Crimes Against My Mother
by Joseph Faria
I was drunk the first time she fell down the stairs, tripping over my leg. When I turned to follow her, I stumbled and hit my head on the banister. It didn’t hurt much.
My mother was quite still; her legs were crossed at a strange angle as if she were getting ready to stand.
In the bathroom, I splashed cold water on my face. It took only a few minutes for the blood to seep through a towel I pressed against the gash on my forehead. It took three towels to stop the bleeding. I guess my mother’s still at the bottom of the stairs. I can’t see her from here.
My mother held the ladder, while I climbed to the top to pick apples. I wanted those big red juicy ones. The ones the sun makes hot all day. Those big fat ones, so perfect and round. Smooth and shiny, not a blemish on them. I stretched for that last one. It was so big, I could almost feel my teeth sinking into the sweet flesh.
The branch cracked and I went over, my hands sliding through the leaves, apples tumbling all around me. I was stunned for a moment. I lay looking up at the sky through the stiff dark green leaves.
My hands were bleeding, and my sweater was torn. I was pissed, not because of the fall, but that the son-of-a-bitch was still there hanging on the tree.
I picked up the ladder, a long, heavy one; my mother lay underneath it. She had a nasty red welt across her forehead.
The day before Christmas, it was cold, and I insisted we go skating. We went down to the pond. A long array of tree branches hung heavily over the pond, holding large weights of snow.
My mother insisted the ice was too thin. I ran, pulling her down with me to the edge. On the ice, I teased her with my clumsiness. She came toward me, slowly, testing thickness one step at a time. Then I grabbed her hand and twirled her around. She flew round and round. I didn’t mean to be so forceful.
Around she flew, out to the middle of the pond where the thinness grew. I watched her from safety’s edge. I was grinning like the sunlight pouring through the low, thick white clouds. That’s when I noticed my hands were freezing. I yelled to my mother but she had disappeared. One minute she was there spinning like a Tasmanian Devil, and the next minute she was gone.
I ran back to the house, blowing on my fingers.
Like I said, she tripped down the stairs. When she screamed, I called 911. I called the minute it happened, the second I saw her. I was in a state of shock when the ambulance came. I shouted after, Love you, mom, as they carted her away.
She was my first love, the voice I once had.
My pick from 2002 is “Crimes Against My Mother” by Joseph Faria.
We live in a world full of stories and references about dangerous mothers, mothers who make their children suffer, mothers responsible for all that’s wrong with the world. Very rarely do we get a glimpse of the other side – of a mother’s quiet, helpless love that is taken for granted, stepped on, abused. This is the theme Joseph Faria explores in this extraordinary flash.
The protagonist is so busy with his own needs – stopping his bleeding, reaching the perfect apple, twirling on ice, then returning to the warm house – that, even when he does notice what damaging consequence his actions have on his mother, he remains distant, uncaring. And then, with the turn of one last sentence, the reader’s expectations get up-ended. The protagonist does understand. His mother is his first love, the voice he once had.
The cultural bias is exemplified in the author’s careful choice of the expletive “Son-of-a-bitch” – notice how this expletive doesn’t actually attack and blame the perpetrator – the son – but the mother?
Joseph Faria’s flash is bare, honest, and unflinching. I read it in a minute. It stayed with me for weeks.