I live in the middle of nowhere, far away from the rest of my friends. I have to wake up very early in the morning to catch my bus and I usually eat my breakfast as it’s bringing me to school. I don’t have any brothers or sisters; There’s just me, the Ziggy the cat, and my Dad.
And then there’s Martha, the chronically pissed-off woman who insists that I call her my Mother. But lately I don’t feel so inclined to do so. She’s hardly ever around because it seems like she works every day of the goddamn week, as soon as she comes home the first thing she does is find a reason to start yelling at me or cry about something. No rational human being hates their job THAT MUCH, and no one is forcing her to continue working there. There’s the paycheck, I guess, but no amount of pay seems worth sacrificing the respect of your family. Whenever she’s not home, it’s quiet and peaceful. Whenever she’s home, she’s a mess. When she’s not screaming at me over some menial task that I didn’t do, or didn’t do RIGHT, she’s crying about it. Any other person might feel bad about this, but it’s such a frequent thing that I’ve become almost completely desensitized to it. And when she DOES have a day off, whoa-boy! I run for the hills, I just cannot deal with her bullshit for an entire day!
Martha may be the woman that gave birth to me, but by her behavior toward her own family alone, she’s hardly a “mother” figure in my life. I’m 15 years old and I get good grades, I don’t cut class, I don’t do drugs and I never really cared for violent video games all that much. Shit … I don’t even have a girlfriend!
Okay, to be completely honest there IS a reason for that. One that might be, shall I say, “uncomfortable” for her to hear from her only son. But if she’s always coming home so upset and pissed off over nothing, there’s no way in Hell I’m ever going to consider coming out to her.
Martha is never happy, and I’m starting to think that something might actually be very seriously wrong with her. My Dad doesn’t want to talk about it with me, he insists that she takes medication for her issues and that it’s under control: Is she getting paid to scream and sob like a crazy-person? Because that’s all I ever see her do! I literally cannot remember the last time she smiled at me, the day she took that job her personality did a total 180 and the woman who WAS my Mother vanished. Even poor Ziggy has taken to avoiding her when he hears her car pull into the driveway, maybe cats really DO have a sixth sense.
One week, she left on a business trip to Australia. That was easily the quietest, most peaceful week I’ve had in recent years. Ziggy had full reign of the house, strutting about in his fluffy glory like he owned the place. Dad and I went to a local motorcycle show in town, so many amazing bikes! And, heheh, shiny leather clothes, too. On the way home from the rally, I told my Dad. I told him about, well, myself. He took it better than I thought he would, a few of the other gay kids at my school weren’t so lucky. I’m very glad to have a Father that gets it, but not long after I broke the news to him, his proud smile quickly sank. His facial features seemed to hang limp off his face like half-molten rubber.
“Oh boy,” He sighed, “Your mother-”
“Martha will learn to live with it,” I barked, I want this part of the conversation to END before it has a chance to fucking BEGIN, “And if she has a problem with it, she can stay in Melbourne for all I care.”
“She works so hard for your benefit, you know. You’re still her son, she loves you.”
“And a fine job she’s done of showing it, Dad. How much longer are you going to keep making excuses for her being a shitty parent and a shitty human being?” I looked over and saw my Father’s mouth crack open for a moment as though he was about to reply, but he didn’t. The rest of that drive home was awkward as Hell for both of us.
When the day came that she was supposed to come home from Australia, she was several hours late. Dad agreed not to give her any details about our previous conversation, he insisted that I should be brave enough to tell her myself. He said that the hardest thing any man can do is be completely honest with himself, and I can certainly appreciate him trying to be encouraging & supportive, I just wasn’t feeling up to it. My life of leisure is about to come to a grinding halt as soon as she gets off that plane, and sure enough, it finally pulls up to the gate within ten minutes of it landing.
The arrival doors finally opened, and just as my heart accelerates in preparation for the verbal ass-kicking I had been quietly dreading for the last week…
Then there’s Martha, warmly smiling at the sight of me.
Am I dreaming? Did someone slip drugs into my coffee or something? Or am I just seeing a happy-go-lucky Australian tourist that just so happens to have my Mother’s build and facial features? She actually ran to give me a hug, I almost didn’t want to accept it as it seemed too good to be true: In a way, it still does. On the way home, Martha treated us all to dinner at some high-falootin’ gourmet burger joint on the other side of town.
“Those crazy Ozzies, man,” She crowed, digging into the rarest chunk of ground beef I’ve ever seen leave a restaurant kitchen, “They love their meat-pies and beer, but don’t know how to make a decent burger if it meant saving their own lives!” I didn’t respond to her, I had no idea how to. I ate mine quickly and didn’t say a word for the rest of the meal. When we all got home, Ziggy took one whif of her presence and bolted for my bedroom like his tail was on fire. Martha seemed dismayed by this, as if she wanted to play with that poor cat like she hadn’t bothered to in several months. I looked up at my Dad, he must have seen the worry in my face but there wasn’t much he could do about it.
This “person” must either be a complete stranger or something very interesting happened in Australia.
Several days passed, and it was the same thing: Instead of the usual screaming and crying about my faults and failures, Martha always looked elated to see me. She asked about Ziggy’s whereabouts a lot, too. I had this awful notion that if I told her that he’d been camping under my bed ever since she got home, too afraid to come out from under it, that something bad would happen. I know, it sounds ridiculous, as much of a bitch as she could be, or had been, she’d never have laid a finger on that animal. The most I had seen her do was shoo him off the table so she could drop a pile of work-papers onto it.
Then one day I came home from school to find that all of the laundry on my floor had been picked up. I’ve been washing my own clothes since I was 12, what the fuck is going on here? I ran toward my bed to check on Ziggy, but he was gone. His food and water were still full. I went down into the living-room to look around for him, but there wasn’t a trace to be found. I found Martha milling about and humming to herself, facing the oposite side of the room.
“Marth-” I stopped myself, took a hard breath and tried again, “Mother… have you seen Ziggy?”
She perked her head up and turned to look at me. Very slowly, her eyes grew wide like dinner-plates and a sickeningly thin smile spread across her face. She took a few hobbling steps toward me and my stomach tightened, but then she stopped in her tracks.
“Dear,” She spoke. Her voice vibrated with a sacharyn-sweet resonance I don’t think I’ve heard since I was little, “You didn’t need to keep a secret like that from ME.” Her head cocked to one side, much the same way as a curious little parrot, only not at all cute like one, “You understand?”
How did she know about that? Dad promised that he would leave THAT conversation up to me! I stormed out, back up to my bedroom. I’d have locked the door, but I guess I was kinda hoping that Ziggy would eventually come skulking back to his hiding place.
A few more days passed, he never came back at all. I posted flyers all over town, but no one had spotted him.
I spent the next week either staying after school intentionally or hiding in my room, anything to avoid having to speak to Martha. Or, for all I knew, this stranger pretending to BE Martha. I never in a thousand years thought that I’d miss the borderline psychotic bitch that used to come home every day and whine for several hours, at least THAT would have been a sign that everything was normal.
Her office called the house, Dad answered it: She missed several days of work without so much as an e-mail or phone-call. They were pretty pissed about it, too. Ordinarily I’d say that it was probably for the best, as the usual Martha that I had been so used to would no longer have any reason to be such a bitch, but nothing seemed to change. She seemed as bubbly as a fat drag queen, always seemed so happy to see me and never hesitated to let me know about it. I started shirking my house-hold chores, seeing if I could piss her off intentionally: She barely seemed to notice, she’d just crack that hair-thin smile at me that would make my skin crawl.
This continued for another week, the round of bills came due and Dad was left to wrestle with them while dodging a few collectors. One night, I accidentally answered a phone call meant for my Dad, he urged me to stay off the phone as he didn’t want to bother with creditors calling for him, but it wasn’t a collector who called. The man on the other line had a thick, whiny sounding accent. He said he was calling from Melbourne, Australia. He also said that it was urgent that he be put in touch with my Father right away.
“Is your Father there with you?” He insisted, “I’m with the Melbourne Metropolitan Police, this is regarding your Mother’s stay here a few weeks ago. Can you put him on, please?”
“Yes he is, just a sec…” I turned and looked at him. At first he shook head but when I told him where the call was coming from, he raised an eyebrow and grabbed the phone. I went upstairs to my room, contemplated how wrong everything seemed to be going. Martha, the woman whom for the last few years only ever paid attention to me when she was angry with me, seemed to be walking on sunshine ever since she got off that plane. I doubt that she scored any kind of promotion at her job, as if that were the case she’d have at least bothered to show up for work once she got back to the US. What is going on with that woman?
My thoughts were broken by the sound of footsteps rushing up the stairs, I felt my entire abdomen seize with panic as my door flew open.
It was my father.
“Pack a bag, RIGHT NOW.” His face was grey and rigid like concrete, but I didn’t question him.
I stuffed damn near everything I could reach into my school-bag, tried to fit a few extra things as well, then made my way downstairs to see my father greeting me. He had one finger over his lips, obviously he wanted me to be quiet from here on out. I could only mouth-out the words: “Dad, what is it?” But he only shook his head and motioned me toward the garage.
We crept past the porch door, and then there’s Martha: Perfectly motionless, staring up at the rising moon.
Quietly closing the door behind us, Dad insisted that I get into the car. As soon as the garage was open enough to do so, Dad hit the gas and we took off into the darkness of the night.
“Dad,” I cried, “Ziggy could be around here some-”
“Ziggy’s dead!” He snapped back, a slight wobble in his voice, “I… I found what was left of him in the backyard yesterday!”
I swear I felt my heart stop, my little furry friend. Gone. Terrible sadness overtook me, but what does this have to do with us taking off in such a hurry?
“That’s not your Mother,” Now there were tears in my Father’s eyes.
“The Melbourne police found her body about an hour ago!”