Thursday and Friday—both were a blur. High school inquiries went unanswered.
Saturday. Michael’s nose was the second organ of his body to arouse from sleep. His mother had prepared a hot breakfast for him. His favorite: pancakes slathered in butter and drenched in maple syrup, bacon burnt black as his coffee. For a moment, he stood there, unnoticed, watching her frail body, so bony, working at the griddle. Finally, something he hadn’t said in a long time, “Mom—” She turned. “I love you.” Stunned but stoic in the uncertainty of momentary repentance, she returned to her work without a word. Michael’s father, too, would soften at breakfast, reaffirming his love after a night of physical and emotional injury, his gargantuan hands a complete contradiction, giant fingers caressing mere hours after well-connected, hard-knuckled punches.
Michael moved toward the jittery skeleton in the frayed night gown, removed the cigarette from her mouth, took a deep drag for himself before propping it on the butter dish. He hugged his mother from behind. Strong arms that would never injure her squeezed tight—but not too tight.
“You stink, boy.”
The drug-ravaged Michael hadn’t bathed in days.
“Thanks,” he said with a smirk, after blowing a jet stream of smoke in the opposite direction, oily hair sticking to his face.
“Can’t scrub up, yet. Got some damn wood to chop.” He picked at the frayed calluses on the palms of his hands. “Since you ain’t got no meat on your bones, gotta keep this house warm in the winter—feed that hungry potbelly over there.” He nodded handsomely toward the little black stove which gave their humble house of sticks a bit of dignity.
They sat there, mother and son, two people with so much to say, saying nothing.
Breakfast concluded, Michael stood and walked to the back door, patted his flat stomach, stretched his long torso, lion-like, and raked bacon grease fingers through his lengthening mane. He turned and winked at his mother, “Chop, chop.”
And that’s what Michael did. Dull axe in hand, he chopped and chopped and chopped. Anger therapy. Prescribed by his psychiatrist. Focusing his anger and violent behavior on something inanimate, something without flesh or feelings.
In the secret place of his mind, Michael planned on putting everything in order. He started with the logs, stacking them high and tight, covering the sizable mountain with a heavy tarp. His mother thought it strange that, for once, her edgy son whistled while he worked, as if he were truly relaxed and finally at peace. He mowed the patchy grass, scrubbed the tub and toilet, washed and folded the laundry, organized his closet and bureau, made his bed. He even lined his shoes straight as soldiers along the baseboard of the wall.
Baffled and pleased by this unusual display of prioritization and organization, she said, “I don’t know what was in those pancakes, Mikey, but you sure are full of happy energy today!
Michael smiled and waved goodbye to his mother as he closed the shower door. Quick as a click, the smile abandoned his kingly face.
He lathered and scrubbed his body with a yellow bar of Dial soap. Barely any water pressure, it took some time and effort to rinse the shampoo from his long hair. Sculpted and dripping wet, he stared at the peeling wallpaper—curling sailboats—obsessed with thoughts of death or a life without April. He shook his head against a number of whispering voices, demons all, and shouted, “NO!”
His mother called from just beyond the door—knock, knock, knock, knock —”You alright in there, Mikey?”
Silence. The absence of an answer was his answer.