The Dilation / 16 December 1997

My bicycle’s tires were getting a little flat, especially the back one, so I skid like three feet before stopping in front of my building. The problem was that I ran over the Hump’s chalk drawing there on the sidewalk, smearing the smiling sun or whatever it was he was working on. He squealed and jumped up and hollered and kicked my bike and jabbed me in the shoulder and I told him to back off or else. He went into some long speech about art and patience and all this and I said take your gimp shoulder out of my face and hike it home. He said that’s no way to speak to your brother and I said shut up, you’re no brother of mine. But the actual fact of it is true, I had to admit, because his dad and my mom were going to be married next week, just as soon as the little baby was born, which was supposed to happen any minute, and which was why I raced home from school in such a hurry.

Is it here yet? I asked him, and he said no and went back down to the cement, licking his fingers and cleaning up the chalk. That looks like a comet now, I said, it looks much better, and he said why don’t you shut up. Is your old man home from the plant, I asked, thinking the father should be around for the big event, but the Hump shook his head. He won’t be back til like seven-thirty. Seven-thirty! I yelled. I chained my bike to the iron gate and started up the stairs. And he said, Rosa’s there, she’s up there, don’t worry about it.

I was worried and I hustled up to our apartment. Rosa was from the Philippines and knew four English words: dinner, naughty, hello, and yesthankyou. That was fine enough, but you need someone you can talk to at a time like this. You need someone to say, it’s going to be all right, take it easy, you’re doing great, things like that.

I stopped suddenly in the entryway. But it wasn’t going to be me. I didn’t want to see her like that. I heard a little cry from her room. Her door was open just a little and all I could see was this reddish light. I knew it had to be a hundred degrees in there this time of day. I couldn’t move. The sounds in there were so foreign.

Mom? I said finally. Mom?

Honey? she answered. She almost sounded like grandma. I was completely frozen. I didn’t know what to say, but I finally decided on: Are you OK?

It was a long time before she said yes. Don’t come in here just yet, she added. It was like she was trapped under something. Just, she said, just. It was hard for her to get the words out. Just tell me about your day.

I couldn’t remember what class I had first that day so I had trouble figuring out where to begin. They all mixed together, a bunch of blackboards and fluorescent lights. Oh yeah, I said, you know about exis. I stopped, I had to think, I was distracted by her little moans. What was behind that almost-closed door? You know about existentialism? Mr. Binney talked about that. You know, you can do whatever you want and it doesn’t matter. He said you can be bad all day and it’s OK. My mother said, I’m sure that’s not what he told you, and I said that’s a direct quote. Mr. Binney, she said, that’s the fat one? And I said yes, my history teacher. What is he telling you kids, she said. I don’t want to have to go down to that school again but I will. My backpack was still hanging from my shoulder. Mom, it’s no big deal, and then I heard her crying, her little cries. Then it was quiet for a long long time.

Why don’t you come in here, she said.

I looked around the entryway, not really seeing anything until I noticed the bowl of wax fruit that had been on that little table for my entire life. Sometimes I’d balance the bowl on my head and prance around like I was Carmen Miranda or something and my mom would always laugh. It always seemed to work. So I placed the bowl on my head and carefully walked towards her door. It was so quiet.

She was there in the bed, the sheets and blankets all around her, just a little head sticking out. Rosa was stooped over her, adjusting the pillows. Mom’s face was sweaty. She gave me a tiny smile. I lost my balance and the bowl fell to the floor, the fake orange and apple and pear rolling towards the closet. It was too little, she said.

So I went back down to the sidewalk and watched the Hump resurrect his sun. We’re not brothers, I told him. Not yet.

Joshua Green Allen

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