Categories > Comics > X-Men0 Reviews
A woman reflects on her life in Louisiana after seeing a certain mutant on the news.
My feet are aching. I just want to relax, maybe with a hot bath, and then curl up on the couch with a cup of coffee and a piece of Sara Lee’s cheesecake. I’ve been looking forward to that frozen cheesecake since my lunch break. My son packed my lunch for me today, and while I’m thankful, I really could have used more than a peanut butter sandwich and a juice pack. I’d tell him this, but he’d look at me with those big brown eyes of his and say, “But that’s all we had mom.”
And he’d be right. We never have much at the end of the month.
I park the car in the driveway and make my way up the stairs. The elevator still has the out of order sign on it. It figures. The elevator’s never running, and of course, I have to live on the fourth floor. Not a bad walk, except on days like this. Days where the last eight hours were spent standing behind a Wal-Mart cash register.
I enter the apartment that I share with my son, amazed, as usual, at the cleanliness of it. If I was half the housekeeper that he is…
“Hey mom!” He smiles and gives me that wave of his; fingers splayed, short jerks of the wrist. “How was your day?”
“Alright. I see that you’ve been busy. Did you make that grocery list out for me?”
“I did you one better. The milk’s already in the fridge.”
He rolls his eyes; the one thing that shows his youth even through all the responsibilities that he’s taken on. I love this boy.
I’m in the freezer before he can verbalize his disagreement with my terms of endangerment. In the freezer and already rummaging around for that cheesecake. I find it with little difficulty and place it lovingly on the counter to thaw. I could eat it frozen, I’ve done it before, but it just wouldn’t taste as good.
I turn quickly, watching to catch Dennis before he has a chance to run off on me.
“Do a girl a favour?”
He smiles and nods quickly. I don’t even tell him before he’s in the bathroom and I can hear the pleasant sound of water running. For the nth time I’m wondering what I’ll do when he runs off to college in a few months. I’ll miss our after-work ritual, if only because I’ll have to draw my own bath and run to the nearby Zehrs for my own cheesecake.
I sigh and place two forks near the cheesecake box. As an afterthought, two saucers soon join them.
With another sigh, I gingerly walk through the kitchen towards the bathroom.
Dennis is stretched out on the couch by the time that I join him in the living room. The television is blaring, music from some band that I don’t recognize is pouring out of the small speakers. I can’t make out the words, but I recognize the one screaming from the poster in Dennis’ room. All the music sounds like screaming these days, although, thankfully, there isn’t as much of it coming out of Dennis’ room as there was even last year. I smile to myself, it’s been a long time since I caught him singing along, using my hairbrush as a microphone. I think that he still does it, but he exercises more care to avoid being caught.
I smile down at Dennis, who brings his knees up so that I have room to sit.
I point to the television, the small smile still pasted on my face. He doesn’t make any candid remarks tonight, probably tired from his own day at work. The screaming is abruptly cut off.
“—news tonight. Our own Janice Kipping reporting.”
In a few seconds, my ears adjust to the new sounds and my attention focuses half-heartedly on the screen. I rest my head on my son’s knees, content just to have someone watching the news with me. Tears burn my eyes and I have to tell myself not to be a silly old woman. This time they don’t listen to me and my mind insists that in a few months, I’ll be doing a lot more crying.
“I wish that they’d leave those mutants alone.”
I look up. My chin rests on my son as I try to read his expression.
“No, mom, I really do. They get up there, night after night, calling then terrorists when they aren’t. The X-Men aren’t as bad as the media wants us to think. I mean,” he pauses, lazily pointing to the television, “they have no rights. God mom, animals at least have the humane society to stick up for them. Mutants are treated with less dignity than some mutt on the street would be obligated to. In that position, I would be doing a lot more than pushing the FOH around a little. And what about those robots that were on the news last year? They were targeting mutants.”
It’s my turn to sigh. He’s right, but I do wish that he’d keep those comments to himself.
He interrupts me again, his eyes pleading with me to accept his political values, “Mom, you can’t just ignore these things!”
It’s been my experience that rocking the boat does nothing but get your teeth kicked in. I’m about to say something about that when a young man on the television catches my eye.
He’s one of those mutant terrorists, at least according to the caption at the bottom of the screen. He isn’t bad looking, but not breathtaking in quite the same way was Brad Pitt. Of course, part of the reason could be that he is simply too young looking to take my breath away. However, what forced my eyes to linger and my breath to hitch was probably the exact feature that labelled him as a mutant terrorist. His eyes were a deep red, and this red was surrounded by black. This combination made his eyes undeniably remarkable…and undeniably familiar.
I’m so caught up in the man on the television screen that I don’t look up when Dennis leaves the room. There’s a faint noise from the direction of his room, a clear “pop” but I barely register it.
Whatever it is, Dennis will handle it.
16 Years Ago
I kiss my two-year-old son goodbye before handing the baby to my mother. She holds out her arms with the impatience that never fails to make me feel ashamed. If only I kept my legs shut, she wouldn’t be forced to take care of my problem. My minds screams for me to ignore her, and I try to listen to that inner voice. I fail miserably.
‘Don’t cry, please. Denney, baby, don’t cry.’
To my relief, Dennis doesn’t cry and I manage to stumble into the waiting cab without sputtering apologies in the face of my mother’s icy stare.
“I’ll be home before supper, promise,” her mouth continues to frown at me, a pale thin line, “and I’ll make it tonight. Give you a rest.”
I close the window, not wanting to risk hearing any of her grumbling. The cab starts moving and I can feel the tension leaving my body. Going to work shouldn’t feel this good.
I hear noises from the kitchen and it isn’t until my son exits, with the broom in one hand and the dust pan in the other, that I realize that I had dozed off.
“What time is it, Den?”
“Not too late, mom,” I straighten up as he fiddles nervously with the broom handle. “I’m tired though. I dropped something in my room a while ago; as soon as I clean it up I’m probably going to go to bed.”
I watch him leave the room; even though that means that I have to turn around. He pauses at his bedroom door long enough for me to wave goodnight. A flick of my wrist, fingers splayed, and then he’s gone.
I straighten the couch cushions, dumping the pillows into the corners of the furniture before reclaiming the couch. My eyes glance at the VCR clock, just long enough to confirm that it really isn’t late, before my attention focuses back on the television.
The news is done and Rachel is now explaining the woes of her love life to her friend Monica.
Four hours into my shift and the joy of being away from my mother has long been replaced by the joy that the lunch rush is finally over. The Louisiana heat is starting to really get to me. My ponytail feels limp against the back of my neck and sweat stains are appearing under my arms. I would sell my soul for a working air conditioner. There’s a fan, but it’s across the room, for customer use.
I’m still bitching to myself about the heat when a faint ding signals the entrance of a new customer. Impatiently I look up, a fake smile gracing my face and doing a poor job of masking my annoyance.
The annoyance disappears the moment that I see a little boy timidly approaching the counter.
He’s small and it’s that fact that makes it difficult to determine his age. He could be as young as eight or as old as eleven. His clothes are too big and it only serves to highlight his smallness. Similarly, the sunglasses perched on his nose are also too big. His right hand sneakily comes up twice to adjust them; pushing them back even as he continues to walk toward me.
“What can I get, honey?” my smile still pasted, but it’s real this time.
“How much is a sandwich?”
“That depends on what kind you want.”
Together we puzzle out the menu. There’s no rush in my actions, this little boy is my only customer and he has my undivided attention. He orders the cheapest sandwich on the menu and starts counting out change. I make the sandwich, which takes all of thirty seconds, but when I return, he’s still making his way through a pile of dimes and nickels.
Watching him count is painful and it’s only a matter of seconds before I’m helping him through it. He looks at me, face full of apologies when he comes up a dime short.
“Sorry,” his lips tremble and he braces himself to be chased out. “It’s all I got, honest.”
I smile, trying to appear as friendly and non-threatening as possible, “It’s only a dime, sweetpea.” I push the plate towards him, “Go eat your sandwich.”
The smile of thanks that he gives me breaks my heart. He takes the sandwich to the table closest to the fan while I rummage through my change purse for ten cents.
The phone wakes me up. Out of habit, I reach for the alarm clock, but I’m still on the couch so my alarm clock is safe from the usual cursing. I adjust my aim and grab the phone. For a minute, I feel like a teenager again, sprawled on the couch with the phone growing out of my ear.
“Linda?” Her voice is shaking and it’s obvious that she’s on the verge of tears.
“What happened? Are you okay?”
“I’m sorry to call you so late, but I didn’t know who else to call,” I can tell that it’s bad, but part of my mind is unfeelingly suggesting that I tell her to call back later. It’s two in the morning and I have a full day ahead of me. “Ed hit me again.”
I sit up, “Are you okay?”
She sniffles. “Yeah. He just went to bed. Can you cover for me tomorrow?” There’s a bitter laugh from the other end of the telephone cord. “I mean today.”
“Yeah, of course, don’t you worry about it.”
Reassured, she quiets down, “Thanks Linda. You’re a pal.”
‘No I’m not,’ I want to insist. ‘A pal would be telling you to leave him, not lying for you so that you don’t have to face the fact that he’s going to do it again. Lying so that I don’t have to face it either. I love you, but Ed was my friend first and part of me just can’t face the fact that the first boy I ever kissed would beat his own wife.’
But of course, I don’t say any of that. I merely agree with her and hang the phone up. Feeling guilty, I pick myself up and walk to my bedroom. All the way there, I keep repeating to myself that her problems aren’t my problems.
I’m still repeating this when my head hits the pillow. I fall asleep almost immediately.
I didn’t think about the boy again until the next time that he came in. Like the last time, it was hot and the lunch rush was over. I’m wiping the counters and counting the hours until quitting time. When I hear the familiar chime of the door, I look up. The smile that automatically graces my features widens when I realize who it is.
“Hey sweetpea, what can I get you?” My right hand is on my hip and my left hand is waiting to grab the bread nearby.
“Same as last time?”
I laughed, “Sure.”
I grab the bread and began pulling on numerous sandwich toppings. I didn’t see when my manager came up behind me. His arms were crossed over his chest and I knew that his expression was angry because of the fear showing on the face of my young friend.
“You kick that chile out of here.”
His voice makes me jump. I’m so used to blindly obeying orders that for a second I am completely paralysed, torn between instinct and desire.
Desire wins out.
“That child is a paying customer. He comes in here all the time,” I lie.
“That chile is runnin’ wit’ Fagan’s mob and he ain’t nothing but trouble.”
“Rubbish,” My voice is careful and measured, I’m scared but there’s no way that I’m going to let him know that. “He’s just a child and he’s buying a sandwich.”
The manager carefully watched our interaction, even going as far as to recount the boy’s change. I breathed a sigh of relief when the change turned out to be complete. If that pile of money had been even a penny off, the manager would have kicked him out and banned him from the place.
The moment that Mr. LeBonté returned to his place in the back, the boy and I giggled in relief.
He finished his sandwich with several large bites before apologizing, “Didn’t mean to cause you trouble.”
“You mean him?” I pointed a thumb towards the back and he nodded. “He’s been taken care of. Come in during my shifts and I’ll take care of you.”
He quickly nodded, “Okay.”
“Want some ice-cream?”
He lowered his head and I catch my first glimpse of his eyes from behind slipping sunglasses: red and glowing. I felt my breath hitch, but I don’t revoke my offer.
“It’s hot and it’s on me,” I smile again. “Serious.”
He paused clearly torn by my offer. “Don’t take charity.”
His voice is barely above a whisper, but I can hear it without straining.
I shake my head, “It’s not charity, it’s boredom. You’re the only one here and it’s my break time. I’m having some and I’d love the company.”
He answers my smile with one of his own and I get two small bowls of chocolate ice-cream. As I had him a spoon I can’t help but worry about explaining the lost change to my mother. I’m going to be short for rent this month, but I don’t care. On that note, I guide the first spoonful of ice-cream to my mouth.
“She called in this morning. Sick,” the lie comes easily to me, and it should, it happens frequently enough.
“Okay. Thanks Lin.”
“No problem. I’m going on my break,” I grab my pack of cigarettes and head for the employee exit.
My two-year-old is running wild and my mother is driving me crazy! Moving day is only two days away and there’s still so much to do.
I adjust the fan so that the cool air is directed at my face. I feel disgusting. The sweat is running off me in several tiny rivers. I’m surrounded by cardboard boxes and piles of garbage.
“You could stay here, you know,” her voice is stern and impatient.
“I know mother,” and I do, she’s only told me that every time that we’re in the same room together.
“Seattle is a long ways away.”
“Yes, it is,” she doesn’t have to know that that’s exactly why I chose to move there. “But I’ll see you at Christmas and stuff. I’ll mail you pictures of Dennis too.”
I can sense her disapproval and I know that it’s more than just because of the distance. She thinks that Dennis is going to end up a bad apple if raised solely by me. She never approves of my parenting techniques. She even goes so far as to check the tabs of Den’s diapers whenever I’m the one to change him.
“If you need money—“
“We’ll manage, ma,” I get up, wiping the dust off my pants before brushing my lips against one of her wrinkled cheeks.
“Dennis?” I kick off my shoes and close the door gently behind me. “Wanna order a pizza tonight?”
His face lights up. It’s a smile so brilliant that I could feel it even before he came around the corner and into my field of vision.
“Payday!” He grabs the phone with his left hands as he reaches for our pizza coupons, “Pepperoni and mushrooms?”
I nod. It’s what we always get, but he always asks anyway. Dennis has always been that way. He’s a strange kid, but he’s a good boy. ‘Young man,’ my mind corrects. Dennis hasn’t been a boy for a very long time now.
“Thanks, baby,” I start heading toward my open bedroom door. “I’m going to go change.”
He nods before turning his attention back to the ringing phone, “Hello. I’d like to order a large pizza. Two toppings…”
I don’t hear anymore. My door closes, shutting out his voice.
I leave New Orleans with my young son and a car full of cardboard boxes. A friend as a job lined up for me in Seattle and I’m looking forward to it. She’s even offered to baby sit Denney when I’m at work! Things are really looking up and I’m excited!
I don’t even think about the job or the boy who I am leaving behind, the boy who came in yesterday and said goodbye.
The pizza had been eaten and the empty box is on the floor. I kick it under the couch while making a mental note to throw it away tomorrow. It’s late and nothing good is on television. Dennis is in his bedroom talking on the phone. He excused himself the moment the phone rang. It is strange behaviour, but I chalk it up to nothing more than a need for privacy.
I collapse on the couch intent on flipping through the channels again. There’s still nothing good on. Rising, I follow the hushed sounds of my son’s voice rising and falling. He’s still on the phone, but I think that he won’t mind if his mama interrupts. He had such interesting movies on tape and I wouldn’t mind borrowing one right now.
I raise one hand to knock, but stop before my hand actually touches the door. Bits of conversation reach my ears and, despite myself, I’m straining to catch them.
“No, I haven’t told her. In a few months I won’t have to.”
There’s a pause and my blood runs cold. Already my mind is pulling up every imaginable worst-case-scenario: a pregnant girlfriend, a male lover, AIDS.
“It’s not that she’ll freak out, it’s just,” he pauses and his tone changes, uncertainty creeps into his voice, “she’s never voiced her opinion on this. I’m not sure how she’ll feel…Man, how would I tell her anyway?
We said our goodbyes over small bowls of chocolate ice-cream in front of the restaurants only fan. The clicking noise from the fans worn-out insides made it somewhat difficult to hear each other.
“Miss me?” He asked suddenly around a mouthful of dessert.
“Of course I will, sweet pea. You take care of yourself.”
He looks at me and we are close enough for me to see the faint glow of red behind his huge sunglasses. I’m momentarily unnerved. I quickly push the discomfort aside and remind myself that despite the unnaturalness of his eyes, he’s only a child.
“Oui,” he answers. “Will try, but can’t promise nothing.’”
I smile back, trying not to berate myself for not calling social services on this boy; for putting my desire not to rock the boat over the safety of a child.
I look down ay my melting ice-cream, no longer able to make eye contact with the boy across from me. He doesn’t notice. His attention remains fixed on his own bowl of ice-cream, proof dripping from his small chin.
I stand outside my son’s bedroom, not even daring to breathe. I am still standing like this when Dennis opens the door.
“Mom!” the shock registers on his face and I suddenly feel awkward.
“I didn’t mean to overhear,” my guilt creeps into my voice despite of my desire for it not to. “Denny, what’s going on?”
My son looks ay me, his eyes wide. For a moment, I’m distracted by the image before me, the closest to his childhood appearance that I have seen in years. Fear and vulnerability are in those huge brown eyes. I’m at a loss…for the first time in years; I don’t know how to talk to my own child.
His lips tremble slightly, but he holds onto his idea of manhood and no tears escape the confines of his eyes.
He looks at me, but doesn’t say anything. He probably doesn’t know what to say anymore than I do. Dennis steps back from his door, and me. His body, broad and definitely that of a man, finds his way to his bed. He collapses, throwing himself backwards, like that of a child.
One arm rises, moving over his face, blocking his eyes from me. For a brief second, I think that he’s willing me away.
His voice comes quietly from the bed. My ears strain to catch his whispers.
“Mom, I’m a mutant.”
My breath hitches and I feel my knees weaken.
5 Years Ago
My son runs up to me, tears running down his face. I haven’t seen him cry in years and it’s almost shocking to witness it now.
“Dennis, are you hurt?” I’m asking out of panic, not because he looks injured.
He shakes his head, indicating that he’s not hurt, but the tears haven’t slowed and they’re almost heartbreaking to watch. He takes several moments to calm himself. His breath is coming out in ragged sobs, but the tears have dried. Stains on his cheeks and the paleness of his skin are the only tell-a-tale signs of the emotional outburst that I have just witnessed.
“Mom, the kitchen. Mom, can you go in the kitchen.”
I run into the house, abandoning my clothesline and the basket of laundry that had been on my to-do list for days. My heart is pounding in my chest and all I can think of are thoughts of fire, blood and terror. The back door stands ajar behind me, my thoughts focused solely on the kitchen.
With all the expectations consuming me, I don’t even see the trouble when I finally reach my destination. It takes me a full five minutes before I can see the toaster lying dead on the floor. The machine lies on ceremoniously in a mess of gears and tiny wires. Smoke curls up from it, a faint green glows colours its dark cloud.
I hear a noise behind me, but I don’t have to turn around to know that it’s my son. His breath is hitching, and ridiculously, I remind myself to have him checked for asthma.
“Well? What happened?” His voice is anxious and he’s waiting for me to patently explain why our toaster is busted on the kitchen floor. “Did I do it? Mom, did I do it?”
His voice has taken on a hysterical note that my mind is insisting that I say something, anything, to shut him up. I’m suddenly afraid that if he keeps repeating that question, I’m going to start shaking him and I won’t be able to stop.
Just when I feel my grip on slipping a voice, one that I quickly recognize as my own, fills the room, “Dennis, you could not have done this. Get that thought out of your head right now. You didn’t do this. No one could have. The toaster was old, something overheated.”
We never spoke about the toaster again. Dennis tried to bring it up a few times, but I quickly silenced him.
Every time that I think about the smoke pouring out of my toaster, a faint green mixed into the dark curls, I always think of red glowing faintly behind dark sunglasses.
And I shudder, torn between love and fear.
There are cardboard boxes everywhere. His room is a disaster, piles of things everywhere my eyes rest. In the middle sits my son, a look of concentration marring his face as he picks through. College things go into the box; other things either go into the garbage or get pushed to the wall. His room is his room, and he’ll back come Christmas.
“Piece of cold pizza?” I’m standing in his doorway, a plate in my hand.
He looks up and smiles, “Oh mom, what’ll I do without you?”
I smile back. I start making my way slowly and carefully towards Dennis, the plate held out before me. He takes it as soon as it comes within reach.
“Mind if I heat it?”
I knew that he’d ask first. He’s still unsure about how I feel. When I smile my approval a faint green glow surrounds the plate. In seconds, the cheese is bubbling. I blink and the glow is gone, the only proof that it was ever there is the piece of pizza Dennis is currently devouring. In a few quick bites, that’s gone as well.
He looks up from his empty plate, his eyes mocking my exaggerated pout, “You know I will.”
I turn to leave. He has a lot of packing left to do and he doesn’t need his mother standing in his doorway.
I turn back, my face probably registering the surprise that I feel.
“I seriously will miss you, you know.”
Tears well up in my eyes, but I don’t let them fall. “I know sweet pea.” I take a step before adding, “I’ll miss you too.”