“Where the hell do you think you’re goin?” Mom was just warming up. Perched in her bed, surrounded by empty glasses and pill bottles, she was queen and a steel grey man’s haircut was her crown.
Mom wagged her head at Charlyn’s t-shirt. “And you sure as hell aren’t going out looking like that.”
Charlyn wrapped her hoodie tighter across her chest. “I already told you, I’m going out with Amy tonight,” she soothed, perched on a corner of the bed.
Mom stared at the TV, dark brows glowering in hawkish profile. Silence.
“Just for a while. She wants to go for a coffee and chat.”
“C’mon, I’ll be back soon. Promise. And you know Amy’s a nice enough girl…”
Eyes still on the TV.
“But she’s been having some problems with her folks. They’re coming down on her. She didn’t do anything. You know how it is, like you and Grandma.” Charlyn twisted the bedspread between her fingers.
Hrump. Mom lurched onto her side, the bed groaning beneath her bulk. “Why can’t you just talk here? Save a few bucks. Make your own coffee. Or is she too fine and mighty for the likes of us?” Mom’s head bobbed, she was itching for a fight.
Charlyn patted her mother’s hand, reassuring, “No, she likes you, Mom. Really. It’s just nice to get out for a bit. And the coffee shop has really good cookies, you know, those chocolate ones you like.”
“Well, you’d better watch your money, Missy. Rent’s coming due and Jerry still has that car payment this month. And you know better. Even with chipping in for groceries, we still gotta go to the foodbank next week. Not a time to throw money away. And you’d think Jerry would do somethin about getting overtime. Goddamn lazy goodfornothin.”
Charlyn pushed aside thoughts of Mom’s trip to the casino last month, when Mom said she’d break even, at least. A sure win. Dreamed about it the night before. Yeah, right. Five hundred bucks in the hole before security walked them out. Charlyn forced a weak smile. “It’s OK, Mom. Amy said she’d treat.”
Mom sniffed. “It better not be charity. She already looks down on us. The last time that girl was here she wouldn’t even come in. Thinks we’re infested with bugs or something.”
The last time Amy was here Mom was screaming at Jerry so loudly you could hear them clear across the parking lot. Something about messing with her purse. Swearing, followed by a loud crash. Lucky the cops didn’t show up.
Amy had knocked, and stood frozen in the doorway while Mom raged at Jerry. He just whined back. Yes, dear, I do have shit for brains, Yes, dear, you’re right, I’m a fuck up. Eyes wide, Amy whispered that if it was a bad time, she could just leave.
Charlyn forced a smile, “No, she doesn’t Mom, Amy likes you guys. Really she does. She just wants to go out.”
Mom twisted in bed, “Can you fix these damned pillows? My back’s killing me.”
“Sure Mom.” Charlyn reached over, fluffing and tugging yellowed pillows. “Want me to bring you some dinner before I go?
“Yeah, there’s some leftover chicken loaf in the fridge. Just a plate of that.”
“‘K. And look, your show’s coming on.” Charlyn waved the remote at the TV. The picture flickered.
Mom nodded absently as familiar theme music played on.
In the kitchen Charlyn cracked open battered margarine containers, scraping out cold chicken loaf and noodles. Congealed grease shone dully. Dumping the works on a plate, Charlyn popped it in the microwave and punched reheat.
Two enormous grey and white cats padded in, wrapped themselves around her ankles, purring loudly. “OK guys, here you go.” Charlyn dropped a slab of chicken loaf on the tile floor. It landed with a dull splat. The cats huddled over their prize, and purred even louder, pink tongues rasping on cold chicken loaf.
Grabbing a fork for herself, Charlyn ate standing up, easing slimy noodles out of a margarine tub. Cold, but not bad. She put the kettle on to boil.
Mom yelled down the narrow hallway, “Charlyn, are you still here?”
“Are you doing my dinner?”
“Yeah, and making you a tea.”
“Don’t forget my meds.”
Charlyn poured a cup of tea, adding a splash of milk. Then reached for the bottle from on top of the fridge. Red and yellow warning labels plastered on the green plastic bottle came with the doctor’s stern warnings about addiction and sleepiness.
Eyeing the labels, Charlyn tipped six tablets onto a saucer; crushing four under the flat edge of a butter knife. Cupping the two whole tablets in her fingers, she swept white powder into the teacup. Stirred in sugar. Done.
Centering the teacup on the saucer, two pills on the side, Charlyn arranged it on a tray with the plate and cutlery, napkin neatly folded alongside, and carried it into the bedroom. Room service.
Mom reached for the teacup. It’s her best china, bought at somebody’s garage sale years ago. Yellow roses. “Thank you, just what I needed. That goodfornothin Jerry can’t seem to make a decent cuppa to save his soul.” She slurped the tea noisily and made a face. “Is the milk going off?”
“Don’t think so. Tasted fine to me. You want more sugar?”
“No, doctor wants me to cut down.” Mom pointed to her deflated abdomen and sagging bosom and nodded, “Gotta watch my weight and diabetes.”
“Uh huh.” Charlyn glanced around the room. “Oh look, your show’s back on.” She reached for the remote and turned up the volume, just a little.
A door slammed. It sounded like the balcony, Jerry must have snuck in the front, then right out onto the balcony for a smoke. Who was he kidding. Said he started smoking American cigarettes, to save a few bucks. Yeah, sure. And those definitely weren’t tomato plants he was trying to grow on the balcony, no matter what he said about it not being sunny enough to get any tomatoes.
Mom cocked her head. “Is that Jerry coming in?”
“I don’t think so. Still early yet. Might have been Amy knocking. I’ll check.” Charlyn nudged the cup toward her. “You’d better drink your tea while it’s still hot. And let me get these old dishes out of the way.”
Mom nodded, the teacup to her lips and eyes on the TV.
Charlyn paused in the doorway, “Oh Mom, don’t forget your pills. I left them on the saucer for you.”
“Got’em.” Eyes still on the TV, Mom rolled the tablets between yellowed fingers, dropping them on her outstretched tongue and chased with a swallow of tea. Done.
Charlyn walked out of the bedroom balancing a stack of dirty dishes, and dumped the pile in the sink, blasting them with water. Now she just had to wait.
She looked out the living room window. Smoke drifted off the balcony. Jerry’s home.
Charlyn glanced at her watch. Amy was supposed to be here in half an hour. She said she wanted to go out Christmas shopping. Charlyn tiptoed back to the bedroom and paused at the doorway, and listened for rhythmic breathing. Counting down…
“Charlyn?” Mom called.
“Oh, you startled me. Didn’t see you standing there. Can you take my plate?”
“Sure. How about another cup of tea?”
“Yeah.” Yawn. “I’m kinda sleepy.” Mom squinted at the radio alarm clock. “Weird. It’s still early.”
“Don’t worry, just relax. You said you were up a lot last night. Your back was hurting.”
“Yeah,” Mom turned to the TV, her profile slackening in flickering light.
Charlyn carried the plate to the kitchen. Jerry was still on the balcony, a cloud of smoke hung around his head.
She turned the kettle on to boil and crushed two more tablets, then swept them into an empty teacup. Added a dollop of honey, gooey amber mixed with white powder. This oughta do it.
Charlyn walked into the bedroom, fine china teacup cradled in her hands.
Her head bobbing with each rattling inhalation, Mom snored, her head sagging. Charlyn put the cup of tea down on the bedside table. Mom’s purse is in the bottom drawer. She likes to keep an eye on it, doesn’t trust Jerry.
Hunched over, Charlyn riffled through the purse, pocketing a couple twenties and a fifty. Other bills, mostly fifties and hundreds, crowded together; all from the insurance settlement.
That was their big windfall. Mom said it was just like play-acting. Charlyn limped to the stand, the judge’s eye on her cast and neck brace. Grimacing with pain, Charlyn pointed a finger at the driver, and then burst into tears. So what if Jerry’s car was a write-off. The lawyer said the money was hers. Pain and suffering. Mom said she’d hold it, in trust. The lawyer raised an eyebrow but said nothing.
Charlyn stood up, patting the slight bulge in her jeans. Mom won’t miss it right away. And even then she’ll just blame Jerry.
Sprawled across the bed, Mom snorted, and gasped, then was silent for what seemed like minutes, her chest still. Charlyn stared, the money forgotten. Did she actually kill her?
A loud snort was soon followed by snoring, Mom’s chest rising and falling in steady rhythm, her head lolled to the side.
Charlyn tugged at the pillow, and her mother’s head snapped to centre, her eyes fluttering open, she mumbled something. Charlyn froze, her hand on her pocket.
Mom’s eyes closed, and snoring resumed.
Closing the dresser drawer, Charlyn picked up both tea cups – one empty and one full – to dump in the kitchen. She didn’t want the cats to get into it.
Turning in the doorway, she was startled by a large figure; the teacups clattered on yellow china.
“Oh Jerry, I didn’t see you standing there.” Charlyn held out the still warm cup. “Here, I made you a cup of tea.”
Boom, Bust originally appeared on Yellow Mama, you can check it out over there, along with other great stuff buried in the archives.
Liz McAdams is a short (again, we’re talking height, not word count), sharp writer living in the wilds of Canada. Her work appears on Yellow Mama, Spelk, Near to the Knuckle, Shotgun Honey and other places around the web. You can check her out at https://lizmcadams.wordpress.com/