Sunday, October 21, 2012

Honor Thy Mother

Here's a short story about mental illness and child abuse:
The boy was missing.
“Mark, have you seen Temeni?” Sarah called to her husband. Raindrops fell sporadically on the porch railing outside the window as though the clouds were making up their minds whether to rain or not. She looked into the always-musty dining room, but Mark wasn't there.
Now that she thought about it, she couldn't remember having seen Temeni for quite a while. She walked to the back door and looked out. Three figures worked by the pig sty, spreading a large tarp over something. One was Mark. The others wore skirts. That would make them Rechah and Seraiah. Jalon was in a nearby pasture leading one of the horses to the barn. But where was Temeni?
It was time to cook supper. She went down to the cellar and picked out twelve potatoes and a squash, then put the squash back. Then she got six fish from the smoke-shed. She hadn’t thought to keep the kinds of fish separate when she and Seraiah had smoked them last year.
But Temeni...where was Temeni? He had no right to disappear like this. Who did he think he was, anyway?
Suddenly she realized the house was very cold. No wonder. All that was left of the fire was a few stray coals. She started another, shaking a little because she was seething with anger. She hadn’t forgotten about Temeni. It was insulting of him to just leave like this, without even saying anything. 
The door slammed. “Hi, Mom! I’m home!”
Sarah ran to the door. “Where have you been, young man?” she screamed.
“Fishing,” Temeni answered, trying to keep the fear out of his voice. His shoulders pulled up near his chin of their own accord.
“Fishing! When I was waiting for you?” Sarah yelled into her son’s ear, her voice shrill and shaking.
“You told me to get some fish for supper!” Temeni yelled back.
But his mother heard only the tone and not the words. She grabbed a handful of his blond hair and pulled suddenly with all the strength of rage. 
It was not in Temeni to fight his own mother, even when she was hurting him. His head crashed to the floor with a thud. He knew it was a sin to feel anger toward his own mother, but he couldn't help it. He was familiar enough with pain, but he howled anyway and his voice was hoarse with emotion.
He was up by now, and had run through the house and out the back door, not so much out of fear of his mother as out of fear that he would strike her.
Sarah chased him around the house several times. He had no intention of running away. There would be too much explaining to do, anywhere he went for shelter. And spreading rumors about his own mother would be a terrible sin--like stealing or worshiping graven images. What did it matter that these rumors would be true? He would invent some excuse for his throbbing, bloody forehead, soon half-believe it himself, and before it quite healed, forget about it. That was the pattern of things.
After six or seven laps around the house, Temeni realized that his mother was no longer following him. He found her sitting on the ground, hugging herself and sobbing.
There was no answer.
Again no answer.
“Why don’t you go inside? It’s raining.”
“Shut up and go away,” she said in a frail, thin voice, almost too quiet to hear.
Sarah had not gone very deeply this time into her habitual depression. She still performed her tasks, but somberly and silently. She ate very little, and she was physically weak to the point that her hands often shook as she worked. And she was very slow to react.
On the morning of the third day she milked the cows as usual. Since the house did not have electricity (It was a matter of principle.) Sarah always took the milk immediately to the Sheffields, who chilled it and sold it along with their own. 
She maneuvered the little Ford coupe over bumps and around muddy puddles. She glanced at the brook where it pushed its way over the driveway as well as under it. Once past its obstacle, it fell about six feet down a steep hill made even steeper by the erosion of the rushing water. This happened every year when the snow melted, and she was used to it. But her ailing mind was numb, and forgot that the water was carving invisible bumps and holes in the driveway. Before she knew it, her wheels were turned toward the banking. Her hands froze. She tried to tell them to move but they only trembled. 
When the rescue squad came, a small crowd of neighbors followed, some to help, some to gawk.
“Temeni,” said one of the gawkers, when she was getting bored, “what happened to your forehead?”
“Oh nothing much,” he answered. “Clumsy, I guess. I don’t even remember doing it.”

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