“Poor me,” she says. “I got knocked up by the mayor, but that was before he was the mayor, of course. He would have been much more careful. He was just a lawyer back then. At Markobs and Jacob. He left my first month there, but not before we had already slept together. He liked me, brought me gifts.”
I think of the wrapping paper I find in her trashcan and wonder if he brings her those trinkets.
“Even after he left, he’d take me out. Wine and dine if I’d ever seen it.” She takes a deep drag of her cigarette and drains her scotch before she’s even blown out her smoke. “He had a family of course. Same old bullshit. Wife made him miserable. I saw her once—fat, cow-faced. She nagged the hell out of him.” She stubs out her cigarette on the bare table, then uses the tip of her finger to play with the ash.
“I made him happy. He was going to leave her, but then she got sick. Said he couldn’t do it.”
I want to ask her what the fat, cow-faced wife of the mayor got sick with, but I know it doesn’t matter. I need the end of this story.
“Howard kept seeing me, of course. Eventually the partners at the firm caught wind of it; someone saw us at the movies. Go figure,” she says. Her tongue absently snakes up and rubs at her crooked tooth while she thinks. “By that time he was already running for mayor, and I was pregnant with you.”
“Why does he still come?” I ask. “After all these years.” Or maybe I should ask why Daddy doesn’t talk to his daughter. Small talk even. So what do you like to do with your free time? Haven’t you ever wished you had a TV?
Then it hits me. My mother had a television; she threw it out when I was little, told me it broke and that we didn’t have money for a new one. And all these years there has been no new television. Not because we couldn’t afford one with the piles of money she has lying beneath the floorboards, but because they haven’t wanted me to see my father on TV. The mayor of Harbor Bone in his cherry red Mustang. I wonder what he really drives, probably a new Mercedes or BMW, something with dark, official-looking tints that smells inside of his cigars and cedar wood cologne. The mustang is his weekend plaything. He keeps it in his garage and drives it here because no one will recognize it. Hey Dad, cool midlife crisis.
“He loves me,” she says.
“What about me? Does he love me?” I spit.
“It’s not like that. He didn’t want me to have you. He wanted me to have an abortion, but I wouldn’t do it.”
“So now he pretends that I don’t exist? God. And you’re okay with that because you do that same thing.”
The eating house rattles around us, the panes on the windows humming from the pressure within. It agrees with me. The eating house knows what a corrupt deadness my mother has become. The insipid wasteland of a woman who gave her best years to a man who treated her youth like it was a weekend at the casino. It’s seen her invite other men in while leaving her only child out. I feel a camaraderie with the eating house just then—a oneness instead of an oppression. My mother flinches away from the question. She glances at the rattling windows, probably wondering if I can hear it too. So, I pretend that I can’t, allowing my eyes to bore into her sallow skin, making her fidget and squirm in her seat. Let her think she’s going mad, I think. Let her think she’s the only one who can hear the eating house.
“I have half brothers and sisters?”
“And my father is the mayor?”
“Not anymore. He’s retired now.” Her tongue reaches up to touch her tooth.
“And his … children … he’s close with them?”
I want her to say no. That he’s estranged from those children as well. That he didn’t go to their baseball games, and ballet recitals, and sit around the breakfast table staring into their sleep-crusted eyes every morning.
“Yes,” she says. And that yes is her last and final word on the matter. She stands up, and she looks a hundred years old. She’s to the stairs when I call after her.
“If he comes here again, there will be no more silence from me,” I say. “Let him know.”
I hear the creaking of the stairs as she climbs back to her room. Slowly … slowly.
IT’S SATURDAY, and I don’t know what to do with myself. I cleaned the bathroom, then called work to see if they had a shift for me to cover. Sandy told me to stay home and live a little, but Judah is spending the weekend with his dad, and life feels dry when he isn’t here. I study the peeling plaster in the living room for what seems like hours before I decide to cook a real meal. My mother has old cookbooks on top of the fridge. I pull them down and flip through the pages, sneezing when the dust crawls up my nose. I find a recipe I like and pull out my mother’s notepad to make a list of the things I’ll need. I’ve never cooked before, but there are a lot of things I’m doing lately that I’m new to. Judah, for example.
“Yo,” I say to the stove. “You alive in there?” I kick the door of the oven with the toe of my boot and hear a crash. I have the eerie feeling that someone is watching me. But my mother is sleeping; I can hear her soft snores from upstairs. I shiver as I lower myself to my haunches and open the oven door. Inside is what looks like a metal box, sitting on a collapsed rack; the rack depresses me. I look over my shoulder just to see if she’s there before pulling it out. Something is behind me; I can feel it. The box is heavy. I carry it to the table, my plans of cooking forgotten. Something shifts inside it—rough and smooth grating together—and suddenly the hair on the back of my neck is standing up.
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