The following is an excerpt from my book No Guarantees. To read more about this book (including the plot), please check out the "Book" tab at the top of this blog.
As always, thank you for reading. I love you all. (-:
Excerpt from Chapter 11
“I’m worried about you.” A well worn but familiar voice crackled, the tremulous alto tone soothing his spirit.
“You’re worried about me?” Walter tilted his head and paused, the fight to hold back tears momentarily forgotten.
Those piercing green eyes leveled with his.
“You are such a special boy; so talented; so perfect. Every single day I’m amazed at what a strong, handsome man you have grown into. I still remember when you were born- so tiny in your clothes. You were two weeks early, you know.”
Walter nodded with a warm smile, he had heard this many times before. In spite of his best efforts, a tear dripped down his cheek quickly followed by another.
“But from the minute you were placed in my arms, I knew that you were a gift to me- sent to heal my broken heart.”
The intensity in her eyes made the closing of them a relief, and Walter wondered if that was it. Broken heart? She had never mentioned this before. Did this have something to do with his dad’s drinking? He squeezed her hand tightly, hoping to convey his question without asking aloud. The room was too still as though the air currents decided to give them privacy along with the hospice nurse. The window air conditioning unit that was usually humming obnoxiously was suspiciously silent. And yet even in the warm humidity of the August morning, her body was cold.
“You were just so perfect. I knew from the minute that I met you that you were smart- brilliant. You have gifted looking eyes; exceptional. I knew I deserved a perfect baby. I knew that first time was merely a fluke.”
First time? Wait- what?
“You were God’s apology to me. And I have been grateful for you every day of my life.” Why did God need to apologize? Her eyes were still closed. Her breathing was slowing.
But instead of asking, Walter obediently replied “And I’ve been grateful for you every day of my life.”
Normally their head-butting banter would require a more probing response from Walter, digging for each little fact that might be available. She loved to tease him with information, and he hated to not be in the know. It was their thing. Annoying to most, but endearing to them. But today was not normal, and Walter didn’t know what to say. This was the last conversation he would ever get with her, and his usual stubbornness and refusal to be denied details seemed silly and childish. He didn’t want to ask questions. He wanted to wax eloquent with poetic expression of his love for her and count the many ways that he loved her in as many cliché ways as possible. Comparing love to grains of sand- or drops of water in the ocean- or the air that he breathes? Because from the day so long ago that she finally rescued him from those abusive days of his early childhood, he owed her everything.
Always one to avoid heavy emotional discussions, she was now guiding the conversation somewhere entirely different- somewhere they had never been before. Walter didn’t know how to respond, so he silently drowned in that ocean of love that he wasn’t allowed to express, brimming with the tension of secrets revealed.
“He was so little. So tiny. He wasn’t smart like you. Wasn’t brilliant. He was very sick.”
Her chest rose and fell with effort, the memories threatening her last breaths. Her usually warm voice was a whispering scratch. Were those tears? Even when he was twelve years old and his father’s substance abuse problem finally took his last thing of value-life, she didn’t shed one tear. Sitting by the side of her deceased husband’s bed in the Emergency Room, she wrapped an arm around Walter and briskly said, “Well, it’s just me and you now” transferring her warmth and strength to his shivering body through her arm while guiding him away from his father’s motionless form.
Watching her cry now, Walter could only offer her silence in return. Why couldn’t he think of one single thing to say? Or ask? Surely she would tell him. She always did-eventually, but would he get an eventually this time?
He felt a tickle on his bare foot and saw a large spider inching slowly up toward his ankle. He couldn’t find the coordination to shake his foot free, watching the spider’s ascent in some sort of sick fascination.
“I didn’t think that I could have a retarded baby.” Her entire body began to quiver. “But it happened anyway. And I wanted him to die. Because I couldn’t do it. ”
The hint of tears opened up and began streaming down her face. The spider disappeared under his pant leg, and he looked back at the bed. His mother’s closed eyes flashed open, and she frantically looked up at him.
“But you. You saved me. You came just a short two years later after-after he died. He was so sick it was better that way. He would never have been welcome in this hateful world. But you- you have made this world a better place. You deserve life. I only wish your father had felt the same way.”
“I had a brother?” Walter’s voice came out much higher than he thought it should as he began to wonder if she was wishing that his father felt the same way about his brother not deserving life or about Walter deserving life. He took a step back from the metal bed holding up the last bits of his mother’s former body of vigor, dropping her hand and trying to control the urge to run and hide. Despite the heat and his sweating, he suddenly felt very cold.
“No, he would never have been a brother. He was a mistake. He wasn’t right for our family.” She spoke quietly.
Why hadn’t this ever been mentioned before? Confused and wanting to ask so many questions, he knew that this could explain so many things; his father’s obsessive drinking, his abuse of Walter- convincing him that he would never be good enough. Was Walter supposed to replace what his brother never gave them?
“Thank you for being perfect. Thank you for making motherhood right for me again. I could have never forgiven myself if that was my only chance. It wasn’t fair.” Her eyes closed once again and her frame settled into a slow exhale with no promise of the next inhale.
Walter shook his head in disbelief. Never in his life had he been speechless in front of his mother. Even when she counseled him through his own addiction issues, his mouth was constantly formulating his newest excuse. But now his lips refused to part; his tongue lay still; his thoughts flipped like a roller coaster off track.
While he collected himself, her eyes closed, her body sighed, and like a flower wilting in the heat of the day, life left her. For the first time in their relationship he missed his chance to ask, and she didn’t volunteer after she tired of the merciless baiting.
Realizing that she was gone, mobility returned and he did the first thing that came to mind- smashed his hand down onto his pants over the tickle on his knee. As he felt the crushing of the body of the spider against his moist skin, he felt a small satisfaction from the power of being the destroyer for once instead of always the victim.