Travelers Welcome

Travelers Welcome

Thursday, August 25, 2011

The Caretaker

by Jack Foster

The radio mumbled with a bit of static as the two of us drove down the fifty-five freeway on a Wednesday afternoon. The traffic was surprisingly light, and the conversation between my mother and I was virtually non-existent. She sat in the passenger seat silently in her denim dress and plain, red blouse, gripping her cardigan closely to her torso. I noticed that she seemed more tense than usual, and she nibbled incessantly on the index finger of her right hand.

“Pull over,” she said suddenly. I stared at her blankly. “I said pull over, David!” Her face was red as she continued nibbling on her finger.

“Mom, I don’t think that’s the best idea. We’ll be at Robby’s soon enough-”

“I don’t want to discuss this with you, David, just get me to the nearest gas station.”

I gripped my hands on the steering wheel, trying all the while to maintain control. My knuckles whitened as I breathed in slowly. The woman beside me, the same woman that gave up her life to raise me, was beginning to go bat-shit, and all I could do was watch.

“Alright, Mom, but I swear those fucking cigarettes are going to kill you.”

“David!” she exclaimed dramatically, “I am your mother and caretaker. Why would you hurt me by saying those words? Your father always swears. You know how much I hate that.”

I sighed heavily. “I’m sorry, mom, but you know you need to stop. How do you expect to get better if you continue to smoke? You should have given up years ago. Maybe then you’d be more apt to deal with this.”

Apparently this offended her. Without hesitation, my mother slapped my cheek then proceeded to hit me in the shoulder. I used my arm to shield off her assault. “What the hell, mom, I’m driving for Christ’s sake!”

“Language, language, language!” she shouted, “just find a gas station!”

I swerved across three lanes of traffic and got off on Imperial Highway. We drove down to the Chevron on the corner and I slammed on my brakes in its parking lot. The two of us sat in silence. Even the radio had seemed to have shut itself off, probably in fear. Everything was on pins and needles.

“I’m going to go inside and get some cigarettes,” my Mom said calmly. “When I come back I want things to be better between us.”

I sat silently and looked at the wreck of the woman my mother had become. She grabbed at the collar of her cardigan and clawed softly at her chest. Her lungs expanded and contracted in her ancient torso, and she heaved and hoed in silent desperation.

“Alright,” I said softly. “I’ll keep the air on.”

My mother opened the door and walked out of the car, seemingly satisfied. She buttoned up her small cardigan and proceeded into the gas station. As soon as the doors closed, I jerked in my seat and slammed my fists into the dashboard. I thrashed around and threw bits of paper and discarded junk into the backseat, all while screaming “fuck” as loudly as I could. I finally found myself back in my original position, gripping the steering wheel tightly. From beyond the windshield I saw my mother approaching from within the gas station’s mini-mart.

“Now that wasn’t so bad now was it, Dave?” I rolled my eyes at her and placed my hand on the stick shift. “My lord it’s messy in here. What happened while I was gone? Did I miss something?”

“Nothing happened, Mom,” I lied, “I just couldn’t find my U2 CD.”

“David,” she said gingerly while fastening her seatbelt, “you shouldn’t listen to them. That Bono character is a socialist.”

I chuckled to myself as I shifted the car into reverse. As I pulled out of the parking spot and into the street, I noticed that said interval of time had been enough to make my mother cry.

I was genuinely startled by this. Again, she was gripping her chest, this time beneath her shirt – on her bare chest. “Jesus, Mom, what’s wrong?”

She trembled violently and seemed to paw weakly at her weak heart with one hand, while squeezing her pack of cigarettes with the other. Tears streamed down her face, and she let loose a guttural sound that made my insides churn.

“Christ, you’re scaring me,” I said, almost to the point of tears. “I know the appointment didn’t go as well as we had hoped, but-”

“It’s not about the doctor, David, can’t you see?” she cried hysterically. “It’s the Virginia Slims!” she managed to spout out.

Not knowing what to say, I said the only thing I could. “The Virginia Slims?”

“Yes the Virginia Slims!” She sobbed to herself and cradled the pack in her lap. “I hate Virginia Slims, David, I fucking hate them!”

Again, this response took me by surprise. I had never heard my mom swear before. However, I ignored this and attempted to comfort her. “Ma, there are hundreds of other cigarettes you could be smoking. If you don’t like them, just buy another.”

“I’m cheating on your father!” she ejaculated.

The two of us basted in the silence together. The cold air leaked from the vents in the car, and my mother scratched viciously at her chest. I placed my hand on hers – the one on her chest – and retrieved the cigarettes from the other. Opening the seal, I pulled one out and placed it in her mouth. Lighting hers, I placed another in my mouth and lit it up for myself.

“Don’t swear in front of me, mother,” I said while exhaling a flume of womanly smoke, “I’m your first-born and caretaker.”

No comments:

Post a Comment