Monday, May 6, 2013

Momma Tried

By Reece Hirsch

Will Connelly, the protagonist of THE INSIDER, has a close but complicated relationship with his mother.  When you get right down to it, couldn’t that be said of most mothers and sons?  Here’s a short excerpt from THE INSIDER, in which Will visits his mother in an assisted living facility, concerned that some bad men may have gotten there first:

The lobby was decorated in chintz and flower prints, with a large vase of paper flowers on a table in the center of the room.  An ornate, Victorian ceiling fan turned slowly overhead.  The lobby was presided over by Barb, a matronly attendant with a gauzy mass of hair that settled around her head like the inhospitable atmosphere of a small, lifeless planet.  Barb, who appeared to be only a few years removed from taking up residence at Lullwater herself, surveyed the lobby like a field general.  Will had to give credit to the designers of the facility, who had succeeded in creating an environment that was both homey and authoritarian.

Will hurried into the dining room and scanned the tables for his mother.  He found Anne sitting alone at a table in the corner of the dining room, a small woman arranging her silverware before her on a paper placemat.  Will was relieved to see that she hadn’t been harmed and appeared the same as ever.  Her face was still striking, with sharp cheekbones and a long, determined jaw.  She might even have been imposing, except that her eyes had lost the intense watchfulness perfected through years in classrooms as a high school history teacher.  Now her gaze was soft and unfocused, like she’d lost her glasses.

Anne’s light brown hair was combed straight back, but it wasn’t enough to cover the large spot on the back of her head where her hair was thinning.  Her hair had been a darker brown when he was a child, but the hairstylist at Lullwater used a lighter-colored rinse.  She was wearing a flowered sweater and the gray pants with the elastic waistband that he had bought her for Christmas.  Once she had dressed him; now he dressed her.

“Oh, sweetie, it’s good to see you.”  She never called him by name anymore, which made it difficult for him to tell if she really remembered who he was.

“Hi, Mom.  How’re you doin’?”  He leaned down to plant a kiss on her pallid forehead.  In the bright sunlight, her skin appeared almost translucent, revealing tiny purple veins in her temples and hands.

“Oh, I’m fine, I guess.  Sort of a mess.”

“Well, I think you look nice.  Looks like you had your nails done.”

“They only have one color,” she said, holding out her hand and examining the reddish-brown nail polish.  “I’m not sure I like it.”

“I think it looks good on you.”

“I’m cold.  Does it seem cold in here to you?”

“Well, maybe a little.”  He was actually quite warm in the sunlit corner.  “Would you like another sweater?”

“No, I guess not.  How are you, sweetheart?”

“I’m fine, but I need to know if you’ve had any visitors lately.”

“Visitors?  No, I don’t think so.”  Will wasn’t confident that she would remember even if Yuri had paid her a visit.

“A man with a Russian accent?”

“Oh, I get so many visitors it’s hard to keep track of them all.”

Will realized he wasn’t going to learn anything by asking Anne questions, so he decided to just chat.  “Mom,” he said, “I’ve got some good news.  I made partner in my law firm.”

“Oh, that’s wonderful, sweetie.  Did you know that my father was a lawyer?”

“No, I didn’t know that.”

“Oh, yes.”

Anne’s father had been the owner of a hardware store, not a lawyer.  He wondered if Anne was now confusing him with her father.  A few years ago, Anne would have thrown a party to celebrate the occasion.

“You always used to tell me that I should become a lawyer, and if I worked real hard, that I’d be a partner in a big firm some day.”

“I said that?”

“All the time.”

“Are you glad you did it?”  Her voice had lost the lilt of small talk, and her eyes were focused on him. Will felt as if the mists had parted for a moment to reveal the old Anne peering out at him, never one to leave anything unfinished.

“Yeah, Mom.  I’m glad I did it.”

“Good.”  Then, with an added note of finality, “Good.”  And with that, the old Anne seemed to vanish again, if she had ever been there at all.

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