Volume 21, Number 3


Brian Rowe

My feet itch.

The room smells like vomit.

All I see is black and yellow.

When we first moved to this house 20 years ago, the colors were bright and cheerful, and the space felt like the size of a Broadway theatre. Today, the house is a small, sad imitation of the past, housing two people as broken as its upstairs windows.

My name is Michael. I’m 25. I live with Mother.

She used to be there for me. She used to be my friend.

But Mother has changed. Her face, which used to have the smoothness of warmed butter, now has the scratchy texture of winter pinecones. Her spirit, once booming with positivity, now lingers with fearful sadness.

She has lost her temper again.

I’m a bad boy. I’m a bad boy.

Mother enters the dark basement, a bowl of orange soup in one hand and a bouquet of long black socks in the other. She sets the socks down on my dresser.

Mother hands me the bowl and sits down, cross-legged. She stares at me as if I am a biology specimen.

I sip the soup. It is cold and flavorless, but I eat it ravenously.


“Yes, Mother?”

“Are you sorry for what you did?”

“I am, Mother.”

“Will you ever do it again?”

“No, Mother.”

“Will you promise me from now on that you will be a good boy?”

“I promise,” I say with a forced smile.

“That’s a start.” She leans forward and strokes the bottom of my chin. She kisses me on the lips, briefly, then stands up. “We need to talk about what happened.”

I’m a bad boy. I’m a bad boy.

Mother starts to pace the room. She gives me a look that suggests she still doesn’t trust me. I wisely avoid eye contact.

“As you know, at the first of every month, I grant you permission to go out into this vile world to complete a small set of chores. You are not, under any circumstances, supposed to deviate from these chores. The small allowance I give you should be just enough for the necessities like food, clothes and house supplies. The respect I give you should reflect back on me with every decision you make, and your loyalty to me should be unwavering at all times.

“Four months ago I started to follow you because I knew, for the first time, you were breaking that loyalty. I knew you were going against my wishes, attempting to socialize with those people and breaking my heart in the process. I have kept you down here for the last two weeks because I want you to learn. I don’t want you falling under the deplorable temptations that ruin the lives of other men your age.”

“Mother, please.”

But she continues. “I followed you, Michael. I followed you past the village, past the mills, all the way to the rocky cliffs of Grover’s Beach. I saw you. With that Kelly person. You are sick in every part of your being, and you don’t even know it.”

For the second time today, she picks up the whip. It’s short, black and made of leather.

I’m a bad boy. I’m a bad boy.

For the second time today, she holds it a couple inches above my toes. “You have to learn, my son. My darling son.”

Before I’m able to take another breath, she brings the whip down, and my feet start to scream. The pain lasts only five seconds with each swing of the small weapon, but the intensity is so great that if I close my eyes I swear I can feel aggravated yellow jackets attacking me from every direction.

She wipes away the grimy sweat from her forehead and continues to inflict pain upon my nervous tendons, never once adjusting the blank, hollow expression on her face.

She stands up, tosses the whip aside, and saunters over to my dirty dresser.

My feet are bleeding. One of my toenails is cracked open. Icky green pus oozes out and starts dripping on the hardwood floor. It smells like rotting fish. I look away.

She returns with a pair of the socks.

“Here. These will help.”

Instead of cleaning up the blood, she pulls the socks over my feet, as if to disguise her heinous act. As the smooth sensation of the cotton presses against my swollen soles, the green pus and red blood run side by side. I smile for a moment, reminded that Christmas is around the corner.

I look up at Mother. Her eyes are tired and droopy.

I’m a bad boy. I’m a bad boy.

My heart starts pounding. I try to hold back tears.

She starts walking over to the staircase, ready once again to leave me in the dark abyss.

Mom,” I say.

She turns and lowers her eyebrows. “Yes?”

“Don’t you love me?”

She crosses her arms and stares at me for a few seconds. “I did. But you have to understand, I can’t love what you’ve become. Right now, at this moment, I see nothing in you that I can love.”

My lips start quivering. My hands start shaking. Two tears fall simultaneously.

I’m a bad boy. I’m a bad boy.

But I like it.

“Fine,” I say. I pull on the chains as hard as I can.

The loud, musical noise of my unexpected strength echoes through the room.

“Now, honey,” Mother says, rushing up to me with a false look of calmness, “I know you would never do anything to upset me.”

I pull again with every ounce of my being. I breathe heavily, almost maniacally, like the imprisoned monster I am. I bite down on my lower lip so hard it starts to bleed.

My right arm breaks free.

Mother gasps. “Stop it! Stop it! Right now!”

She falls down to her knees and tries to re-attach my arm to the chain, but I push her away, awkwardly. As I break free from the other chain, she slumps down to the ground and starts crying like a baby.

I stand up, a wild animal freed. My eyes catch the bright light at the top of the stairs. I want to run, but Mother is blocking me. Her eyes are bright red.

She jumps up to her feet and opens a drawer. I study her movements closely.

“What are you doing?” I ask in as soft a tone of voice as possible.

She turns around to reveal a different person. Her eyes, just moments ago defeated, now scream with the intensity of an erupting volcano.

She has a hammer in her hand.

“Mother, it’s me. It’s Michael.” I take a step backward.

An evil grin replaces her solemn frown. She lunges toward me. She swings and misses my face by mere inches.

I grab the socks and run.

I sprint out of the house, through the woods, toward the beach. Mother follows me for a short while, marching toward me at a slow, steady pace, keeping up admirably for her old age.

I stop behind a tree trunk. My feet need new protection. I rip off the blood-drenched socks and replace them with a fresh pair.

The last time I see Mother, she is in the distance screaming, waving the hammer around as if it were an angry chainsaw. I will never see her again.

I start to run again.



Kelly, I’m coming.

Three hours later, I see the beach. The waves are smashing against the rocks with the strength of a hurricane.

My feet touch the sharp cracks in the ground.

I see the people. They are few, but close together. They stare at me like I’m one of them.

Kelly stands near the water.

I pass by the others. Tonight is not about them. Tonight is all about my love. Tonight is all about the rest of my life.

Kelly is 29 years old. He is tall and built. His smile charms the midnight skies.

His feet are bleeding, too.

I give him a pair of my socks.