Adam didn’t want to go into his mother’s bedroom, but she had asked for him. He knew death hovered like a balloon over his mother, its lips probably smacking with giddy delight. He placed his sweaty and shaking palm around the doorknob anyway and twisted, hoping the door, the room behind it and the impending doom would disappear around him. Fourteen was too young to be without a mother.
After lightly shoving the door inward, Adam took a step inside the bedroom. The avalanche of smells made him cringe and he covered his mouth with his right hand to keep his lunch down. Beer was the immediate and instantly recognizable smell. Adam noticed his father slumped in an old, brown La-Z-Boy recliner; a bottle of beer hung from his fingertips. Adam wondered when his father last took a shower. His father’s oily hair glimmered in the light of dusk and dark smudges of dirt or grease or whatever it was pressed deep into the cracks of his aging face.
The vibrating snores of his father shook the arm holding the bottle and Adam expected the bottle to fall to its death at any moment. Like a dutiful son, Adam considered removing the bottle, then tossed the thought aside. What if he wakes up and wants a beer really bad and remembers he had a bottle in his hand when he went to sleep and when he lifts his hand to take sip, it won’t be there and then he’ll be angry and will want you to get a tree branch for switchin’ time. No: better just to leave it there.
A deep, rotten meat scent was the second smell. Adam sniffed the air again and he recalled the time he didn’t finish washing the dishes and they sat out for days. During that time, the food left behind quickly rotted and contaminated the air with a hollow, biting stench that tattled on Adam when his father came home the day his accident happened at the factory. Adam never forgot to wash the dishes again.
Much to the surprise of Adam, a third smell caressed his nose. Rose petals, Adam guessed. The scent hung in the air between the other two disgusting smells. Adam stepped in further and noticed an oval decanter of perfume sitting on the nightstand. Silent Rose was stamped on the sticker affixed to the front side. Adam and Tommy had pooled their money together last year and got the perfume for her birthday. The perfume cost them $12 and they just had enough and they knew it wasn’t going to be like the stuff J-Lo or Britney Spears sold, but their mother always told them when you give gifts, don’t worry about what you get because it’s the thought that counts. And she wore it almost every day.
It’s the thought that counts.
“Adam—“ His mother’s voice cracked. It didn’t sound healthy. She let loose with a cough and turned her head towards Adam. “Adam. You are here.” A slow, methodological spewing of words.
“I am, mother.”
“Come here.” She paused to catch her breath. “I want to talk to you.”
Adam glanced at his father and walked across the bedroom when he thought it was safe. In case his father suddenly woke up and caught Adam in the bedroom, Adam had a quick plan of escape: dive under the bed. His father frowned upon Adam and his brother constantly visiting their mother during her sickness. She’ll never get better if you two shitbirds keep buggin’ her, he’d say.
Adam didn’t acknowledge his mother until he stood next to the bed in order to focus all his power on being stealthy.
“How are you feeling?” Adam asked. It was a stupid question, he knew. The sickness had burrowed itself inside and lived in her for nine months. Nine months tomorrow, to be exact. Adam looked at the floor; how silly could he be for tallying the days?
“I’m dying Adam. This cancer has been eating me alive for a year.” A cough. “I am ready to leave this place.”
“No. You just need some rest.”
“I’ll be getting plenty of that soon.”
A rough grunt came from the corner. Adam watched his father shift slightly in the chair, the bottle of beer still secure.
“Adam, come closer. I want to tell you something.” His mother tried to move so her whole body faced him, but he stopped her.
“Mom, no. Just stay still.” Adam leaned in. “What do you want to say?”
“It’s about your father.”
“What about him?”
“I want you to be wary of him.”
“Wary? What does that mean?”
“Keep an eye on him.”
Adam nodded. “Of course. Tom and I will take care of him.”
“I didn’t mean—“Another cough. “I didn’t mean like that. You and your brother need to watch out for him. He’s not a pleasant person.”
“I don’t understand.”
A weak hand emerged from under the covers and lightly touched Adam’s cheek. Adam enjoyed the quick contact from his mother, even though it took a good amount of effort from her.
“Don’t trust him,” his mother said. “Ever.”
His mother scooted up, but she struggled. She placed her arms under her body to hoist what she could, but Adam saw the trouble she was having. Adam got his arms under her back and lifted and pulled her toward the headboard.
When his mother was propped against the headboard and regained some of her strength back, she said, “You’re strong. You should play sports when you become a sophomore this school year.”
“I’ve been thinking about it.”
His mother reached over and slowly lowered the shoulder part of her nightgown. This motion revealed a three- or four-inch gash oozing blood. The edges of the cut had started to turn black and small flakes of older blood slipped onto his mother’s fresher skin.
“Your father did that to me weeks ago,” she said. “It has never healed properly.” She returned the sleeve back to her shoulder. “Not that it matters now, anyway,” his mother added.
“He would never hurt us,” Adam said.
“I know he won’t,” she said.
With some of her last strength, his mother reached over with both hands and cupped Adam’s face. “I’ll make sure of that,” she said.
“Don’t worry about that. You worry about your summer; you worry about getting ready for the next school year; you worry about girls; you worry about everything else besides how I’ll make sure your father doesn’t hurt you.” His mother looked over to his father and then continued, “I’m making you a promise right now that he won’t and that I will make his life a living hell.”
Adam shook his head. “Buy why? I know he won’t hurt us.”
“You can’t be sure, Adam.”
“Neither can you, mom. You’re too weak.”
“Though the body is weak,” his mother said, “the will is strong.”
“I don’t want you to promise that. I want you to promise you won’t die.”
Adam saw sympathy shoot from his mother’s eyes. Why is she giving me the sympathy? At that moment he knew she couldn’t promise that, but hoped the next words out of her mouth would be just that.
“I am human and the cancer is beyond my control.” She slid back down into the bed; this was easier for her. Adam made an attempt to help her, but his mother shook her head. “You are a sweet boy, Adam. Soon, the girls will be begging you to make them happy.”
“Mom…” Adam sensed tears welling, bulking up like a clogged drain that didn’t want to be unclogged.
“Don’t cry. Give me a hug.”
Adam raised his arms and intertwined them with his mother’s arms. They embraced for a minute as Adam soaked in every ounce of love his mother released. Adam realized this was the last hug he would receive from his mother and the tears flowed. His mother patted the back of Adam’s head.
“I love you, Adam.”
“I love you too, mom.”
She gave him a final squeeze and Adam pulled away. “I have to rest now,” she said.
Defeated, Adam stepped back. His mother relaxed her head, her eyes gazing toward the ceiling. Adam watched his mother’s eyes roll up into her head.
This is it, Adam thought. I’m going to watch her die. He wished his father was awake and Tommy was standing here. Really, he only wanted Tommy next to him. Adam wondered why his mother had just called him and not Tommy too. Wasn’t she also afraid of his father waking up or worse, pretending to be asleep and hearing everything they said? He would be angry and ready to do some switching. But his father didn’t wake and Tommy wasn’t here; he was forced to watch his mother die.
He was forced to do it alone.
A light gasp escaped his mother’s mouth. Her lips vibrated for a split second and then her head lolled to the right, facing Adam. The eyes remained open, but no life remained. Adam took a step towards her to close the eyelids, but stopped: he didn’t want to give his father any reason to think he’d been in the bedroom.
With no other reason to stay in the room, Adam turned and caught a glimpse of his father. For a second, Adam thought his father had awakened and watched him behind blurry and inebriated eyes. Hey son, watch ya guys talkin’ about over there? Havin’ a little mother-son talk about stuff? Well, tell me this stuff, eh son? Your good old involved father wants to know this stuff. If you don’t start tellin’ me what you and your whore mother were talkin' about, I’m goin’ to have you pick out a nice little branch for a wonderful switchin’ time!
This was not the case though: his father choked on a snore and continued sleeping.
Sneaking across the floor to leave the room just as he had to reach his mother, Adam made it to the bedroom door without incident. His father stayed sleeping; the beer continued to hang perilously over the floor; and the Death Scent hit Adam even harder as he passed through the doorway into the hall. The Scent became stronger somehow since the passing of his mother.
Adam quietly shut the door and went into the bathroom. The lock to this door was broken and Adam pushed the clothes hamper in front of the door. After swiping the shower curtain back, Adam stepped into the tub and sat down. He just needed a few minutes.
The few minutes turned into thirty as he let fly all of the tears.