by Zinta Aistars
(Photo courtesy of J. Conrad Guest)
This flash fiction was published by the literary e-zine Burning Word in 2003 and featured on air in a radio interview via AuthorsDen later that year.
Mother and son - his need for her touch, for her love, for her unconditional acceptance, even as he closes her out. This one is for you, my sweet son. You know I would.
"Don't shut me out," she whispers to the back of his head. "Would die a thousand deaths for you, know I would, know I would, you know it," she whispers with her lips against the rough short growth of his hair.
Her hands reach around to touch his face, turned away from her, his body turned away from her. Light fuzz, bit of rough, cool cheeks, she smoothes her palms over his face and contours her fingers to the shape she has created. From a single micro-magical cell deep in her body, eighteen years ago, she created this face.
She is perched like Mama Bird on the high back of the couch and her legs are up against either side of his shoulders. She could talk and talk, her knees pressed into his shoulders, and he would never even flinch. Only the occasional tilt of his head would hint at some listening, random catching of a word.
Her fingers spread through his cropped hair. She loves this rough stuff, this short scrub, on no one else but him. This isn't just for him, this touching. It's her food, too. Her spirit leans into the touch, drinks of it, breaks its bread, and inhales. Heel of her palm stroking the length of his skull, fingertips down to the base of his neck, tracing the cords, tensing and untensing of his muscles. He wants to resist, she senses that he does, but her warm hands turn him inside out. His head drops back lightly into the cup of her hands.
"Miss me when I'm gone," she croons, singing her heartache for him to hear, "but deny me when I'm here. What the hell is that?"
His head tips, then rests, tips, neck tensing, rests again.
"Think I don't know, think I don't understand, but oh baby," she hums, "oh baby. Oh…"
She scrapes nail tips across his skull, his hair snapping to attention. Presses her thumb pads into the valley at the base of his neck until she feels the knot give. Circles at his temples, ever so, ever so softly. His shoulders droop.
"You give me hell," she hisses, "and I'll catch it. Kick, scream, tear, doesn't matter, I'm not letting you go into your own hell without me."
She lays her cheek against his warm skull. The scent of his skin, of his hair, makes her weep. Just like the first time. Eighteen years, eighteen minutes. Makes no difference. She'd rock this baby until he was seventy-three. Then she'd be gone. But her wings would whisper soft as her voice now in his dreams. Never let go.
Her fingers trace the curl of his ears, cool to the touch, like intricate shells. If only she could make him hear. Patter of rain on the roof, splash of a foaming wave, chatter of a pesky squirrel, sigh of a lullaby. If only she could make him hear.
She lets the silence linger a moment longer, then hums, then sings, ever so, ever so softly a lullaby from those long ago years… of little bears and dancing sheep, and sleep, sweet child's sleep, and the promise of so many bright blue mornings to come…
A tremor in his shoulders. She stops and presses her lips to the curve of his skull. Closing her eyes, she prays to all good and protecting spirits: spread your wings across my child, spread them wide and hold him close.
"Don't shut me out," she says once more so he won't forget, but it doesn't matter. She will stay by the closed door. She will wait.
He gets up slowly (her hands drop between her knees), stands for a moment, still, and leaves.