He finally patted me on the head and said, “I left you a present on the kitchen table. Say thank you.”
“Thank you,” I mumbled as much as I dared to. The last thing I wanted to do was thank him, but I knew he’d just take it out on my mom if I didn’t. I kept my eyes down until I heard him suck in on that nasty cigarette and watched as the smoke wafted around my head, making me want to cough. I didn’t give him the satisfaction.
The second he was around the corner I ran to my apartment. I didn’t notice the peeling paint on the door or the threadbare carpet inside, I just wanted to make sure my mom was okay.
I walked into our dingy apartment, always dark no matter how many lights we had on. I glanced at the kitchen table where he had left a candy bar for me and went to my mother’s door without giving it a glance. I slowly pushed open the door to find her bed empty. That meant she’d be in the bathroom. Probably crying. I knew she hated for me to see her cry, so I make enough noise to give her time to pull herself together. “Hey mom! I got a candy bar!” It was the only thing I could think to say.
The door slid open soundlessly, revealing the complete and utter chaos that I had been sent to fix. My mom sat there on the closed toilet with just her robe on. I could tell she’d been crying and there were red marks on her neck again. She brought some toilet paper up to her face and wiped her eyes. I pretended not to notice.
She looked up as if she’d just noticed me there. Her eyes looked blank as she tried to smile at me, “Hey,” was all she said, her voice sounded like it didn’t have enough sound to make anymore words.
I walked to her, taking her hand to help her up. She stood on shaking legs and followed me back to her room. I helped her get in bed and pulled the flimsy blankets up to her chin. She always needed extra rest after Mr. Hallaron came to visit.
I tucked her in and went back to the kitchen. I wanted to take that stupid candy and throw it in the trash, but I hadn’t eaten since school yesterday so it was stupid to waste it. I tore it open and ate it, getting angrier with every bite.
I knew that Mr. Hallaron didn’t like my mom, but he came by every week and made me leave the apartment the whole time he was there. Mom was always sad and tired after he left, but she told me not to worry. Mr. Hallaron was making sure we had a safe place to live. I didn’t see how it was a safe place to live if he had to come and make her cry every week, but mom told me to hush and stop asking so many damn questions.
He’d said no at first and I’d tried everything to get him to come by, but he always said no. Until this week.
I’d been talking to him after school and I’d told him again that my mom really needed to talk to him. He said she’d have to come to the school, but I’d finally convinced him that she couldn’t make it because she was way too sick to leave the house. I told him he just had to come by that weekend. He’d wanted to argue with me some more, but then the phone began to ring. I took that chance and said, “Thank you Mr. McNeil! I’ll see you after school then, okay?” and then I ran out of the room before he could change his mind, leaving the paper with my address right there on his desk.
He was supposed to be by this afternoon. In two hours Mr. McNeil would come to the door. He would meet my mom and they would fall madly in love. Then Mr. Hallaron couldn’t come by anymore, because I’d have a dad and he would keep us safe. I smiled at the thought and sat on the couch, watching the time tick by. I wanted to wake mom up before Mr. McNeil showed up so she could look nice. It wouldn’t be good for Mr. McNeil to come over and meet my mom when she was sleeping or crying.
The knock on the door came at exactly 3:00. Right on time. I grinned and jumped to answer the door before he even had the chance to knock twice. Mom was in the bathroom getting ready to meet my teacher, having asked me a million times if I was sure I wasn’t in trouble. I told her it was for some award that she had to approve and she bought it.
I had Mr. McNeil come in and I could tell he was a little surprised by how small and dark our apartment was. He finally agreed to sit at the kitchen table and I offered him a glass of water. He said he wasn’t thirsty and that he couldn’t stay long, so I went to rush mom along.
I walked into the bathroom and saw my mom looking prettier than she had in a long long time. I’d almost forgotten that she knew how to look that nice. I grabbed her hand and pulled her out to the kitchen to meet my teacher.
When we walked in the door, Mom saw Mr. McNeil sitting there and gasped. He stood up so fast, he knocked the chair over backwards. I looked at both of them like they were crazy, but they were just staring at each other.
“Fay? Is that you?” Mr. McNeil looked like he’d seen a ghost. My mom didn’t look much better.
Her mouth was hanging wide open and she was gaping about like a fish out of water. “Tom? What… what are you DOING here? I…”
I just stood between them, waiting for someone to tell me what was going on when they both started laughing. Mom was crying and laughing at the same time and I thought maybe she’d just gone and lost her mind all the way now. Then they hugged! They actually hugged right there in front of me. It was kind of gross, but kind of nice. My mom looked really happy.
‘Grown ups are weird,’ I thought to myself as I turned on the television. I wondered if Mr. McNeil would end up chasing off old Mr. Hallaron now. I sure hoped so. It was nice to hear my mom laugh. I hadn’t thought Mr. McNeil was that funny, but maybe I just didn’t get it because it was grown up stuff.
I sat watching my favorite show, but I missed most of it, because I was listening more to her my mom’s laughter than the TV and that was perfectly okay with me.