Mother Looking After Her Son's Best Interests
Liz is drunk, out of her socks, elevated off the floor. A parable. She is where I would like to be, but I feel like I did when I was an altar boy at her first communion, watching something while thinking about my feet inside my shoes. We were nothing except pleasantries exchanged over bodies at the wakes and funerals that fill up fifty years in a neighborhood, until tonight. Tonight, we have come downtown from the wake of my own mother, without plans and have wound up here, in a pool hall, after only a brief moment in the hallway that led to the casket. “You must be tired,” she said.
She is not a wholly attractive woman. With a face that was set early, unchanged from memory when I stood behind the shoulder of the priest when she took that first taste of Christ. A face of failed surprises. She stood next to me at the casket and said, looking up with familiar hopeful eyes, “You were at my communion.”
“I know,” I said. She continued with the exact date, time, weather. I was on her wall in her house. She told me this.
“Thank you,” I replied.
“No, thank you,” she smiled. We stood there at the casket a second longer, her hands clasped in front of her and she said to me, “The weak envied those tired enough to die. That’s T.E. Lawrence.”
I looked at her.
“Lawrence of Arabia.” Nodding, I thought my mother would have loved that. And with that expression buried in the lining of the coffin, she looked as though she heard the quote, but she couldn’t hear it now, she couldn’t see anything now, couldn’t see as I had watched Liz, focused on her as she touched the casket before pulling away.
“You have no idea,” I said.
She then put her hand on my back, rubbed it and every syllable came out of her mouth like a recording, a fluid stilt, “It will get better.”
She is over the table. There is a small necklace that emerges from her boxy dress and hangs there. I imagine the force of gravity. I see the breasts of a woman cutting my hair when I am twelve, I look in the mirror and my mother is watching my eyes.
She is over the table and the pool hall spills out behind her, musty sharp smells, toilet deodorant discs and alcohol, and we have staked this table for three hours, and as she cycles on around in a little stupor, she forces me to call out again, “You’re stripes Liz, I’m solids.”
As we move in our black clothing, I feel as if the rest of the world is gone. All the secrets are dead. And here I am, with this woman from the neighborhood, this woman who has touched me and I am alive in the first memory that is solely my own. This is my moment, our moment. All the while she is telling me about Wilhelm Reich, this guy who believed in the inherent energy in semen, and she hangs on that, “see men,” two distinct syllables, before continuing, “Of boys, an ‘orgone’ energy which is a power that is universally informed.” Males, she continues, become the giant reflectors of cosmic energy and we spew it forth in our seed. I am watching not where she is shooting but how.
“How do you feel about that?” she asks me, stopping and leaning into the light that hangs above the pool table. Her dress hides her, yet the light catches on the hooked tip of her nose and casts something like an orchid down her cheek, neck and across her shoulder. “You know,” she says, and she damn near shouts it out, “To be afraid of sex is to be afraid of awareness is to be afraid of energy.” She is reaching for the chalk, and does so with a hand across the edge of the table, and I see her hand as it had touched my mother’s casket. And I see that face, the one not unlike my own, the heft in the eyes, the long chin in pink satin, see those lips pursed as she rumbles through her bag for a stick of spearmint gum to hand me and then command, “Sit up straight” before she sucked her own stick and I could hear that sound of a slight screech between her teeth, that unknown life of juices inside her mouth.
Liz is staring at me. I shrug, not knowing what else to do. She bites her lip and tells me that the people “who just don’t get it” are the quickest with the arguments.
“Hey,” I say, “I’ve had my share.”
“I don’t know,” I answer and look around. The bartender is an attractive barracuda smoking like Bette Davis. I imagine her the other altar boy in this ceremony, ready to help me hold up the heavy bible.
“I mean, don’t you think its interesting?” she insists and makes this little wave of with her hands, to indicate a pyramid, Reich’s ‘orgone’ collection device.
“Sure,” I say imagining her naked and her arms up like that. A kind of human arrow, a rocket out of the neighborhood, through the neighborhood. And I laugh, “Anything can be interesting if you think about it long enough. Sure. You’re solids.”
“You make a good point there,” she says and shoots, putting solid in a side pocket, a difficult shot. “You know,” she begins, her voice pointed, “This wood looks as fine as your mother’s casket.” Her black dress is squared toward me and the stick is beneath her arm.
“I said,” she starts and lines up another ball, “The wood of this table looks a lot like that of your mother’s casket.”
She appears to me just underwater at this, clear and wavy all at the same time and I wonder if she got an envelope from my mother with big writing on the outside, ‘TO BE OPENED IN THE EVENT OF MY DEMISE’ containing fifty dollars and a recent picture of yours truly. (“He’s a good boy.) But the funny thing is, the wood is similar and I imagine mother surrounded by a pool hall. I didn’t buy the cheapest one, nor did I buy the hermetically sealed model. “There’ll be dirt coming into contact,” said the dealer. Honest to God, I bought her what I thought she would want, what she would want in death, pink satin and wood, real wood. I feel all of my stomach and suck it in, “Thanks Liz, that’s an interesting observation.”
“That’s okay,” she moves up close to me, a step away, “The world’s full of them, just like the world is not full of mothers like yours, she was one in a million.”
“You’re not kidding.”
“No I’m not,” she starts, “She was like the Irish Marion Anderson, she was a giant.”
Suddenly the face in the casket is at that famous Lincoln Memorial recital, surrounded by fur, and I say with seriousness, “Liz that is a beautiful thought.”
“I would like to be a giant,” she says to me and cants her head upward. Her hands clasp the cue one over the other and there is strength there, more than a holding on, and her eyes are filling with water, “I would like to be a giant, to move through the world in a swath.” I reach over and take the cue out of her hands and draw her near me. I can do this. I smell her hair spray and for a moment the ammonia of the hall is gone, and I breath her in, a kind of euphoric smell, that reminds me of clutching my mother after services once and noting that a woman and the incense of the church smell nothing alike. She trembles and I try to feel warm like my mother felt (“Don’t cry”), “Who would you want to be?”
“As much as I loved your mother,” she says, and puts a hand in mine, squeezes. “The only person I wanted to be was Paul Robeson, so that I could sing in that deep voice and have those thoughts. Imagine hands like that,” and she holds out her hands, “The things you could do with those.”
She steps away from me and I look into her eyes. They are different, they have something new. New and disturbing, like seeing someone’s face up close for the first time: those lines, those remarks. And I imagine my face this clear, my face answering the casket dealer, “Dust to dust.” And I don’t feel like staying here, and I try to see her as that rocket again, that secret that is all mine, naked and holding up her breasts with Paul Robeson’s hands. It is hard though to keep it up. Imagine her speaking with Paul Robeson’s voice. I chuckle, “And imagine the ‘orgone’ energy.”
“Yes,” she replies without batting an eye, “And who would you want to be?”
David Niven comes to mind, the wiry indefatigable mustachio and the slight tousled hair of just having landed in a damaged Sopwith Camel. There is an incongruity however between Niven and Robeson that halts me from spitting it out, the image of Niven standing next to Robeson, dwarfed. As a substitute I say Lancaster, “Burt Lancaster, you know he was an acrobat before he ever became an actor.”
“Burt Lancaster,” she echoes and pauses, “If it’s to be a performer, yes, but have you ever considered someone really grand, like a Garbo, or Dietrich?”
“Yes, she was very fine, you know, strong, someone you could hold onto, get into.”
I don’t know where she is going with this, but I don’t want to be a woman who locked herself away. It’s no good. She got more notice for being away than just being, just riding the ride. Safety, safe asking for safe: taking my mother to a weekly meal, and the spearmint gum and the hoping that this would be the week when she would take my hands and tell me nothing was wrong, I’m proud of you. Her face is turning into profile with the light, and I am looking into the side of her eyes, and Paul Robeson’s hands leave mine. “I say,” slipping uncontrollably into David Niven’s always dapper shoes, “Where are you going with this?”
“Any man, you, for instance,” she begins and moves toward me again, “Can dream of being Lancaster, but I wanted a dream that seemed so real for you, so strong,” and she grabs my arm, “To let that influence where we are standing right now. Right now.”
“A woman though?” I ask and stop everything in my body and just stand perfectly still, away from her and this movement toward me, just as I was before her hand touched my mother’s casket at church. But I am conscious it is not just me looking at her. It is her looking at me, watching me, waiting for me to be something, to breath and be that promise from exact date, time, weather that she drank the blood of Christ and ate the body and I stood there, a little older and on the inside. (“He’s such a good boy.”) And I look toward the barracuda at the bar. She would like a Lancaster; she would love to know a man who was at peace with his own Burt Lancaster.
I make my face blank to her stare, erase everything, every mark, everything. I leave the neighborhood and say to Liz with energy, “What’s wrong with Lancaster?”
She throws her head back and laughs to the ceiling, “Your mother was so wrong about you.”