Tuesday, February 16, 2021

SHORT STORY: Waste Management

As a young girl, I revered my mother.  We lived together, just her and I, in a plain looking house nestled in a sleepy outer suburb.

‘Good morning, starshine’ she would say each morning as she energetically drew back my bedroom curtains, filling the room with sunlight.

James Patrik SHORT STORY: Waste Management

I idolised her, though childish pride prevented me from verbalising my feelings.  She was a woman of immense contrasts, and I wanted to be just like her when I grew up.  At once, strident yet demure.  Educated, yet still of simple tastes.  Some days, as she moved about the house, I’d study the elegant way in which she moved.  I’d try my utmost to imitate her graceful gestures precisely, often failing.  It was only due to my diligent observation that I was able to discern a subtle change in her façade.  She seemed suddenly stressed, guarded.

Each night, after dinner, Mother would excuse herself and go down to our basement.

‘Just catching up on some laundry’, she’d say, typically emerging half an hour later with folded clothes. 

One night, things felt different.  It was just after my ninth birthday.   Gone for only a few moments, she returned empty handed, her face looking flushed.  Was my perfect mother hiding something?

I’d been raised to abhor secrets, so I resolved to investigate for myself.  That night after bed, I crept from my covers and into the hallway.  Up past my bedtime, the house was a strange, nocturnal place – one I was never supposed to see.  Confident I wouldn’t be punished for my infraction, I nonetheless armed myself with a white lie.  If caught, I’d claim I’d awoken for a glass of water or some other such thing.

Clad in my pyjamas, I crept past Mother’s favourite chair.  Working on her computer, her face was the picture of concentration illuminated by the harsh light of her screen.  Sat beside her was a half empty bottle of the dark liquor she’d once forbidden me from tasting.

After slipping through the basement door, I cautiously descended the wooden staircase, activating the tiny flashlight I’d brought.  As I reached the bottom, I used it to scan the room.  The circular spotlight danced about, left to right, revealing the washing machine, dryer and the other sundry items we’d abandoned there.  Suddenly – movement.  A darkened blur caught in the periphery of my vision.

‘Who’s there?’ I managed as my heart rate jumped.

Slowly piercing the circle of light was the unmistakable outline of a woman’s bosom.  I moved my flashlight slightly to reveal a woman – completely naked, her body covered in an unusual coating.   Resembling clay or thick chocolate, her dark blanket accentuated the smooth contours of her hips and made her appear slimy to the touch.

‘Good morning, starshine’, croaked the naked lady in a tone both terrifying and familiar.

‘Who are you?’, I demanded, somewhat stunned by my bravery.

‘Don’t you recognise me?’

‘You’re a naked lady in my basement!’

‘Look closer.  I am your mother’.

Instantly my mind conjured the image of my Mother upstairs.  I’d seen her with my own eyes not sixty seconds ago.

‘I am she’, continued the naked lady, ‘That part of herself she discards.  That which is unacceptable.  It is a blackness she must release in order to be your mother’.

Alarmed, I began moving towards the staircase, but before I’d moved a muscle, I felt the naked woman’s hand close around my bicep.

‘In nature, everything has balance.  Perfect people exact a price.  I am the skin she has shed.  Erupting from her subconscious.  She has done this deed for you, child’.

‘Don’t hurt me’, I pleaded.

‘Hurt you?’, the lady seemed to take umbrage, ‘I am as much your mother as she is, I am simply her shadow.  I still recall her feelings your first night home from the hospital.  Such resentment.  Her revulsion at the very sight of you, knowing she’d have to sublimate her needs for another.  As you soundly slept, I watched her resist the urge to smother you’. 

‘It’s not true!’, I spat as I tried to twist my arm from her grip, unsuccessfully.

‘Deny me all you like, but all relationships are this way.  We discard those parts of ourselves we deem distasteful so we can summon kindness and compassion.  Everybody does it.  Those feelings have to go somewhere.  You might call it a form of…waste management’.

‘I have to go’, I declared, struggling more forcefully this time, still to no avail.

‘You cannot leave.  Not now that you have seen me’.

A moment of silence hung between us as we acknowledged the uncomfortable impasse.

‘There is a way - only one - for you to ascend your stairs and return to your delusion’.

Before I could respond, the lady pressed her filthy hand into my chest.  Her fingers were ice cold and the sticky substance covering her clung to the fabric of my clothes.  Within seconds, I felt the uncontrollable urge to cough.  The naked lady released her me as my body convulsed and crumpled.  I fell to my knees before her and hacked up a terrible quantity of what looked like phlegm.  The vile, black globule presented itself on the basement floor, writhing and moving of its own accord.  Had that come from inside me?

My coughing fit complete, I jumped to my feet and bolted up the staircase, dropping the flashlight as I went.  I fully expected the naked lady to give chase, but she didn’t.  She seemed much more interested in the phlegm I had produced, inspecting it with fawning adoration.

‘A mother does what she can for her child.  Never forget your shadow, dear.  It will always be waiting for you’.

I never saw the naked lady in the basement again, nor did I tell my mother what I had seen.  I decided to allow the memory to atrophy, and so it did.  The decades passed.  I finished school.  Got married.  Got divorced.

Now I am a mother myself, with my own child - a boy - a bitter avatar of my own disappointment.  I’ll never forget the day I brought him home from the hospital.  After Mother’s death I inherited my childhood home, the same one with the basement.  I lived there with my son, just him and I, in a perfect symmetry of circumstance.

Every now and again, I would look down upon him sleeping in his cot, his tiny face a scrunched up blank canvas of limitless possibility.  I’d heard many a new mother gush about the bond between mother and child – an unspoken, immediate connection - primal and ancient.  I’d watch him sleep, and feel cold inside.  Empty.  As if the very sight of him filled me with hatred.  I swallowed my venom and vowed to fulfill my obligation.  As he began to grow into a young man, I became determined to be for him no less than the perfect mother.

I never told him what I keep hidden in our basement.  The black waste.  A disgusting biproduct of human relationships.  I hope he lives as long as possible before he too learns the truth.




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