A short story
The light from the window fell over her right shoulder, and while she was firmly stirring the vegetables in the pot, she sensed a shadow passing. She looked up to the window, relieved. But it wasn’t him, just the willow moving from the strong wind blasts. She turned to check the kitchen clock above the table. It was almost five thirty, the time he usually came home. He would probably be here in five minutes. He was punctual. This was one of the few things that had stayed unaltered. The thought calmed her and at the same time threw shivers down her body. Seeing him change daily became less and less endurable. Each day he seemed to have shrunk a bit more, his shoulders aimless hanging, his head bent. His tall and proud posture changing into a question mark.
Dinner, together at the table, it was even worse. She was out of inspiration. There was nothing more to ask about school. More personal questions she avoided since they had freaked him out last week.
– ‘Stop it Mom!’ He yelled. ‘Get over it! That’s what you told me, remember?’
– ‘Not in this way,’ she softly objected. ‘I wanted you to know it will get better. People forget after a while.’
– ‘Right. As if I can erase everything that appears on social media.’
– ‘You shouldn’t check this anymore, I mean, not for the time being.’
– ‘Great advice, really.’ He stood up, and with a fierce push from his right hand, shoved his plate of spaghetti down to the floor and vanished to his room.
The phone interrupted her thoughts for just two seconds. Her husband. She didn’t take it, couldn’t face his questions. What was the right answer? ‘I think he’s ok.’ Or ‘I have no clue.’ If she’d give an honest answer it would be: ‘He is not our son anymore. I do not recognize him. The counseling doesn’t help him a bit.’
Her husband was on a business trip. His absence didn’t make a big difference. Their conversations nowadays were limited to the mornings, together at their twin sinks in the bathroom, just facing one another in the big mirror. The domestic routines kept them going and enabled them to avoid confronting their true feelings. Their mutual goal, the well being of their child, still remained the same though, as it had for seventeen years. This appeared to be one of the only leftovers of a mountain of common interests they shared when they first met.
– ‘This is so important, my presence at this congress. If you are home, that’s the most essential. He doesn’t talk to me anyway. But of course, my love, if you need me here, I won’t go, you know that.’
She thought this was weak, a far too easy escape. She didn’t have the strength nor energy to tell him this. He scaled down her worries anyway.
– ‘Yes, it is a big deal now. But he’s seventeen. He’ll come out of it stronger. I believe him, you believe him and if we both do, fuck the gossip and accusations. This girl is just trying to get attention.’ He said it with a smile on his face, as to encourage her to believe him. Being optimistic is one thing, minimizing a trauma something else. That is what he did, she thought, and she could not follow him anymore.
She had always felt they were equal as parents. They both decided to have only one child because of their demanding jobs. Until their little boy was five they had a nanny. After that he stayed in the after school care, and she and her husband took turns being home on time to make dinner, do homework and read his bedtime story. It went smoothly most of the time.
The first week after they heard the news, she continued working, and just tried to be home on time. It did not go well. She could not concentrate, felt guilty, thought she should solve this, although solving is not applicable for this problem. So she took an unpaid leave for a month.
She continued stirring. It had to be perfect, this was his favorite meal. The pasta was almost done. The meat still needed five minutes. For dessert rice pudding with vanilla sugar, he could eat a huge bowl of this, that is, a month ago.
A month ago seemed like another era now. Before they were a perfectly functioning family, she realized. Father and mother and an intelligent, social and good-looking son. She was thrilled and immediately overwhelmed with love the day he was born. When she was just pregnant, it didn’t matter to her if she’d have a daughter or a son. A healthy baby was her main concern. Once she held her newborn in her arms, she couldn’t imagine loving a daughter as much. She wondered how the mother of the girl felt. What if she were the mother of this girl? Would she stand behind her as fierce as she supported her son now? Would she question her, try to get the whole story out? Attempt to determine her daughter’s responsibility in this? As a teenager she had always been the first on the barricades for female rights. This was a totally different case. She hated that people made this matter about protecting their rights.
In the beginning, she had interrogated her son, worse than a cutthroat prosecutor. She needed to know, to be sure, to know all the details. So she could defend him against the great crowd of vultures looking for an easy victim they could rip apart with their holy bible of good intentions.
The food was ready now. She turned off the gas of the stove and sat down at the kitchen table. With the newspaper in front of her, she tried to read the headlines. But even with this, she found it too hard to concentrate. It was five fifty now. She checked her cell phone, no messages. Should she call the school? She had already requested, demanded really, that the minute he wasn’t present, they should let her know. They said they understood, in these circumstances. The bus could be delayed, although that did not happen often. She could call Eileen, a few houses down the street, her daughter was in his class. The moment this idea popped up in her mind she rejected it with a bitter feeling. They all took the side of the girl. Of course. It is so much easier to follow the herd, not to think for yourself, just to lynch the so called perpetrator of the imaginary crime. She hated them all, wished something even worse would happen to them.
Six o’clock now. She was walking slowly around the kitchen table, in her mind listening to her son telling her what had happened. He seemed honest. The story sounded real. She believed him, definitely did. Why was he late? She got nervous now and returned to the stove, put the fire on and started stirring again. She added oil and scraped the carrots from the bottom, they cannot get burned.
Time stood still. So it seemed. As a robot she kept on stirring the vegetables. The meat and pasta must have gone cold by now. So far she resisted looking at the clock again. But now she did: six fifteen. She called him, it went straight to his mailbox. She put out the fire, and sank to the kitchen floor, pulled her knees close to her body, tried to make herself as small as possible. As if evil couldn’t get to her when she was a smaller target. Thoughts catapulted in her head, causing her migraine.
The doorbell rang, firmly but short. She did not move. A minute passed. It rang again, this time longer and louder. She kept quiet.