"Set the succulent on the counter, Maurice. Mama's got a blender to buy," Mama growls with a bounce and cold calling grin.
She bends into a lowercase r at the edge of the sofa. Italian leather squeaks beneath her frenetic body. Belches a caustic mixture of chili and draft beer as two kinetic middle-aged people with shifting blonde hair shout about "once-in-a-lifetime deals you can't afford to miss" in a stark creme room. I set the succulent on the counter while Mama barks, launching paper money at our curved TV.
"Maurice, go get me another succulent," she utters in a bug-eyed shuffle on her knees before the TV. "Mama needs a new blender."
"They bring good luck. Now head out, damn it."
I quiet the door shut and exhale outside.
My car sputters down the road as its detuned radio jitters and the fresh coat of crimson peels off somehow from the heavy rain.
"That's impossible. Cars don't work like that," a mechanic once noted but we receive the type of rain every now and again that could swallow motorcycles.
Nora's Houseplant Shop contains one houseplant- the ever commonplace and nevertheless popular succulent- but it spares her from police visits about the persistent aroma of marijuana sneaking from the back of her store.
"My mother needs another succulent, Nora."
A raven-haired woman who can't reach halfway up to her trellis let alone any archway of decent height shuffles out to the back hidden by false palm trees and the like until she bumps into one of my knees.
"Is she an addict?" Nora questions with the voice of a two-cigarette-packs-a-day smoker and the inquisitive eyes of a bothersome child who wanders around her shop on occasion.
"No. She swears it's good luck though."
"Tell me something, Maurice," she paper bags another succulent and strides to the register for a rapid stool adjustment to be eye level with me. "Does your mother leave the house for anything?"
"Not work, poker night, extramarital affair, nothing?"
I shake my head and trade $15 for the paper-bagged succulent.
"Then she's an addict. Or a serial killer."
We cackle until our voices exhaust.
"Patch the holes in your jeans, Maurice. You come off like a teenager who tries to convince people he isn't sheltered," she crams the money in her register with a smirk.
"Mask the marijuana, Nora," I respond with a wink and she lobs a plush cactus at my head.
The ride back pelts my finicky car with heavy rain and somehow peels the paint in the impossible way it manages. But the succulent is fine. The succulent- Mama can't be an addict. This is only her second succulent and... what is that stench of charred flesh?
"Mom, what is that smell?"
"Shut up. Shut up. Set the succulent down on the counter."
The stench strikes me at the door and strengthens as I close in on the kitchen. The bubbling pot, windows shut, and the relentless sting of charred flesh in my nose.
"I said set down the succulent."
"I can't quite help covering my nose, Mama."
A modicum of dried blood hangs on one side of this striped tablecloth but Mama shoos me out of the kitchen before I investigate further.
"My blender is coming tomorrow by express mail. Guests are coming for dinner and they all love them some succulents."
I sigh as if the obvious isn't inevitable. Mama doesn't have to be forthcoming and I can read the thought before it travels out of her mouth; "go get me another succulent, Maurice."
My slumped body pivots and drags to the door while Mama stirs with a metal serving spoon and tastes a little.
"Maybe it needs a little creole seasoning. The boys like creole seasoning."
I'm unsure what "boys" she refers to but I'm on the way back to Nora's before becoming as quizzical as her. Before Mama ejected me from the kitchen by force.
Nora is in the doorway to greet or prohibit me from entering, neither of which surprises me or deters me from stepping around her.
"She's gonna have to start paying fees or something because this is absurd," she sighs in a way that is more or less concern whether that concern is disingenuous or something sacred and unspoken between commendable friends.
"Don't you appreciate the business?"
The words slither out of my mouth as if they are Mama's and Nora replaces her typical scowling face with bug eyes and a slacked jaw. Followed by disbelief and disappointment as she clutches to a shawl.
"I do but Leonora is not the most social butterfly in the garden if this analogy makes any sense."
She pauses but doesn't hinder her body from the motions of bagging and selling yet another succulent. The jowls sag a bit lower and the marijuana hangs a bit more potent in the air.
"I won't snitch on you if you don't snitch on my mother."
We trade awkward laughter because it's an empty threat disguised as a joke that doesn't stick. Nora won't snitch on customers much less consistent ones regardless of how dodgy they are or seem as people. I am cognizant of how Mama's antisocial nature portrays her but not everyone is gonna be or is meant to be a people person.
"Right," she nods and skulks around before I exit with a nod of my own.
The heavy rain subsides and some robust solar defiance, if I can be poetic for a second, bursts through and beats on everything and everyone. The unscathed car of my dreams sits in the driveway as the complete opposite; a chipped paint character witness to this peculiar succulent run.
"Mama, what the hell is that smell?"
"None of your damn. Now set down that succulent and quit acting dejected."
Her stubby hands are redder than I ever knew them to be. That deep shade of crimson lounges beneath her nails too. It's on her apron but in dry form. The charred flesh stench is non-existent and replaced by something that resembles kidney beans. I set down the succulent and notice the slight ajar basement door in my peripheral.
"I could help you cook, Mama."
She chuckles and snorts until the chuckling and snorting is all but exorcised out of her.
"The boys are coming in about an hour," she drones on for two or three minutes with the same phrase on her tongue as a mantra.
I squirm because she sounds nervous. Then I squirm because she sounds calm to a blood-curdling fault. I pray to Jesus this is nothing more than some odd addiction.
"I don't want you setting the house ablaze like ten years ago."
I wanted to reheat a fast food burger but had no clue that you don't reheat a burger wrapped in aluminum foil inside a microwave or anywhere for that matter. The house caught fire after the bold decision to expand the fire in the most inadvertent way imaginable; I tossed kerosene on it as someone in my class mentioned as a joke.
"I didn't get sarcasm then but I do now," I insist with a distant look outside one of the kitchen windows.
One more comment with her and I am liable to implode or explode. I march outside and the aforementioned "boys" arrive one after the other. All coiffed and tall and emerald-eyed and here for Mama? Five of them empty out of sports cars and enter the house to greet Mama with twin cheek kisses and a genuine chortle here and there.
"Paris AND Milan this year," I overhear from inside my car.
"The time frame doesn't allow for much wiggle room to spend time with you," another mentions to a collective "aww".
"We can spend as much time as you want now."
"Love love LOVE your succulents, Leonora."
This succulent praise carries on for fifteen or so minutes until the house grows still. The standard chatter from the TV is now an accessory to the silence. No pot bubbling. No honey-drenched voices.
The door is locked. And of course I forget my key on the kitchen island.
"Mama, let me in, please. I forgot my key on the kitchen island."
No response. I jog around to the backyard and twist on a doorknob that is locked tight.
"Mama, can you please..."
And there is my mother, capable of opening the door, but preoccupied with dragging one of the boys' bodies into the basement. Thank God mesh is easy for me to cut through with this pocket knife and I reach over to unlock the door.
"Mama, what on earth?"
The basement door is now wide open. I don't care about being uninvited but I care about the fate of the people she invited. Each wooden step makes half-century-old creaks until my full descent onto the coldest floor in the house. Until a light-bulb illuminates the entire basement and the bodies of every "guest" and a few unremarkable people are ravaged against a crafting table.
"We aren't living in the lap of luxury anymore in case you need a reminder," Mama struggles to combat incoming tears. "Good food is hard to come by."
"Good food that isn't living makes far more sense to me. And couldn't you ask for assistance?"
"Assistance for what? I don't need perishables and non-perishables."
Mama wipes the blood trickling down her mouth with a free forearm. This is... no no I have to inform someone on what's happening.
"This basement door is shut tight. No amount of yanking and grunting can open it."
"That's fine because I'm gonna-"
My phone reception is miserable in the basement. Nora could be right about her; Mama is a succulent addict but not in the way she assumes/thinks.
"Maurice, you're gonna kick over your pocket knife. Come on."
I kick over my pocket knife and watch it gripped in Mama's hands.
"What about the succulents?" I bring up as if out of the blue with my hands ascending toward the concrete basement ceiling.
"Needed an excuse for you to leave so I could have ample time to, you know, spend time with myself."
I fight to hoist myself up to the one of the narrow windows that may or may not provide freedom while Mama beams. She smacks my back with a nearby 4x4 and I collapse to the ground. I attempt to adjust my jaw once Mama hovers over me.
"Checked my blender order and it's coming by 10 pm tonight."
Then I remember being knocked unconscious. And the twisted smile that crossed her face.