Copyright is held by the author.
ROBERTO’S MOTHER talked about the weather a lot over lunch. When she woke up that morning it was raining. She didn’t know if it had rained all night. Everything outside looked wet, so probably it had rained all night, or most of the night. Of course, she’d taken a sleeping pill before bed, which knocked her out till morning, so she wouldn’t have heard the rain falling during the night. But the rain woke her that morning or she might’ve slept a little longer. She could hear the rain hitting the eavestroughs and the roof. Then, while I was making coffee, she said, the rain stopped all of a sudden. The rain stopped and the clouds cleared and then it was sunny out. Everything looked nice and fresh and dewy. But the clear skies only lasted for a few minutes and then more clouds moved in and it started raining again. Real downpour this time.
And she’d planned to walk to the grocery store that morning because she needed cabbages and ground beef to make cabbage rolls. She could of course have asked the neighbour Anna-Maria for a lift. She would’ve likely obliged. But requesting such a favour during a rainstorm seemed selfish. Don’t you think? she asked Roberto, knifing up the desiccated pork chops on his plate with what amounted to physical violence.
At times he felt great resentment toward his mother. And he felt requisite guilt about this resentment, but had not sought out therapy to root it out. He didn’t need therapy to tell him what he already knew. He understood the foundations for his resentment toward his mother. She was a terrible person. What a terrible thing to think. This is not to say he didn’t love his mother. He loved her dearly. He lived with her, didn’t he? If he didn’t love her, he would’ve moved out long ago. But his mother was utterly self-absorbed, and annoying. She never had anything meaningful to say to him. She never asked what he thought about the current state of the world. She never asked if he was happy. She never asked if he was dating. She never asked how his work was going. She could natter on about the weather and cabbage rolls until she stoned you, but she couldn’t ask a simple, How you doing today, son?
So often when Roberto sat down to eat with his mother, it took mere seconds for any hope that glimmered in his heart of sharing with her a delicious meal and a stimulating conversation to be bulldozed like a tin shack. Conversation with her fell short of stimulating anything but the tear ducts, if he could call the words and sentences uttered in that kitchen conversation. Those cabbage rolls she mentioned? Last time she made them with minced mutton without telling him and he blamed her awful cooking for the cabbage rolls’ funky taste. True, she was no Julia Child in the kitchen, but had he known about the mutton, he would’ve adjusted his expectations and not reacted with nausea and outrage. After all these bloody years you still don’t have the hang of it? he cried. She took immense offense to this, locked herself in her bedroom, and the two didn’t speak for weeks.
He suggested moving out one morning. I’m going to find a little place near here, ma. You okay with that? Her silence indicated that she wasn’t okay with his announcement. On the other hand, she didn’t vehemently protest his decision and this gave him a modicum of doubt about her feelings toward him. Perhaps, all along, she’d secretly desired him to leave. After all, he was a grown man. He should’ve left more than a decade ago. But time passes. The routines of life take hold and time passes. Indeed, he’d not even begun to search for his own place. He’d mentioned it to gauge her reaction. As she reacted not at all, he decided to postpone the search until he had a clearer idea how she felt about it.
Certainly, even at her advanced age, she could manage living on her own. She cooked, laundered, made beds and spic-and-spanned the house to a mirror finish. She still shoveled the snow and raked the leaves — at her insistence — and even managed a bountiful vegetable garden in the summer. The woman was the picture of vigor and good health, likely attributable to genes and her impressive work ethic. How could I not admire this woman, Roberto reflected, who soldiered on each day asking for nothing? Asking for nothing but an audience to listen to her monologues about the weather, and the ongoing little summaries of her life, which formed a narrative of her life, one that superseded any narrative I may have harboured about myself.
He felt surprisingly lonely as she talked about the difference between Polish cabbage rolls and cabbage rolls that Italians made. They use more tomatoes, she said about the Italians. And the spicing’s different. The Polish cabbage rolls taste Polish. The Italian cabbage rolls taste
Italian. Both are good, she said. I prefer the Italian ones. I think I’ll make them Italian-style this time. I’ve made Polish-style before, and they were good. But this time I’m going with the Italians. I’ll need to get basil leaves for the tomato sauce. I’ll have to write that down or I’ll forget. It’s still raining. Damn.
It was still raining, but his mother’s restlessness could not be contained. After she washed the dishes and swept the kitchen floor, she donned her blue nylon raincoat, grabbed an umbrella, and headed out for her cabbages. During her absence Roberto felt bored, stifled, but more than anything disappointed. Was he disappointed more with his mother or himself? He could’ve done better for himself, surely, and for his mother. But that’s easy to say. Everyone thinks they could’ve done better, had they known what they know now. Is that necessarily true? Maybe we’d make the same mistakes anyway, Roberto thought with a smile.
When, after three hours, his mother hadn’t returned from her grocery run, Roberto grew concerned. It wasn’t like her to go out for that long unless she was visiting her sister — his Aunt Celeste — in her nursing home, a 20-minute drive away. He paced back and forth in the house, now and then checking the front window to see if she was coming. By dinnertime, his concern had bloomed into panic. He threw on a jacket and jogged to Martino’s Groceries, down the street. The rain had stopped, but he splashed through deep puddles; in moments his shoes squelched so loudly with each footstep he thought some kind of sucking creature followed him.
At Martino’s he asked the long-faced salesgirl if she’d seen his mother. She’s old, he said, silver hair in a bun, dressed in black. Looks like a nonna.
The salesgirl, whose name-tag read Gina, smiled and said that he’d just described about 50 ladies who’d been in that day. Can you be more specific? she asked.
Then Roberto remembered the photograph of his mother in his wallet. Granted it was a decade or so old, but it would give the salesgirl the gist. He showed the photograph to her and told her to add ten years, but she said she’d not seen this particular woman. Roberto’s neck hair bristled. What do you mean? he said.
I haven’t seen this woman today, the salesgirl reiterated. And I’ve been on since noon. Actually, my shift’s almost over. Sorry I couldn’t be of more help.
Roberto exited the grocery store and stood in a puddle for a moment before heading home. He knew he couldn’t call the police immediately. They required a person to be missing for 48 hours, at least that’s what he believed. He’d go home and call around to hospitals to see if she’d been admitted anywhere.
To his complete surprise, when he got home he found his mother standing by the kitchen stove, humming to herself and stirring a pan with a wooden spoon. The smell of frying onion and beef filled the air.
Two large cabbages sat on the counter. His mother turned and smiled. Where’ve you been? she asked.
I’ve been here, he said, where the hell have you been?
She frowned. What kind of tone is that? she asked, and continued stirring.
Roberto stood in the kitchen doorway for a full minute,
scarcely breathing, before he decided to get himself a drink of water at the sink. He let the water run and then filled a glass. His trembling hand almost dropped the glass. The water looked cloudy, but he drank it anyway. Indeed he was so angry at that moment he could’ve drank turpentine and not noticed it. The woman had no—she had no right to leave him hanging like that, to manipulate him in that manner. Who did she think she was? Nothing new, either. The old witch had her tricks.
Why are you staring at me? his mother asked.
I’m not staring, he said.
I can feel your eyes on me, she said. Stop it. Stop it or get out of the kitchen. What’s gotten into you? You look like a
Where were you? he asked, almost growling.
She pointed the wooden spoon at him, eyes squinted, and said, Listen here, it’s not enough that I cook for you and make your bed and wash your shit-stained underwear, now I have to answer your stupid questions? What do you think this is, eh? Who do you think I am? Get out! Go on, she said, get out before I hit you with this spoon.
So angry he thought he might faint, Roberto exited the kitchen. His mouth felt metallic as he strode through the living room to the front door and stepped out to the porch in his shirtsleeves.
The still damp air gave him a chill and rubbed his arms to warm himself. He filled his lungs and tried to clear his mind of angry thoughts. To be so angry at one’s mother was intolerable. God and society condemn the haters of mothers. Matricide may be the worst crime one can commit.
Tears filled his eyes. Then he noticed a white-haired man in a charcoal trench coat walking a small black poodle. Roberto disregarded the pair and took out a paper tissue to wipe his eyes.
Young man, he heard. You there.
Roberto looked down. The man with the dog had stopped in front of his house. What did he want? Roberto thought. What could he possibly want? He’d never seen him or the dog before. He felt like telling him to go fuck himself, but thought twice about it. What is it? he said.
Your mother, the man said, I want to thank your mother.
A moment passed before Roberto reacted to the man’s statement. His body trembled uncontrollably, and not solely due to the damp cold. For a second, he thought he might vomit.
Thank her for what? Roberto said.
The little dog, tail wagging furiously, sniffed around the wet lawn. Just tell her that Victor says thank you, the man said, winking and bowing his head slightly. She’ll know what I’m talking about. The man walked off with his little dog, stopping at a fire hydrant for the dog to mark with a lifted leg.
Meanwhile, Roberto felt a terrible pain in his diaphragm. He went back in, clutching his chest and moaning.
What is it? his mother asked, looking up from the stove.
I think I’m having a heart attack, he said.
Yeah, she said with a snort, last time you thought you were having a heart attack it turned out to be gas, remember? We took you to the hospital, me and your father, God rest his soul. Remember? How embarrassing. Take a Tums or something. And wipe that stupid look off your face. Heart attack, my ass.