Fiction by Patricia Q. Bidar
There’s a beach. Mexico. A young couple in a convertible, winding up a coast. A couple so attractive their grim mouths add to their allure. The man’s crucifix flashes in the sun. Introduce the players — not too many — in media res.
There is me, in Philadelphia. At this age, I look best in a turtleneck; white cotton in spring and summer; black wool in autumn and winter. A crucifix matching my son’s. I’m a bookkeeper for a psychiatry practice. He worked through them one by one and pronounced them all imbeciles. A single mother, I couldn’t afford to quit.
Already, the reader wants to return to Mexico with the handsome couple with their sunglasses and bright citrus smell. Okay. They pull over, buy fish from a teenage boy under a jalapa. My son and his lover have been in Mexico long enough for the leather to relax, the tread of their sandals to shallow, their feet to darken.
What do they want? My son wants adventure. Takes a risk: invites the fish seller to join them in their hotel room. My son is in the unpredictable phase where his breath comes fast and his teeth flash.
His new girlfriend wants this to last and last. Her eyes are gray-green like the Pacific. She cannot believe her good fortune. She has money, but never had such an exciting man desire her. She enjoys my son ordering her around; dismissing her when he fancies a solo beach run or to investigate something in town. That is, show them, and make clear their problem.
My son’s most recent bout with depression left him pale and 70 pounds heavier. Barely able to make eye contact or speak, except to me. He lost the glamorous job he scored while still gold-tongued and charming.
The light, the smell of our home changed. I began stopping after work for a scotch mist or two before our night of television viewing.
Then, the pivot. His voice quickened. He lost the weight, tanned up, hit the bars. Showered, shaved. He met the rich young woman he charmed into a Mexico adventure. Into breaking her lease and LIVE, why don’t you?
In Mexico, there will be foreshadowing, inevitable in hindsight. Like my son’s spending jags and all-night soliloquies. The lurid lines on his tendon-y neck, scored by the edge of that crucifix under flickering bathroom light.
That nice young woman will believe I never liked her. I neither liked nor disliked. I needed for her to be up to the task. I was worn to a dried curl. I needed to hand my beautiful boy over for a week, a year, the rest of our lives. I wore my crucifix on the outside of my neck on a chain. An expression of my faith.
After Mexico curtailed, the young woman sent my son home to me.
Twenty years later, beside her sleeping spouse, she will miss my son with an ache under her sternum that makes her cry out. She will touch herself and weep.
I miss my boy, too. My fiery toddler with his shock of curls. The remorseful teen who left a gold crucifix on my nightstand. Came to breakfast wearing an identical cross on a chain. The silent man who watched as I scored my own neck with the metal cross one night while drunk — the reason I wear turtlenecks.
What has changed?
I lie awake, too. In his room, my son snores. That always happens when he gains so much weight.
I love him.
I do not know how I want this to end.