His Mother and His Grief
by Michael Lawrence
"Hello, mother," Gerald said stepping into the kitchen, which had a thick aroma of tomato sauce.
"It's about time you've been getting home," his mother responded, who was stirring a pot of spaghetti noodles with a wooden spoon. Her shiny brown hair was bouncing off her shoulders. "I was getting worried."
"I was working on my project at school, mother," Gerald said. He clutched his forearm and leaned it against the wall. His mother attended to the noodles and the tomato sauce on the other burner. "I did tell you about it."
"Oh well," she said. "It doesn't matter." She approached Gerald and routinely pecked him on the cheek. Gerald upheld his stubborn, teenage coolness and moved not an inch. "Anyway, I was beginning to think you wouldn't make it home for dinner. Here. Help me with the noodles." Gerald grabbed the boiling pot of noodles, brought it to the sink, and drained out the water. "So, tell me about this project you're working on."
"It's something for my law class," Gerald said. He grabbed the dinner plates and began to prepare the dining table. "We're doing it on the civil liberties Americans are willing to give up in return for safety."
"Hmm..." his mother said. "Sounds very interesting. I'm glad you've been spending so much time working on it."
"I have a feeling it's going to nab first prize at the fair," Gerald said. His mother turned to him and grinned.
"Good luck with it," she said. "Who else is working with you?" His mother put the bubbling tomato sauce on the table, under a potholder.
"Linda Nivit," Gerald said, putting down one fork next to each plate he set down. She stopped in the process of putting the spaghetti noodles in a bowl and looked at Gerald mockingly. She was showing all her teeth. He would never admit it, but his mother was dazzling when she smiled like that. Simply dazzling. Gerald's next heartbeat was excited.
"Ooo, no wonder you've been working on it so much," his mother said wiggling her eyebrows and lowering her tone to a whisper. "Is she cute?"
"Oh, mom," Gerald said smiling with a hint of bashfulness.
Sullen, Gerald was sitting on a pea green pew staring at the whitewashed walls trying his best to set aside his emotions long enough to keep from crying in front of everybody. The room was a bit too modest for a funeral, but his mother, who died in a car accident four days ago, would have liked it just the same. He heard whispering and sniffling above a depressing solo on the electric organ. He tried not to pay attention to this music because that would remind him why he was there, and he would cry like a fool.
The minister stepped up to the pulpit and began speaking. Gerald decided that he would just rather not listen; it would stop him from sobbing.
Then, for no real purpose, he let his eyes wander over to his mother's open casket. She looked so plain in there. Her complexion was too pasty. She was never like that in real life. She was always so happy. So cheery. So colorful. So busy. Instead she was just lying there with nothing to do. Gerald put his hand on his forehead and pressed it. He started to sob. He buried his head in his knees and took a deep breath. He could sense that the other people in the room were looking at him. His family. His friends. The preacher. Even his mother was stealing a peak from the casket. He bit the butt of his palm and made a fist. He took a very deep breath and held it. It pressure on his lungs were nearly unbearable. His face turned red. His brain was pounding.
He gasped for air and sat upright. His face tingled a bit. The room was blurry and Gerald squinted. When they focused, he noticed the room was much grander than he had previously conceived it. The walls were made of marble and lined with ebony. The carpet was crimson. The preacher now stood behind a faraway, mahogany pulpit on a considerably high platform. He was dressed in a lavish black robe and he wore a wide-brimmed sun hat.
"Gerald," the preacher called in a booming voice. "Would you like to say a few words about your mother?" He opened palm and stretched toward Gerald.
Gerald rose from his chair and, with a leisurely pace, walked up the grand staircase to the pulpit. His shoes clicked with every step. The noise they made seemed louder than it should have been. The preacher stood still, with his outstretched palm, until Gerald reached him. Gerald approached the pulpit and nervously scanned the audience. They looked like one large black blob with one mahogany-colored space in the front row where Gerald was sitting. He adjusted his necktie even though it didn't need adjusting. The minister tapped him on the shoulder.
"Please begin, son," the minister said. Gerald cleared his throat.
"My mother was a good woman," Gerald said meekly. His voice, nevertheless, loudly echoed throughout the building. He sniffed. "She was... My mother was......." Gerald could not continue. His throat hurt too much from the suppressed crying. He got to his knees and sobbed. The tears, like a faucet, poured uncontrollably down his cheeks. He tried to wipe them off with a handkerchief, but it was drenched within seconds. He let the tears pour down his cheeks and onto his black suit even though it made him cold. He was shivering.
He looked up at the minister. The minister's left hand was in a fist. He knelt down and showed Gerald what he was holding in it: a hypodermic needle. He opened the cap of the needle and let Gerald's tears fill it up halfway. He put the cap back on and shook it until the contained tears turned a red-brown color.
"Will you be needing this?" the preacher asked. Those words echoed through Gerald's head. They hurt his eardrums.
Gerald found himself in his hopelessly cluttered room, and sitting on a stiff wooden chair by his study desk. He was sorting through a short stack of old photographs. There was a picture of his stepfather reading the newspaper with his feet up. Behind that, there was a picture of his dog with its tongue sticking out. Then, there was a picture of his goofy older brother smiling into the camera and picking his nose (Geez! He must have been ten!). Lastly, Gerald found a picture of his mother. He took a lengthy moment to study it. It was a close-up portrait-you could see part of a tree in the background. She was actually looked rather pseudo-heroic in this photo; it was like she was trying to mock the portraits printed on currency. Gerald liked this photograph. Not only was it detailed, but it captured the very essence of her-everything that he would like to remember her for. He took a piece of scotch tape and taped to the center of a nearby bare, white wall.
Gerald put the other photographs aside and pulled open the top drawer of his nightstand. There sat the hypodermic needle. The red-brown liquid inside rippled. With a cotton ball soaked with rubbing alcohol, he wiped the underside of his elbow. His body was rigid and tense as he took the needle and stabbed it through into his vein. His temples were scrambling. He closed his eyes and squeezed the needle slowly, injecting the drug into his system. He then relaxed in the wooden chair, and it felt like he was sitting on feathery cushions. He opened his eyelids with ecstasy. With a half-witted grin, he let his head float to the picture of his mother that he just taped to the wall. But there was something alarmingly different about it. His mother was staring directly at him and she looked furious. Her angry eyebrows built an unnatural crest of skin above her two eyes. Her frown, so severe and reprimanding, revealed unnatural bulges of flesh just below her chin. Never had his mother looked anybody like that, and he was terrified.
Gerald put his hands to his ears and screamed internally with fear. His heart seemed to quit beating and he could sense that his soul was in jeopardy. The room shook, and the clutter shifted. The bottom of the floor gave way and descended. It sank into a dark vacuum. Faster and faster. Everything started to glow red. Gerald felt weightless. Then, a small, dense cloud of red smoke formed in front of his eyes. It circled Gerald's head and body and then slithered into one of his ears and out both his nostrils. It collected itself in front of his eyes once again and dwindled there.
Breathing heavily and still very tense, Gerald threw the empty hypodermic needle into the trash. His blurry head focused nervously on the picture of his mother. However, she no longer appeared to be angry. Rather, she was smiling. It was that wide smile that Gerald always secretly adored about her. He leant over to peck that picture of her on the cheek. Gerald grinned as he gazed at her. He felt intensely comforted by it.
His mother winked and resumed her original position.