Length: 378 words
Mom once asked me whom I wanted to be when I grew up and I said, Dad, and she said, Anyone else?
We had checked into a cheap motel, sitting around a cheap plywood table on cheap chairs that squeaked under pressure surrounded by cheap veneer walls. The microwave hummed as it cooked our frozen dinners. Every machine had its own hum like they had all forgotten the room’s lyrics. Stalactites of gum drooped from under the table. I remember being so fascinated by the people who left these treasures behind. I wanted to eat them but Mom said no.
She was in a bad mood, pulling Salisbury Steak and Mac ‘n Cheese dinners from the microwave, tossing it on the table and falling face-first onto the bed like a toppled scarecrow. The pillows and sheets exploded above her, then fell down in a mix, hiding her, drawing her into another place.
The motel room had smelled like the wayward men that had looked at us at the weathered gas station in Tellview. The room smelled like that gas station’s bathroom: piss puddled on every white-turned-yellow tile, shit spattered on the porcelain, and black mildew warped on the ceiling boards. The room smelled, and Mom didn’t notice.
I had gingerly tugged at the steaming plastic wraps, hot vapors washing over my hand as I revealed the mushy and globular contents of my dinner and I said, Are you okay, Mom?
I’m sorry that you’re not okay.
It’s not your fault. She sighed and the bed sighed with her. It was swallowing her whole.
Are you mad at me?
I’m not mad at you.
You’re mad at Dad? Did he do something bad?
Is Dad bad?
Another sigh. The springs groaned. No, he just hasn’t figured out how to be good.
He’s not good?
Good at being not good.
She rose from her grave of lumpy pillows and red-flowered sheets. She was tired. It looked like she was using the last of her life to pull herself from that pit. Hon, you can be your father if you want. I suspect once you know enough about the way the world works, you’ll make the decision for yourself anyway. She dropped and never quite got back up.