Her apartment was sickeningly colorful. Wallpaper decorated with fading water lilies was starting to peel off the walls. Oversized, vibrant photographs of rose-cheeked children were precariously propped up on a shelf by the TV. An old, hairless cat meandered towards Connor, but turned away and slinked to the kitchenette. Connor slipped his messenger bag off and held it tightly up to his chest.
“Would you like a cup of coffee?” mumbled Lois from the kitchenette.
“I’m alright,” replied Connor, quietly.
Lois stepped over the threshold of the living room and the kitchenette, loosely holding a can of coke. Her stringy hair had become gray. She looked much older than fifty.
“I’m sorry the house is such a mess. I haven’t had a chance to clean it up.”
“Oh, it’s fine. I mean, it’s not a mess. Well, my house is messier, at least.” Connor was noticeably uncomfortable. He fingered his shirt tail.
“You can put your bag anywhere,” Lois said, directly pointing to the closet. Connor put his bag on the floor next to his feet. He sat on a plastic-coated loveseat and draped his arms across his thighs, looking at the floor.
“How have you been?” Lois inquired, inserting herself between Connor and a ripped, pastel-colored cushion.
“Fine. And you?”
“I’ve been fine.”
As they sat together, Connor felt the unbearable discomfort of his mother’s eyes taking inventory of every one of his physical attributes. His stubble, his defined brow, his thick arms, the raised scar on his cheek from a fall he had taken as a little kid. Connor glanced at the cat from earlier in an effort to keep his eyes off his mother. It had found a comfortable resting spot on the shelf, right next to the photographs. “What’s his name?”
“He doesn’t have one.” Lois shook her head and looked at Connor. At a first glance, he thought she looked angry, but realized within seconds that she was looking at him with desperation.
“Are you okay?” she asked him.
“Yes. Are you?”
She fell silent and wetted her lips with her tongue.
“There shouldn’t be animosity between us… there isn’t any.” Connor said, in his signature monotonous drawl. He could see that Lois’ eyes were slick with tears, and he felt all the more uncomfortable. He folded his hands on his lap and looked at them, feeling no resentment toward his mother. He was particularly skilled at dealing with or suppressing his emotions.
As a teenager, Connor had questioned why his mother had left. He had blamed himself, society, his father… he had blamed everybody and everything he could before deciding that blame didn’t matter in this situation. He didn’t need a person or a system to direct all of his anger toward, because the vehemence was still there, and would always be. He learned to absorb his rage into the depths of his subconscious and have it be an aspect of his being which he could contain. Anger and hatred were omnipresent to Connor. He despised everything. He hated Lois as much as he hated everything else, but had no particular conviction against her.
“Are you sure you don’t want coffee?” Lois asked in a begging tone.
“I don’t drink coffee.”
“How are your brothers?” she asked, staring intensely at her estranged son.
“They’re good. Michael’s at Penn State. Ben’s engaged. Josh is spending a year in India.”
“That’s great. Is Ben’s fiancé nice?
“I haven’t met her.”
“Oh. And how’s your father?”
“He’s working a lot. But he’s fine, I guess. Why didn’t you call him?”
Lois smiled nervously.
“I mean, I don’t care… but I think he wishes you had called.”
“It would have been hard for me to talk to him after the situation with Mark. I’d be ashamed, I suppose.”
Mark had been a friend of the family who Connor, when he was a kid, had adored and idealized. Mark always dressed like a classy 1960’s businessman, but never had a dime to his name. There was an attractive je ne sais quoi about Mark which fascinated Connor. He wondered with admiration how this man who had no money and no possessions except the clothes on his back have such panache. Apparently Lois had been attracted to Mark, too. One day she just left with him. They had left a note taped to the fridge: We’re sorry, but we’re in love. Goodbye! Connor had always thought that note was ridiculous. We’re sorry, but we’re in love. What did that mean? “But” implied justification. How could leaving one’s family without explanation be justified? How could leaving a man to raise four boys alone be justified? How could any aspect of this situation be justified by love, an intangible sentiment?
Connor suddenly felt trapped. He was consumed by hatred of his mother. He recalled the day that Lois had left him and his three younger brothers without a mother. He thought of that day, and it seemed like some dam had broken in him, and all the fury that he had been fighting to hold in spilled out.
“You selfish-” he inhaled sharply through his nose.
“I know. I messed up.”
“You didn’t even make an effort to contact me until, what, a month ago?”
Connor raised himself up from the loveseat. He could feel the hot fury stinging in every cell of his body. He put his hands in his pockets and rocked back and forth on his heels for a few seconds, staring at his mother. “What happened between you and Mark?”
Lois looked at her feet. “We went to Mexico for a while. Just went wild. Then, when we came home, he left and took the money.”
“Why didn’t you come back?” he asked, his teeth still locked in place.
Neither Connor nor Lois were crying. Both were too terrified –Lois of Connor and Connor of himself –to show any kind of emotion. Connor clasped his hands together. They were cold, despite the radiator and it’s constant rumbling din. His circulation had been bad since he was a kid, but the chill in his extremities seemed more unbearable now than it had ever been. His blood was burning, yet his fingers were frozen. He wondered what about his mother’s presence triggered his rage.
Polaroid memories of Connor and his brothers had, for Lois, proved sufficient throughout the years of distance. The pictures on the shelf with the cat. A picture of a six-year-old Connor in a three piece suit. A picture of a toddler Ben holding an ice cream cone, of a pre-teen Michael on a skateboard, and of an infant Josh in a bathtub. That was the contact that Lois had with her family since her affair with Mark. That was all she needed. Lois’ initiation of a relationship with her eldest boy was premature. She found herself having to scan Connor with her eyes, trying to imagine the transformation between the six-year-old boy on the shelf to the grown man before her. She was trying, in her mind, to morph together the round chin of “Picture Connor” and the defined, strong jaw of “Real Connor”; the shaggy blonde hair of “Picture Connor” and the neatly trimmed brown hair of “Real Connor;” the chubby, dimpled hands of one, and the strong, masculine grip of the other… she wanted to come up with some sort of tangible combination of “Picture Connor” and “Real Connor” which she could identify as her son.
Connor apologized to his mother for bothering her.
“What?” Lois replied, bitterly. “You’re no bother, Connor. You’d never be a bother to me.”
“I should go.”
Despondently, Lois touched Connor’s back. “Stay a minute longer, Connor. I’ll make you coffee.”
“I don’t like coffee.” Connor felt the spilt fury simmer down slightly, though he was still fighting his frustration. “It was nice seeing you.” She nodded in response, allowing herself to cry.
Connor closed the front door and walked toward his car. Looking back up at his mother’s house, he saw the unnamed cat sitting by the window.
Age 16, Grade 11
Brooklyn Friends School