet, knowing it could be a bad sign, Danny focused on making himself as alert as possible, ready for anything. The brown-haired mommy, or the green-haired mommy, too, if she were here, might be hiding somewhere, waiting to jump out at him, scare him and make him cry. Each had done that more than once. And on each occasion, the brown or green-haired mommy then stood over him, hands on hips, cackling down at him like the wicked witch in the Wizard of Oz, even as he cried.

Still hearing nothing, peering around the corner, Danny scanned the small parlor with its brightly flowered wallpaper and big, mica-chipped stone fireplace. No one there. No sign of anyone who might be here. Again praying that it would be his mommy, Danny stepped into the parlor and peered across the room into the

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kitchen. No. No one. Nothing. No sound. But suddenly a sign! A smell! Danny detected something good cooking in the kitchen and felt the warmth of the oven. Maybe a roast, he thought, which meant only one thing. Mommy’s home!

Jauntily, even whistling, Danny crossed the parlor into the kitchen. Taking an Oreo from a tall, clear glass jar on the Formica-topped counter, Danny shoved the entire cookie into his mouth and munched, savoring each bite of the creamy, chocolatey sweetness. Suddenly life was good, or almost good, unless one of the mommies was playing a trick on him. Sometimes, the brown-haired mommy cooked supper, but it never smelled or tasted good, and it was always something that made him too scared or sick to eat…until he was forced to.

“Danny…!”

Mommy? Heart leaping, pounding, and then settling, Danny was unsure if the voice that had called his name from upstairs was his mother’s. He had to be careful.

“Danny!”

It’s her!

Quickly grabbing another Oreo from the jar, smiling, nearly laughing, Danny stuffed it into his mouth and ran back through the parlor, stopping at the

bottom of the staircase to the second floor, where the bedrooms and bathroom

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were. Swallowing the last of the cookie, Danny stood anxiously waiting for his mother to appear, until finally seeing her hand on the railing and her feet at the top of the stairs, his heart danced.

“Mommy!” yelled Danny, turning in circles, stamping his feet. “Mommy!” It was safe to call again as he came to a stop, eyes locked on the top of the staircase in anticipation of Mommy’s complete arrival.

Clapping his hands, eyes twinkling, face aglow, Danny finally saw her smiling face and her long, beautiful blonde hair, brighter than sunlight as it shimmered and flowed down past her shoulders.

“Hi, Honey! How was school?”

Mesmerized, heart soaring, Danny watched Mommy step lightly down the stairs, like the ballerina she had once told him she wanted to be when she was a little girl. “But that was a long time ago.” He had once heard her say, as he watched her standing, talking to herself in front of the partially fogged mirror above the bathroom sink, arms limp at her sides, lips frowning, eyes sad as she gazed at her reflection. He still wondered and fretted over what might have been bothering her that day, but for now she was here, all smiles, and dressed in his favorite blue, short sleeve dress and spotless white bib apron. Mommy!

Arriving at the bottom of the stairs, she kissed the top of Danny’s head, and

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then she hugged him hard as he smiled and smelled her hair. Just like flowers, Danny thought, unlike the sour cigarette smoke he always smelled on the red-haired mommy, or even worse, on the monstrous brown-haired mommy. He now hugged his mommy around the neck, never wanting to let go, wishing he were small again so she could lift him and cradle him in her arms. He was a smart, good boy, he knew, because that’s what all the teachers told his mother on parent-teacher nights. They said he was quiet and sweet, too, and that they loved having him in their classes. But what Danny didn’t know was that occasionally there were things – inconsistent classwork, lack of focus, and increasing isolation from classmates – that made his teachers wonder and worry, about both Danny and his single-parent mother.

Releasing their hugs, Danny and Mommy smiled at each other. Danny marveled at Mommy’s smile and her bright, beautiful green eyes that reminded him so much of the marbles that he treasured most in his vast collection– a pair of green cat’s eyes. Just like the cat’s eyes, Mommy’s eyes always seemed to sparkle, especially in the sunshine, and when he arrived home from school. Her skin is so soft, softer than the feathers in my pillows, he thought, gazing up at Mommy, her lips small, like Cupid’s, without lipstick. Unlike the brown-haired mommy, who sometimes scribbled bright red lipstick all over her face and on the walls and

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mirrors. One day when he got home from school, the brown-haired mommy was even dressed in a baggy, yellow and white satin clown’s costume, with a big, red ball over her nose and orange paint sprayed in her frizzy, messed-up hair. But it was her smeared, blood-red lips, black tongue, and wild red eyes that frightened Danny most. Starting then and there, he asked God every day that she would never, ever be there again to scare him when he got home from school, but so far, his prayers had gone unanswered. Maybe, he thought, God was mad at him. Once he had told Mommy about the brown-haired mommy, the things she said and did that frightened him. Kept him awake at night. Gave him nightmares. But Mommy said that if any of what Danny said were true, the brown-haired mommy was just trying to have fun, that she didn’t mean any harm. Mommy promised to talk to her about everything Danny had told her, but, so far, nothing had changed, except that the brown-haired mommy never dressed like a clown again, at least, not yet. But if nothing else, at least Danny knew that when he went to bed at night – “Hopping the train to Dreamsville,” as Mommy called it – sometimes crying, his mommy, never any other, would always be there in the morning to love and comfort him, and make him breakfast.

“Hey, Mom,” Danny now chirped up at his mother, “what’s for supper?”

“Is my little boy hungry?” She laughed, tickling and squishing his belly,

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making him giggle.

“Yup!” Danny laughed, and as he tried tickling Mommy under her neck, his stomach suddenly grumbled, blossoming both their smiles.

“Come on. Let’s go see what’s in the oven.” She kissed his cheek and took his hand in hers. “Have I told you lately that I love you?”

Walking hand-in-hand into the kitchen, Mommy then released his and opened the oven door, revealing Danny’s favorite – roast pork with whole peeled potatoes sizzling in the same pan as the roast. Along with them, the only vegetable, besides corn, that Danny liked – glazed carrots.

“Mmmmm…” Danny expressed his pleasure and, as Mommy closed the door, his mouth watered, and he licked his lips. Not like when they’re here. Momentarily disgusted, confused, he briefly pictured the meals the other mommies made, especially the brown-haired mommy – the big, black-veined, boiled beef hearts that he always imagined suddenly coming alive, pulsating on the platter; hairy pig snouts, ears, and intestines that she oven-roasted and sometimes pretended to gnaw on while they were still raw; the long, slimy, black eels that she would dangle out in front of her while she chased him around the house, before peeling their skins off with a pair of pliers and hacking them into bite-size pieces

with a meat clever, ready for frying; the lamb’s eyeballs that she would roll out

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onto his plate after boiling the head in a big pot. Though he wanted to run from the table up to his room, lock the door, and jump under the covers, Danny never did. He was too scared, so he would just sit and cry, and she would scold him, her face in his, until he stopped crying and ate everything, even if he didn’t know what it was.

“Everything! Do you hear me?” The brown-haired mommy would scream in his ear, her hot, smoky breath – exactly like that of the red, black, and silver-haired mommies who sometimes came to watch him after school – in his face. “If I’m here tomorrow night, it’s piranha for supper! You hear me, Danny boy? Somewhere in Connecticut, I must be able to get piranha, even if I have to go to a pet store. Put a man on the moon but try to get piranha….”

Danny wondered what “piranha” was and thought of asking Mommy, but the brown-haired mommy forced him to promise never to tell Mommy, or anyone else, “anything about anything, or else!” She shook her fist in his face and threatened to punch him. That occurred the day after the only time he had ever talked to his mother about the brown-haired mommy, about how mean and scary she was.

“Oh, Danny boy, dinner will be ready in about an hour.” Mommy’s voice sang as she again took his hand. “Come and help me fold some laundry. Whatcha

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do in school today, Chumpy?” she called him his favorite nickname.

“We worked on Thanksgiving murals. We’re gonna put them up in the hallways next week,” replied Danny, as they went downstairs into the basement. “I painted pilgrims and turkeys. I like turkeys. They’re cool. Mrs. Archer says I’m a talented artist.”

“That you are, my boy!” Mommy messed his hair as they arrived at the bottom of the steps. “I love your drawings, especially when you draw clouds and skies and trees. You’re really good with those.”

“I love you, Mommy!” Suddenly feeling carefree, Danny let go his mother’s hand and hopped over to the washer and dryer that occupied a small annex in the basement.

“And I love you. Always and forever.” Joining Danny, she smiled, pinched and shook his cheek. And he smiled, too. Together, they then emptied the dryer and carried the heaping laundry basket upstairs to the dining room, which barely fit a small, rectangular, cherrywood table, four matching chairs, and a small Magnavox television on a dark walnut cabinet. On the wallpaper, which had started to fade and peel in several areas near the ceiling and where the walls joined, hummingbirds hovered among a rainbow-colored assortment of flowers flourishing in sunshine and blue skies. Mommy emptied the laundry basket onto the table, and

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they began sorting and folding clothes, most of them Danny’s. Folding a pair of his blue dungarees, Danny asked,

“Are we going to church this Sunday?”

“Of course, we are,” replied Mommy, shaking out one of Danny’s shirts, before folding it. “We go every Sunday.”

“Maybe we should go someplace else for a change.”
“Where?” Mommy laughed.

“I don’t know. The park. Somewhere I can run around and play on a merry-go-round and monkey bars.”

“We’ll go there after church.” Mommy emphasized, and she looked sternly at Danny, before grinning and folding another shirt.

The other mommies never came on weekends, when he and Mommy would spend all their time doing everything together. The other mommies, who always came alone, never together, never took him anywhere after school either, not that he wanted them to. He didn’t want any of them, at all. They just hung out in their bathrobes with their hair all mussed up, smoking cigarettes and drinking from big bottles of wine or whiskey that were delivered to the house in a van from Gabby’s Liquor Depot, as it said on the back and on both sides of the van. Mostly, the other mommies would eventually fall asleep, though the brown-haired mommy would

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get mad sometimes and smash things, like plates, dishes, and cups. She hurled a vase of flowers at Danny one evening, but it missed him and shattered against the fireplace, sending mica chips flying, like tiny stars, Danny thought, as he watched them glitter and float before falling to the floor. And then after quickly running upstairs to his room and locking the door, he hid under his bed until all was quiet and he felt it was safe to come out. When he dared to slowly creep back downstairs to grab some cookies and milk, he saw that the brown-haired mommy had fallen asleep on the couch, a plume of smoke rising from the cigarette in the ashtray beside her. Danny had noticed that she smoked Pall Malls. They all did.

After tiptoeing around the kitchen to quickly grab himself a glass of milk and some Oreos, just as he was creeping back upstairs to his room, the brown-haired mommy suddenly awoke, sat up on the couch, turned and snarled at him.

“You little shit! You’re no good! You’re just like he was. You even look like him!” She spat and slurred her words, and then taking her cigarette from the ashtray, she puffed and stared straight ahead – at nothing – Danny thought, his heart thumping as he scurried up the remaining stairs to his room. After locking the door, he barricaded it with his desk, chair, and toys. He tried to move his bed and bureau in front of the door, but he was unable to budge them.

Danny had some idea about who the man was that the brown-haired mommy

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seemed to hate so much. His mommy had explained to him that the brown-haired mommy’s husband suddenly abandoned her when she was just eighteen and pregnant, leaving her for another woman. She never heard from him again.

“Poof! He just disappeared. No one could find him anywhere.” Danny remembered Mommy shaking her head, and then saying the brown-haired mommy loved her husband with all her heart, and that she was terrified of losing her mind after she realized he was gone for good. She was even afraid that she might kill herself, “as people sometimes do, when they lose someone they love, especially to another person,” Mommy explained to him. “First, the heart breaks, and then the mind.” She looked Danny in the eye, bowed and shook her head, and said nothing more.

“All done!” Mommy now announced, as she folded the last of Danny’s shirts, and Danny paired the last of his socks.

“Hey, Mom,” said Danny, as his mother neatly piled the clothes back into the basket to carry upstairs, “where do you think my dad is right now?” It was a question he often wondered about and occasionally asked his mother. It struck him that it seemed he was the only kid in school without a father. What would it be like to have a dad to have a catch with, or go to the movies with, he frequently

pondered, as he imagined some of the other kids doing with their dads. Seemingly

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several times a day, every day, he would picture himself, always from behind,

strolling hand-in-hand with a great, big dad, sometimes each of them licking an ice cream cone – vanilla, Danny’s favorite – as they walked together. Most of the boys in school kind of looked like their dads, and Danny wondered if he looked like his. Mom had told him long ago that someday she would show him some pictures of Dad and tell Danny all about him, including where he was, but so far, she hadn’t. “I’ll have to find them first,” was all she would say whenever he asked about Dad and the pictures, followed by, “Don’t worry, sweetheart, I’ll find them.” But, so far, she hadn’t. And Danny had never even seen her look for them.

“Hungry?” she now asked, smiling down at him, her green eyes soft and tender as she quickly changed the subject from father to food.

“Starving!” Danny beamed up at her.

“Good! Let’s get these clothes put away, then we’ll chow down.”

Each taking a handle, they carried the laundry basket upstairs to Danny’s room and quickly put his clothes away in his bureau drawers. Then after racing downstairs to see who could get to the kitchen first, Danny edged out Mommy by a step, winning him an extra brownie for dessert.

Later, after supper and his bath, Danny and Mommy sat on the parlor couch and watched TV, as they always did weekday evenings when she, and not one of

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the other mommies, was home with him. Mommy never talked about her work, where it was, or what she did. The only thing she ever told Danny was that she hated her job and would rather be home with him, twenty-four seven. Danny wished and prayed for that, too.

Several hours later, eyes heavy, Danny found himself struggling to stay awake. But with Mommy here, the last thing he wanted was to go to bed.

“I think it’s time to hop the train to Dreamsville.” She smiled and hugged him as Full House, their favorite show, ended. “It’s a school day tomorrow, young man.”

“I don’t want to go to bed,” Danny immediately protested. “I want to stay up with you.”

“Oh, I think I’m going to call it a day, too,” said Mommy, yawning, stretching out her arms, pinching Danny’s cheek. “I’m beat. I’ll tuck you in and read you a story. Then it’s lights out for both of us.”

“Okay!” Danny agreed, excited to end the day with Mommy tucking him in and reading him a story. It was what he missed most when the other mommies were here, and he went upstairs to bed alone, frightened and sobbing.

Together, as always, after turning off the TV, Danny and Mommy went around turning off all the downstairs lights, and then they went up to the bathroom,

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where Danny brushed his teeth before Mommy chased him into bed. Pulling the covers up to his neck, Danny listened intently as Mommy read chapter five of Treasure Island, his favorite story of all time. Soon finishing the chapter, Mommy closed the book, placed it on the nightstand beside his bed, and turned off his light.

“Goodnight, my love.” She hugged and kissed Danny. “Get to sleep.”

“I love you, Mommy.” Though he wished his Mommy would stay, he knew she needed her sleep, too.

“I love you, too, Danny boy. I’ll leave your door open. Goodnight.”

They blew each other a kiss before Mommy turned away and Danny watched her disappear into her bedroom, opposite his. Exhausted physically and emotionally, rubbing her eyes, and then running her hands down her cheeks, stretching and contorting her entire face as she did, Mommy entered her walk-in closet. There, after turning on the light, she began sorting through the multitude of bottles on the shelves and in bureau drawers – hair dyes of every color and make-up of every kind – along with bottles, big and small, of wine and liquor, a clown’s outfit, old, baggy clothes smelling of cigarette smoke. And wigs. Lots and lots of wigs.

“Your father…” whispered Mommy, rummaging through the make-up and wigs, thinking mostly of Danny, and then only of him. No, she had never told

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Danny about his father, and she had stopped thinking about him as her husband a long time ago. After he had told her that he had never really loved her. That it was all “purely physical.” And the handsome prince who had once saved her abandoned her for another woman. That was shortly after she had become pregnant with Danny. She was only eighteen, and they had been married just over a year. She hadn’t heard from him since, not even when Danny was born. Feeling alone in the world, distant from all friends and relatives, she heard from no one, including her parents, both alcoholic, both abusive toward her and each other. “I hate this world and everyone in it,” she sometimes growled into the mirror, clenching her fists and teeth. “Sometimes I even hate Danny.” But she didn’t know why, and so she drank to forget everything, to end her self-hate, at least for a while, and escape the torment of constantly wondering why. But she drank only when she was not herself. When she was one of those horrible mommies, like her mommy, who swore at her and beat her, as did her father. All the time. So she never told Danny about his grandparents, any of them, either.

Who would she become tomorrow, while Danny was at school? Mommy now wondered, picking up each wig and examining it, trying to decide which one it might be. Or would she remain herself, Danny’s loving mother? It was out of her control. It would all depend on how she felt, the degree of her seemingly never-

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ending pain and despair over lost love and shattered dreams. What she knew now was madness.

Setting the wigs aside, some of them yet to be colored, she scanned the bottles of dye atop the bureau and shelves. Blue, green, pink, purple, orange, or gray, if she felt unsure who she was or how she felt. Red, silver, black, or blue if she were feeling lost and frustrated. Brown if she felt violent and vengeful, as if she were going insane, because she was going insane, wanting to hurt everyone and everything, including Danny. Or blonde. Her natural color. When she knew who she was and loved Danny with all her heart. Blonde. The only time she wore no make-up, rather than painting her face, smearing it beyond recognition, even to Danny. Even to her.

“Danny…and Mommy…together…forever…” She stood in the closet, quietly singing the song she had made up, just as she did every night when she wasn’t at a job that didn’t exist. When she was home with Danny, and she knew who she was, and that she hadn’t lost her mind. At least, not yet. She sang the words just loud enough for Danny to hear so that when she went into his room later to check on him, there would be a smile on his face as he slept. And then she could smile and sleep, too, at least until tomorrow.

 


Submitted: June 20, 2022

© Copyright 2022 Michael Milardo. All rights reserved.

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