Last April I began reading Glamour magazine to find fashion-forward ways to conceal the scabs forming on my roots. The bed-head look was back, so was the messy up-do. Teasing before pinning did the trick. In the July issue, the models wore light-weight cardigans in paisley prints. The ones I bought to hide my shoulders and back were similar to the ones featured in the spread, but were an affordable cotton rather than cashmere. They were still in style by the time I needed to cover my arms in September. That issue said to coordinate bright paisleys with muted fall dresses.
Every month I accumulate things to hide, things to hide with, and fashion magazines.
Last month, what I should have hidden was that tone—my tone. The tone I was using right before my head met the passenger window—again. Who knows how long he held it there?
I never run on release; I duck and cover. This is how I was taught to handle emergency situations like earthquakes and nuclear attacks in elementary school. For whatever reason, this is my only instinctive reaction. But I find that in small spaces like cars and closets the duck and cover defense actually makes the act easier for the threat.
That time we moved out of the car and onto the grass. The neighbors could hear everything; they called it in. Before the sirens, the only thing I could hear were the birds stirring in the pine trees.
Enough about that.
My mother drives to the dregs on Sundays to visit me.
Where I live there’s a sign that says, Remodeled Luxury Apartments. Remodeled means the sepia-tone exterior has recently been painted to something more along the lines of flesh. The luxury part is the four-by-four square patch of geraniums they planted near the leasing office.
My mother brings me catalogs from places like JcPenney and Coldwater Creek and says, “Here, I thought you might want to look through these.”
I wait for her to leave before I throw them away.
She also brings assorted treats shaped like either bacon or bone. Those I keep for my dog.
Right now, my mother and I both live alone. The reason is we have the same type, though I don’t have the heart to tell her. I wouldn’t want her to blame herself. Although, perhaps she would blame it on genetics. I don’t know which would be worse.
* * *
I was young—five or six—when my mother started slipping notes under my bedroom door that said, Call The Police. They’d keep me on the phone until he was in the back seat of the squad car.
When he was living with us again, we’d sit at the table eating Golden Grahams for breakfast.
“Why are you mean to my mom?” I’d say, digging through the cereal box for the mystery prize.
“I don’t know,” he’d say. “I guess she just makes me mad sometimes.”
“Well,” I’d say as I unwrapped the hologram logo sticker from the plastic, “don’t do that again.”
“Don’t worry. I won’t.”
When I say he, what I really mean is they. I had the same conversation with four of them.
As an adult I know why people say, “You two act like you’re married,” as if it’s a bad thing.
* * *
My mother refuses to meet new people. Her Sunday visits only happen when he isn’t living with me. She avoids eye contact with the clerk at the grocery store, and anything else she needs she has a catalog subscription for. A special knock brings her to the door—one only I know. At night, she flips the switch position to off on her phone; she doesn’t take calls after seven.
Unlike my mother, I attempt to calm my fear by placing phone calls.
When the voice mail gives me the cue I say stupid things like, “Happy birthday” or, “Did you hear the news? There’s a blue moon tonight.”
My intention is always to say something else. Intimidation keeps me from getting it right.
* * *
I work the swing shift, and for that, I have no choice but to walk my dog in the middle of the night. The neighborhood isn’t the safest, so I use a four-foot pink nylon leash and keep her close to me for protection, though my dog is hardly useful in the presence of danger. She got it in the head and ribs once or twice—something akin to friendly fire—so her primitive instinct has gone from growl and attack to whimper and hide.
I keep expecting her to run away once I’ve dropped the leash, but she never does. Even though she’s free, she just lays on the grass and watches the way I duck and cover when I hear the rustling sound of those goddamn birds settling in the evergreen.