David Haight received a degree in English and later an MFA in writing from Hamline University where he was distinguished by the Quay W. Grigg award for Excellence in Literary Study. He published the novel Overdrive in 2006, Me and Mrs. Jones in 2012 and Lemon, a collection of short stories in 2015. He is working on a second collection of short stories.
HANG ON, MOTHER FUCKER
All I wanted to do was spring from the car march until I hit the horizon, slip beneath it like a crack in a door and into another family. Despite my mother’s repeated failures at every job and marriage, her inability to raise a family and anything else you could possibly imagine, it was futile. There was no escaping. Unable to do either I normally screamed at her bloated little face. I didn’t have the strength today. Anyway I needed something from her.
“You swore that Mike would never move in. You swore.”
My mother, her ass plopped squarely on an old flat browning pillow, continued maneuvering the car straight down 5th Avenue. She reached over blindly with her right hand each finger wrapped in a different silver snake-shaped ring, until she found the dial and turned on the radio.
“Mom. I’m talking to you.” I flipped the radio back off. “I’m sitting right here. Ignoring me is not an option.”
“Eighteen years. That’s how long I put up with your father. Eighteen years of cooking for him, cleaning up after you rotten kids while he sat quarantined in that hospice of a bedroom. A near lifetime of watching him nearly drink himself to death.” A dramatic pause. “While everyone else was going out drinking and dancing and screwing I was riding the straight edge of a nervous breakdown. More than once I came home and thought he was dead.”
“I was there remember? A child,” I said pointing at myself.
“Those were my prime years. I can’t get those back. Do you have any idea what opportunities I watched pass me by?” She gave me a hard look, one that was supposed to impress upon my young mind the gravity behind the words. I sighed. “How could you understand? You’re still a tadpole. Perky tits and back shelf ass. You think they’ll all look at you like that forever.
“Once Kevin. Do you remember Kevin? Probably not. You were little. He knew what I went through. How tight money was. What your father was like. We were leaving the VFW on one of the rare occasions I was allowed out. I was all dolled up.”
“I really don’t need to hear about your infidelities mother.”
“We were just out the door when he stopped me and said ‘you did it again.’” She stopped and peered at me. Another of her patented glares. This was serious, apparently.
“Go on,” I said rolling my eyes.
“’You were the most beautiful woman at this whole god damned thing. Again.’ Isn’t that something? My breath was literally taken away. And for the record he and I never. Not that I didn’t think about it. God knows he wanted to. The way he looked leaning against that jeep with that square jaw. He was always in such great shape.”
That huge disarming shit eating grim ran wild across her face. My mother was quite beautiful.
“I never realized how vain and needy you are. It’s embarrassing.” Her face burned with anger, her heart wilted. “How could you be the most beautiful woman at something, again, which implies you went out a lot if you just said you were rarely were allowed out?”
“You know you have bitch face, right? It comes from your grandmother. Only thing she ever gave you. It’s why boys don’t like you the way they liked me, why you don’t get flirted with, or why they don’t drop to the pavement like they did for your sister. There’s no one who sees you the way Kevin saw me. Not yet. Certainly not Danny.”
“That’s not true,” I said too quickly.
“Is that so? Didn’t he tell you who he really wanted to fuck, those were his exact words weren’t they, and then named some other girl, moments after stealing the only virginity you had to offer? Or am I thinking of someone else?”
My mother stared at me. I refused to look at her. There was a long truth exposing silence.
“But you swore.”
“I’ll say this one more time,” she said sighing heavily. “No, I won’t be quiet because you bring this up every God damn day. I don’t remember making that promise,” she said. “Was I drunk? Jesus, I’m kidding. You never had a sense of humor. Although I probably was. Drunk. Wipe that ugly look off your face. I forgot that can’t be helped.”
“I know,” I said catching a glance of myself in the side view mirror. “People think I’m always pissed, like I’m a big unapproachable gorilla.”
“Hand to God,” she said raising her right hand, “comes from your grandmother. Check the photo albums.”
“You scratched out her face in all the pictures.”
“That’s because she was a scary bitch. God knows the few times I ever talked back the way you do I had to-”
“Kneel in the corner for hours, yes I know.”
“Anyway, if you were going to college like everyone else your age this wouldn’t even be an issue. We’d see you every other weekend when you came home to do your laundry.”
“You didn’t go to college.”
“That’s right,” she said rearranging her bangs in the rear view mirror. “Let’s just say that dementia didn’t mellow that old war horse out. She’d fall five times a day and argue with you, from the floor: ‘I didn’t fall.’ So no, I didn’t go to college. What exactly is your excuse? I don’t even charge you rent. It was Mike, big bad dog Mike that convinced me not to do that. You’re lucky I’m even letting you have this little shindig,” she added as a final little rip.
“You’ll still pick up the stuff, right?”
“You got the money so you’ll get your booze.”
The car eased into the flat parking lot baking in the sun of the dilapidated two story apartment complex where my father rented a single room for 295.00 a week.
“I thought you agreed to go to the liquor store awfully easy,” I said slumping in the seat.
“Listen,” she said turning sideways. “He has no one.”
“You don’t see the irony in that?” I asked popping the door open. “That’s not why we’re here. And I know you overcharge me for the alcohol by the way. You always do.”
Pushing open the door to his room the smell of cigarettes, sweat and Spanish rice came over me like a dirge. There were two nondescript dressers shoe polish brown, one cowering to the right of the door, a hot plate and stained dish perched on top and a second, the larger of the two in front of the window blocking out most of the natural light, all drawers open, a mammoth, old television plopped onto it the volume muted. There was a thin doorway to a tiny bathroom but no sight of Daisy.
The bed dominated the room like a felled elephant.
Against the headboard in white shrinking underwear and nothing else sat the hulking, exhausted figure of my father. What little was left of his hair was stuck to his head in tiny stress patches like sand burs, the rest hung in thin grease strands down to his shoulders parted mathematically in the middle. He held a perpetually burning cigarette with one hand, an empty Campbell’s soup can in the other presumably to ash into, though he didn’t while we were there.
“And who do we have here?” he asked me.
I raged. I wanted to weep. I wished I had never been grunted and shoved out into this earth. This was what my father always said to me to remind me that Daisy, the genius, was his favorite daughter and that I was the result of a night he couldn’t recall. Although honestly I wasn’t sure how many nights he could recall. It was just something he said to be cruel. I hated that it worked.
“Where is she?” my mother demanded, crashing into the bathroom and back into the sorry residence of my father a disgusted scowl on her face. “What was it this time? You have nothing left of value to pawn.”
He dropped the cigarette into the soup can, picked up the tiny glass of red wine, finished it in one slow swallow and poured another from the fat green bottle resting on the floor.
“It is my understanding my Christmas gift was used for an abortion.”
A horn blared outside.
“You son of a bitch,” my mother screamed and flew at him like a diving hawk knocking the glass of wine out of his hand and beat his large, over sized chest, neck and face. I pulled her off of him. He wiped the hair from his eyes and said, “I think the little genius said something about going to a shelter downtown,” dabbed the wine from his chest with his fingers and placed them into his mouth and sucked on them slowly.
Without another word we were gone, screeching down the highway, headed downtown.
The homeless shelter was tangent to an overpass. We had barely turned to the corner when my mother bellowed, “There she is,” tugging hard on my sleeve and pointing at her through the car window. She pulled the car to the curb.
As the sun set an angular meanness overtook the streets. They were coming alive with the people no one wanted – hookers, pimps, drug addicts, criminals, the homeless, forced out of the earth’s epidermis like a sliver. The addicts, like my sister, were easy to spot: thin and filthy, pacing nervously up and down the shadowed blocks, laid passed out under awnings, leaning upon deserted door frames or like Daisy, standing on the corner of a busy intersection, clasping a sign begging for money (and money only) praising our lord Jesus Christ in advance.
“What do we do now? Wait her out?” Her voice cracked. I wanted to spit in her face. No matter the transgression, no matter how heinous the sin the bosom of my family longed for Daisy, was incomplete without her, chasing her from state to state, shelter to shelter, disaster to disaster and didn’t give two shits about me.
“Are you kidding? There isn’t a postman alive who has anything on my sister.” My mother chuckled without joy. “She can endure rain, unbearable heat, anything. We could be here for days.” Although what I said was true a second truth a shadow truth descended on us both. If compassion refused to materialize she could flash that teensy brown smile and offer herself up for a sweaty ball of cash.
We approached. My sister an apparition from Auschwitz pointlessly kicked at the curb.
“Here take this,” my mother said offering her our ETS card. “Just take it. Get something to eat.” We knew she would trade it, pennies on the dollar for heroin but it didn’t matter.
She snatched it, slid it into the back pocket of her jeans and gave me a look as if to say: see, dropping the dirty homemade sign to the ground.
“They offer you a bible when you check-in to the shelter,” she said without looking at us. “This guy was going on about how it saved his life. He asked me if there were any passages that were particularly meaningful to me. I lifted my shirt,” which she did exposing a large bumpy oval scar. “Told him about my stigmata.”
“When did you get shingles baby?” my mother asked. “Those are really painful,” she said looking to me.
“I’ve never cared for the Bible I said. It’s so poorly written. He didn’t laugh,” she said dropping her shirt. “I handed it back to him: keep your anesthetic.”
“Says the junkie,” I said.
“Oh hello Esau.” She let out a deep belly laugh.
“You’re not even surprised to see us.”
“Should I be? Let me put that another way. Would you be if you were me?” she asked. “Well, let’s get on with it. Which way to my chariot?” she asked and raised her head skywards. We headed towards the car.
“Do you need to tell them you’re not coming back?” my mother asked. Daisy shook her head. “Are you sure? There’s a limited amount of beds. Better to tell them than have them turn someone away.”
“Like Jesus and the manger?”
“Now you’re Jesus?” I barked. Our tiny procession pushed onward. “I’ll do it,” I said, the call being met with resounding indifference both on the other end of the line and between the three of us.
“Maybe we should, not cancel exactly, but postpone your little shindig. What do you think?”
The car hummed. The freeway buzzed.
“Absolutely not. She’s fine. She’s not even high,” I said unsure if that was true. She wasn’t nodding which was a good sign. I wouldn’t have cared if she had been. It had taken all my powers of persuasion to convince Danny to come over. “It’s only a couple of people. She’ll just sleep anyway.” My mother’s face was twisted up with anxiety. She wanted to push the issue but couldn’t think of anything to say.
“You okay with that honey?” my mother asked Daisy.
“I want to be Rimbaud. Not the seer or the enfant terrible like before,” Daisy responded her voice without emotion. “But the older Rimbaud, if one can truly speak of an older Rimbaud, (it seemed as if she were speaking to someone or to some lost part of herself certainly not to us although our presence was integral), the hard, stalwart, stubborn, sternly sober, nearly puritanical Rimbaud. Stripped of all illusions. Alone. All his angelic beauty scrubbed away by the African winds.”
My mother as she always did when she did not understand something simply chose to ignore Daisy’s words.
I didn’t understand what my sister was talking about either but each word seemed whole like polished stones in a beggar’s hand. Or like music dissonant but soothing. I recalled the occasion of Daisy’s first overdose. I showed up to the hospital with a t-shirt I had made up for her a picture of a smiling grim reaper with words, “almost had ya” beneath it. Not only did no one (except Daisy) laugh I was banished to my grandparents for a week so Daisy could recover in peace. I’m certain my mother and my father blame me for what’s become of her based on that fucking t-shirt. Since then so much has happened that I couldn’t have predicted but which now seems inevitable, including Danny wanting to screw my best friend after squandering my virginity. My sister regarded the horizon with the frustration and ache of something nearly remembered but just out of memories reach, which of course is exactly how I viewed her image, shrunken and pale in the side view mirror. I turned away as I caught a glimpse of my bitch face staring back at me.
I banged on the bathroom door again.
“Daisy, what the fuck? You’ve been in their all afternoon. I need to get ready and can’t babysit you. Not tonight.” I banged again. Harder. “If you’re using I’ll call the police. You can rot in jail for all I care. You won’t be so tough when you’re sweating and sick on a jail cell floor without mom to bail you out and get you cash for a god damn fix. Of course I had to buy my own prom dress and you got a new car and where’s that car now swimming in your veins? Puked up in an alley somewhere? but whatever, right. You’re the star.”
“Use mom’s bathroom,” came the belated response.
“I can’t. I know you don’t give a shit but they’re up there.”
“In the bathroom?”
“No, not in the bedroom. You know. Screwing,” I said lowering my voice. “They’re loud. They’ve been at it all afternoon like two gutter dogs.”
“By my unwilling count he’s cum three times with no signs of slowing,” my sister said with a wicked cackle. “I still don’t see what that has to do with you using the bathroom. I mean if they’re occupied…”
“He comes out to pee every time they finish, naked.”
A Satyr-like giggle came from behind the door. “I’ve seen his saggy white ass too many times. Once I snuck home in the middle of the night.”
“No doubt to relieve us of more of our belongings,” I said leaning against the door frame.
“There he was making something to eat in the kitchen buck ass naked. The sight of him trying to cover up his shit with a chicken wing is burned into what’s left of my brain.”
She didn’t come out. Then the slow undulant knocking started once more from behind the upstairs bedroom door. I had to make do preparing myself in the kitchen with my reflection in the toaster.
My mother made her way downstairs one step at a time wearing only underwear and a white t-shirt, her nipples going off like fireworks, swirling a low ball in her right hand, car keys dangling from her index finger. Danny had just arrived and stood just outside the sliding glass door, Tiffany and Amber attached to his gorgeous glowering biceps like a couple of trailer trash furies.
I stood frozen in the middle of the living room holding a meat and cheese tray that smelled like it was going sour.
“Well, let your friends in, tadpole,” my mother slurred, staggered over to the sliding glass door opening it. My friends did not move. “Don’t be shy. Come on in. Oh you’re Danny, aren’t you?” she said taking him by one of his sizable arms and moving him to the couch.
“What are you doing down here?” I asked. I set the cheese and meat tray on the coffee table.
“She’s told me all about you.”
“Oh yeah,” he said.
“Weren’t you the one, yes you were, who wanted to screw some other whore the second you were finished with my girl?” She stood up and made her way to the door where the Tiffany and Amber were still standing. “Was it one of these two? It can’t be this one,” she said tapping Amber’s cheek. “She’s young pretty. You know what young pretty is? It’s a woman who’s only pretty because she’s young. If you look carefully enough at her you can see how she’ll look come late twenties, early thirties. That’s when their youth will burn off and their true mediocrity will blossom and no one will want to throw a fuck in them. Better get married quick girl,” my mother said with a scoff, turning her back and sauntering away with that arrogance booze gave her.
Amber frowned, stepped to the far end of the deck and started smoking. Tiffany was sitting on Danny’s lap, the fingers of her right hand playing some phantom composition on his massive right shoulder.
“What the fuck are you doing down here?”
“Why are you screaming darling? Of course hosting has never been your strong suit. When she was little, eight maybe, we had this birthday party and she told everyone she was Annie like from the musical. So she gets up on her desk and starts singing along trying to force all these hyped up kids to watch her lip sync to the soundtrack. I don’t need to tell you how that went over.” She mimicked the sound of a dropping bomb.
“You gave away all my gifts.”
“Well, I’ll let you kids get to it,” she said and headed to the front door.
“I thought there was going to be beer,” Amber said leaning in from the patio.
“In the kitchen,” I said before turning back to my mother. “Where are you going?”
“Mike needs some cigarettes. Why you got any?” she said with a wink. “I can pay for them. More than you paid at the store,” she said and began searching for her purse, crashing into a wall, knocking several pictures down. I wanted to vomit. I wanted to do anything except deal with whatever was just now starting and would never end.
“You can’t drive.”
No one said a word.
“He likes Newports,” she said dangling the keys on her index finger like a fishing lure.
“This looks like family business,” one of the furies stated, appearing from out of the kitchen a half dozen beers cradled in the bottom of her shirt and before I knew what had happened Danny and company were long gone and my mother was making her way to her car.
“Go ahead,” I said to the empty room. “Kill yourself.” Only a few moments and it would be too late. She would have started the engine and taken off. Responsibility would be relinquished like a hat blown off my head. She split in the midst of confusion officer. I would have stopped her if I could have. I finished my mother’s low ball. I jumped up from the couch and darted up the stairs. “Mike,” I said knocking on the door. “Mike.”
“What do you want?” came his melancholy, sleepy post-coitus response.
“Mom is getting in the car.”
“I know. I needed some smokes.”
“She shouldn’t be driving. Mike? Mike?” There was no response and there was no way I was opening the door.
I darted down the stairs and outside as my mother toppled down in the driver’s seat onto the ratty pillow and pulled the door shut with effort. “Mom, wait.” She threw the car into gear and began to back out of the driveway. I ran alongside pulling on the door handle. She was laughing silently, hysterically, cruelly behind the glass. She cracked the window and tossed an old crumpled up pack of cigarettes at me. Feeling around the front seat with her right hand she found a couple of pens and tossed them at me too, the snakes wrapped around her fingers hissing at me. Lastly she threw her wedding ring out. It hit me just above the left eye and bounced away.
I ended up on the hood of the car. Giving me the middle finger she threw the car into drive.
“Hold on mother fucker!” she screamed with all the rancor of an exploding sun and we were off.
Sometime later, after crying in the park, and an unsuccessful attempt at shoplifting a forty ounce beer from Super America, I came up the driveway, passed the returned car and reentered the house, bruised, dirty, barefoot, my feet aching. Daisy’s shoes were by the front door like praying priests, her room empty. I placed my ear against the master bedroom door. Whispering and intimate giggling like butterflies wings, a prelude to more screwing told me my mother wasn’t dead.
I walked into the kitchen, opened and closed the refrigerator, looped around and through the living room and to the bathroom door. There was a slight shuffling. “Daisy?” I slapped at the bathroom door. “Have you been in there the entire time? Mom almost killed me. Somehow I found her wedding ring. On top on an anthill. Not that anyone will give a shit. Can you hear me?” I kicked it three times until it opened. Daisy, a condom on her right hand, her index, middle and ring fingers shoved up her ass, digging hopelessly.
“What the fuck are you doing?” I screamed until it felt like I was going to expel my lungs like angel’s wings and rocket to heaven.
“It’s the heroin. I can’t shit. I haven’t shit for days, weeks. I feel like an overstuffed sausage that’s going to explode,” she said with the most horrified face I had ever seen. I was emptied out, done for. I took the two steps into the tiny bathroom covered in mirrors, the picture postcard of Buckwheat that had been tacked to the wall over the light switch since the beginning of time laughing at us and took my sobbing sister in my arms, the stretched out condom flapping helplessly on my shoulder.