had spent the first four years of his life like that. Funny bowl cut, as soon
as it had been long enough to force that way, crammed underneath various comical-looking
biking helmetspaint splatters, Disney characters, whatever was accessible
and cheap. Unbelievable. Sometimes he marveled at the fact that his hair retained
the ability to get crumpled, stuck up, tangled in the wind. Part of him assumed
that it would be forever plastered in that flat manner, suppressed by toddler
safety gear. It seemed to him that he had worn it for a lifetime.
mothers hair was pretty, angular, honey-brown. It changed direction
as they turned corners, but stayed the same in sheen. Sun or rain, it shone,
as though supported by beams of built-in light. She always remained bareheaded.
she would lift her bum off of the seat, pumping furiously with her muscular
thin legs to avoid a swerving car or to triumph over a particularly steep
hill. In the aftermath of storms, she would ride carefully, thoughtfully,
avoiding puddles and stopping instead of slowing down.
was no residual anger on his part, no feeling that she deserved to be punished
for riding like a maniac with a young child through chaotic city streets.
It made sense to him. His mothers frustration, her sadness, and her
reasons for sabotage seemed to flow out of her narrow back into his brain
during those formative bike years, providing him with an intrinsic perspective
that could never have been achieved through mere conversation. By looking
at her non-face side, her taut neck, sharp shoulder blades jutting from worn-out
second-hand T-shirts, her bony but peacefully rippling spine, he gained an
education in longing. He somewhat understood, at least enough to love her,
the old her, without question, despite pungent memories of her cycling right
into traffic, him bouncing randomly in his brittle grey seat, too young to
she worked at a coffee shop, not a chain but an appealing local stop owned
by three rough but basically decent brothers. They would give him hot chocolate,
and pinch his cheeks, and spin him forcefully around by his outstretched arms,
almost wrenching them out of their sockets with their heft. No harm done though,
he was still here on earth, he was still alive, and probably a better person
for experiencing their iffy, stubbled and ultimately good-natured ways. As
far as he knew not one of them had ever hurt his mother, but there are some
things a child never knows. There was an overriding feeling of benediction,
though, of good will. Her scars had been inflicted by others, he was sure,
long before, not by them.
were in large numbers during the early years, but sincerity wasnt a
component. The preferred method of interaction was to ask nothing and tell
too much. In those first few thousand days of his they lived near the coffee
store, in a marketplace on top of a general grocery. The cereal there was
always past its due date but they gobbled it up anyway, just the two of them,
sharing something stale but special, exclusively theirs. Their tiny apartment
had a tiny window that both of them could shimmy through expertly; the adjoining
roof they hopped onto was hot, tar-like, and full of possibilities. In later
years he comprehended that she had been with someone in an apartment across
the street and down from theirs. The man, Jim, had thick limbs and creased
dimples and she would visit him sometimes, mostly on her own, and they would
emerge from his stale-aired bachelor onto the fire escape, her lovers
journey maybe more awkward because he was so big and bulky. It was impossible
to blur the image of Jim and his mother, waving at him across time, it seemed,
from the side door of their lust nest to the roof where he ran around, looked
after negligently by one of the many people who drifted in and out of their
lives, perpetually sleepy people smoking cigarettes or joints or deeply sipping
cheap red wine.
with him," she would whisper as she ducked out to let Jim possess her,
blowing her son a light but meaningful kiss. "Ill be back later."
night he tried to jump, he tried to propel himself hundreds of feet across
space to be with her. Did he really mean to do it? Hard to saysomeone
wearing a kerchief and white sandals made a successful swipe at him before
he had lift-offwas he that close to the edge?
little shit, dont run towards the end of the roof again, okay?"
The kerchief and face waggled like a finger in front of him. "Good thing
your mom wasnt out there, just thenthat would have given her a
fucking heart attack. It almost gave me a fucking heart attack, and I barely
know you! Now sit over here"a gesture with the sandaled foot"and
dont move until she comes back, okay? Okay?"
But where was she? He couldnt see her. Sometimes, he thought he remembered,
she would be gone for days. Just across the street, but for days, nonetheless.
he got older, she mysteriously became more and more like the other mothers
he saw at school (she bought a car, they moved into a small house, she even
joined a committee or two). He could never exactly pinpoint when she smoothed
out her rough, rough edges. Through his high school years, then university,
with loans and scholarships, as they sold the house, and moved into an even
littler one (although it was less boxy than the last), she got better jobseven
got a degree, eventuallyit was through these developments that he began
to view her as pathetic, weak. Compromising. Or was it simply because he grew
up, stopped thinking of her as a goddess on bike wheels, as a creature who
achieved perfection through her flaws, as children often do (but cant
put into words)? He could never be sure.
he knew was that the more she got herself together, the more she took courses,
the shorter she cut her hair so that it obediently followed the shape of her
fragile skull, the more respect he lost for her.
Or maybe he just got different.
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