content warning: abuse, suicide
I looked at the light from the lamp shine clearly on the counter top, and sighed in relief. I should’ve known better than to start a bar, but despite knowing all the messy nights I’ve dealt with in them, I did it anyway. I’ve always waved it off, hoping not to let that past hold me back. Last night’s brawl though was something even my bouncers and I couldn’t have anticipated.
I looked around at the dim lit space, sunlight trickling through the transparent door. When dawn creeps on the day, it has an almost cabin in the woods vibe to it, someplace you go to sit down with a cup of hot chocolate on winter mornings with your favorite book. I remember carefully choosing every inch of the place with all of my savings. And knowing this is my own to do as I please, from the small artists gallery in the side to the wind chime above the door that has surprisingly lasted through it all.
I gave a wry smile to myself and shook my head, the thick bangs covering my right eye flipping in the motion before falling back. I remembered then why I stuck around and got back to arranging the chairs. I’d given the guys off after helping keep yesterday’s fiasco contained but that left me cleaning up after the place, something I sorely wished I didn’t have to do on my own. I had turned back to put away the bottles when I heard the wind chime ring out. Odd, because I could’ve sworn I did not hear the door open.
“I am sorry, we are closed-”, I turned back to the face that has haunted my nightmares, lined with wrinkles that crinkled as she smiled at me. Strands of white peppered her brunette hair, her face sagging like she’s aged a thousand years. Her clothes were sullied as though she’d rolled in mud, brown and other shades I couldn’t quite make out mixed in.
“Eddie...” she whispered lovingly. Eight years ago, I’d have killed to have her call me so. But now, it was like her bottle cracked against my head again. That thought was what brought me out the reverie her appearance had put me in.
“What do you want?” My voice was shrill, not exactly the stern tone I wanted it to be. I clutched the cleaning rag in my hand, my knuckles turning white.
She took a step forward, “I just wanted to see you.”
Her eyes were sad, miserable even, but not the downright terrified as mine were that night. “Get out”, I whispered.
Her eyes widened, “Ed...”
I threw the rag down, “I said get out”, I screamed, my chest heaving. I knocked down one of the chairs I had stacked on top of the counter. For a split second, I hoped it would hurt her and she'd be scared. But she stood unflinchingly, as though nothing in the world could stop her from doing what she came to do.
“I’m so sorry, Eddie. You don’t know how sorry I am,” she croaked out. “I didn’t mean to that day, I wasn’t in control. I tried to stop, I really did. But the pain, it was just too much, I didn’t know what else to do. You wouldn’t understand.”
I chortled cruelly, amazed at her audacity. “Oh yeah, you made sure I understood alright.” I clenched my hair and lifted it, revealing the scar that ran from my forehead to my cheeks. She flinched at the sight of it. “You literally painted it on my face for the world to see.” I stormed from behind the counter and walked up to her, towering over her in an intimidating stance. “I am not that scared little kid anymore. Whatever you think you’ve got to say, shove it elsewhere.” I walked out, slamming the door, not caring that I left my solace with the demon of my darkest nights standing inside.
My black truck was the only one in the lot this early in the morning, so I made my way to it quickly and climbed inside. I turned the ignition, but as though the fates were against me, the car didn’t start. I tried a couple more times, getting angrier with each try before I got so frustrated I banged my hand onto the steering wheel.
If you aren’t scared, why are you running away?
“I am not scared,” I whispered angrily, pulling my throbbing hand away from the wheel. It was red, the skin looking like it was about to tear.
“You know better than to take your anger out this way, Ed,” came her voice from the passenger seat window.
I took a deep breath, “Yeah? Well I feel like putting my fist through you, but I am better than that.” In my anger I had lifted my eyes to hers, but now I couldn’t move them away.
She smiled wryly, “I probably deserved it.” She pulled back the passenger door and sat inside like it was something we did every day.
“What are you doing?” I bit out.
She broke eye contact and looked around the lot. “Well, neither of us are going anywhere anytime soon, so I thought I might as well get comfortable.” She then turned to me, her eyes lingering on me for a moment. “A bar? I’d never have thought,” she chuckled.
I felt a sudden exhaustion setting in and leaned back on the seat. “I spent enough of my time there because of you, it almost felt like I was destined to rot away in it.”
She looked at me curiously, “It doesn’t look like something you built to rot away in, more like something you used to rewrite its memories. I can see that you’re proud of it.”
“You don’t know anything,” I said in a dark, low voice. The effort from the long night and this conversation I never wanted set in my bones. The silence that followed didn’t help either, as I sat back and closed my eyes, hoping that when I opened them, she’d be gone.
I didn’t feel it at first, but it felt like a small breeze weaved itself through my hair and over my scar, gentle, almost absent. I opened my eyes to see her fingers linger over my face, a gut wrenching sorrow lined her eyes. “You deserved a better mother, Eddie.” I’ve seen her many expressions before, but at that moment when the teardrop fell from her eye, I thought to myself I’ve never seen her cry. Even at her saddest, you wouldn’t know it unless you knew her. She never shed a tear. So when that drop slipped past, something inside me felt hopeful, that maybe she didn’t really mean to do what she did that night. I tried squashing that pesky thought, but something seemed to clog up my throat. As though something was begging to leave my lips but I simply forgot my words.
“I thought I was gonna die,” I choked out.
She gave me a teary smile, “I was gonna come for you, you know? I was gonna clean up my act, I never wanted that night to repeat itself. I was gonna take care of you.”
I chuckled roughly, my throat still clogged up, “Well, I can take care of myself now.”
She gave me a smile, “Yes, I can see that now.”
I don’t know why but it felt like something lifted off my chest and I was able to breathe again. All this time I’ve been holding onto this anger inside me, letting it drive every decision I ever made. But seeing her in front of me, I couldn’t hold onto it any longer. I knew in my heart that it couldn’t be healthy to let something big go so easily, but I also couldn’t ignore what I felt for the woman of my youth, before things spiralled out of control.
She’s my mother after all.
“Why did you come here?”
Her eyes twinkled, “I didn’t want to leave before I made sure you were okay. I didn’t know where you were, they wouldn’t tell me. This was the only way I could find you.”
I couldn’t focus on anything but that first half, “You are leaving?”
“I have no choice,” she choked out.
I chuckled darkly, “Now where have I heard that excuse before?”
She smiled sadly and looked ahead. I turned back to the front as well and stared as the sun rose above the horizon. It was a new day, a new start.
I turned to her, “I’m going to go close up. Maybe,” I licked my lips, feeling nervous about this, “maybe, I could drop you off after wherever it is you are headed.”
Her eyes lit up at that, “I’d like that.”
I let out a breath. “Okay, okay...” I got out of the door and turned to her, “I won’t be long, just sit tight.”
She laughed, “I’ll do that.” I nodded and turned towards the bar, just about to rush back when she said, “Hey Eddie?”
I turned to her, “Yeah?”
She smiled sadly, “I’ve always loved you, remember that okay?” As strange as I found her words, I nodded and walked to the bar. After double checking all the locks, I walked back to the truck, both wanting to rush and get there slowly, but when I got there the passenger seat was empty.
“Mom?” I looked around the empty parking lot. There weren’t many places open around here at this hour so I couldn’t see where she might’ve gone. I walked around calling out for her when my phone started buzzing in my pocket. I pulled it out to see it was the social worker assigned to my case after that night. She calls me every now and then to simply check in and see how I was doing.
“Ms. Carter, hi, how are you doing?”
“Hey Eddie,” her voice was low, slow almost as though she was measuring her words. “You got a minute? You should probably sit down, it's about your mother...”
“My mother?” I looked around the lot again before making way back to the truck and sliding in.
“I’m sorry, Eddie, but I just got news that she died last night. I know you said you didn’t want anything to do with her, but as her only next of kin, I had to inform you-”
I think somewhere between her words, the phone slipped from my hands and fell, my ears ringing. I looked to the passenger seat where just a few minutes ago she sat talking to me.
I’ve always loved you, remember that okay?
She wasn’t always the reason for my nightmares, she used to be the person who made them go away. In all my years of anger, I suppressed every good thing she ever did and rewrote it in my mind. Until in the end, she was but a darkness I’d do anything to run away from.
Yet here I sit, confused about whether to be relieved her darkness is out of this world for good, or sorrowful for the woman I knew her to be before. I didn’t know what to make of the figure I talked to just moments ago. Was she just a figment of my imagination? Or a phantom that came to regale her last thoughts? Regardless, she reminded me of a part of her I had forgotten, a part that now makes me claw at my heart in pain worse than the night I got my scar.
Yes, she was the demon in my nightmares, and for that I hated her.
But she was also my mother, and I can’t help but hate that I loved her still.