We save some of them, but most are limp cold bodies to be flushed down the toilet. His rapture is not dimmed, he stares fascinated as the last of the red gold tails gets sucked out of sight. Even when his sister discovers her loss he is unrepentant. No. More than that. Proud. Perpetrator of a dozen tiny slaughters on an otherwise quiet Tuesday afternoon.
This-man-who-they-say-is-my-son settles himself in the blue armchair near the window in the living room. He loosens his tie, stretches out his legs, makes himself at home.
Magdalena tells me you've been well, he says.
Very, I say, stiffly. As well as a person in my condition can be. Tell me about that, he says.
About what? I ask.
About how aware you are of what's happening to you.
Everyone asks that, I say. They are astonished that I can be so aware, so very...
Clinical, he says.
You always were, he says. He has a wry smile, not unappealing. When I broke my arm, you were more interested in my bone density than in getting me to the hospital.
I remember someone breaking his arm, I say. Mark. It was Mark. Mark fell out of the maple tree in front of the Janeckis'.
Yes. Your son.
I have a son?
Yes. Mark. Me.
I have a son! I am struck dumb. I have a son! I am filled with ecstasy. Joy!
Mom, please, don't . . .
But I am overwhelmed. All these years! I had a son and never knew it! The man is now kneeling at my feet, holding me.
It's okay, Mom. I'm here.
I hold on to him tightly. A fine young man and, wondrous of all, conceived by me. There is something not quite right about his face, a flaw in his beauty. But to my eyes, this makes him even more beloved.
Mom, he says after a moment. His arms around me loosen, he pulls back.
I miss the warmth immediately but reluctantly let go and sit back in my chair.
Mom, I had something really important to say. It's about Fiona. He is standing now, and his face is back to the dark, watchful look he wore when he entered. I know that look.
What about her? I ask. My tone is not welcoming.
Mom, I know you don't want to hear this, but she's gone off again. You know how she gets.
I do know, but I don't answer. I have never encouraged this telling of tales.
This time it's bad. Really bad. She won't talk to me. You used to be able to talk her down. Dad, sometimes. But she listened to you. Do you think you could speak to her? He pauses. Do you understand what I'm saying?
Where have you been, you bastard? I ask.
After all these years, you come here and say these things?
Shhh, Mom. It's okay. I'm right here. I never left.
What do you mean? I've been alone. All alone in this house. Eating dinner alone, going to bed alone. So alone.
That's just not true, Mom. Until just last year there was Dad. And what about Magdalena?
Who? Magdalena. Your friend. The woman who lives with you.
Oh. Her. She's not my friend. She gets paid. I pay her.
That doesn't mean she's not your friend.
Yes, it certainly does. Suddenly I'm angry. Furious! You bastard! I say.
You abandoned me!
The man slowly gets to his feet and sighs heavily. Magdalena! he calls.
Did you hear me? Bastard!
I heard you, Mom. He looks around, searching for something. My coat, he says. Have you seen my coat?
A woman hurries into the room. Blond. A woman of heft. Better go, she says. Quickly. Here's your coat. Yes. Thanks for coming.
Excerpted from Turn of Mind by Alice LaPlante. Copyright © 2011 by Alice LaPlante. Excerpted by permission of Atlantic Monthly Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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