03 March 2006

Ma’s Apartment

“That wasn’t a flamenco red BMW,” Kay insisted, when we arrived at the housing commission apartments at the bottom of the stairs. “It was a lime green Mitsubishi.”

“Don’t you know those ones are bad luck?” I pushed my fists into my front pockets and led the way past a gathering of local kids playing stickball under a streetlight. They usually gave me a creep chant but tonight they offered a round of applause.

“What kind of drugs are you on?”

“Do you realize how many rock legends died when they were twenty-seven?”

“You look more like a sugarcane farmer.”

I put a finger on my lips to cut the small talk so I could concentrate on picking Ma’s lock. “She’s always changing them and forgetting to give me a key.”

“Is this really your mum’s apartment? You’re not a burglar, are you?”

Christmas tree lights exploded over the blue wash of Ma’s ex-Greyhound bus television. Plastic branches clawed at the overstuffed detective frozen in close-up on the screen. I squeezed through to the kitchen and untangled a knife from the draw. I hacked teabags and eggshells off the window ledge above the sink and jimmied open the window to let out the mustiness of boiled cabbage and shedding skin that whirled from the General Electric portable fan beside Ma’s deckchair.

Kay came in with a hand over her mouth and collided with my snare drum. It was balanced on my rack tom and below my cymbals. Polyester frocks muted the crash cymbal that fell onto my road case. Holding back a sneeze, Kay picked up the frocks and dumped them on the ironing board, her suspicions extinguished with the discovery of a cowbell in a bundle of female underpants.

Ma’s toeless foot twitched under the rainbow blanket on the deckchair. Her snoring rattled the fan blades.

I plucked the remote controller off the blanket, aimed at the detective on the screen, and jerked the knob up and down until static ate up the detective and the speakers blared out fuzz.

Ma’s left hand shot out and seized the belt with the golden buckle. Her heels beat the aluminium deckchair frame in time with the Christmas lights. She knocked over the fan and it tried to oscillate, head down, flipping through Woolworth’s catalogues, fishing line, serial killer scrapbooks, and chewed videocassettes.

I pinned Ma’s shoulders to the rubber lattice until the beating subsided.

“Oh, Henry. Where have you been? I’ve missed you so much. Check my back. It itches. I was dreaming about skin cancer. It grew from your bass drum, choked me, and walked away. Did you go to the supermarket? Check my back.” Ma pulled the blanket off her chest. Her eyes were white blobs without pupils. Sweat filled the cracks in her rouge mask. “What’s that smell? Why did you open the window? Them kids are out there breaking streetlights. They’ll tumble in and stomp footprints on the ceiling.”

I unstuck Ma’s teacup from my stool and presented it to her. The rim thudded against her gums as she took a slurp. Kay screwed up her face, unsure if the electrical iron in her hand was a percussive instrument or a weapon.

“Where’s my purse?” Ma snorted my Levis. “Have you been pawning your ass up the Cross? Have you pawned the apartment? Have they come to demolish it with a swinging ball while I’m drowning in tea that I had to brew?”

“I told you I was going to band practice.”

“Something’s not right. I can smell it.”

“We just want to watch some videos.” Kay waltzed across the room and curtsied beside the deckchair. While she was bent over she picked up Ma’s purse, a lump of mangy brown leather, but didn’t see the chain attaching it to Ma’s wrist. The back of the deckchair flipped. Tea splattered the rainbow blanket.

“How did you afford this one?” Ma dropped her cup on the stool and fumbled with the combination lock on her purse. “She’s way out of your league.”

I took the purse and grinded the digits. “She’s not a prostitute.”

“What is she then? A femme fatale? I warned you about them.” Ma clapped her hands under the purse. “She can buy her own goddamn video machine.”

Kay looked at me and opened her phone. “I think I better get a cab.”

“She’s not a femme fatale. She’s my girlfriend.” I didn’t want to say that. It just came out. Right after I said it I stepped back and crunched my left heel on the fan. The clips around the cage popped loose and the blades buckled under my toes.

Ma rattled her Snoopy pillbox. “My baby never had a girlfriend.”

“Don’t tell her that. She’s on the run from a guy who wants to kill her.”

“That’s what they all say.”

Kay lowered her phone and asked to use the bathroom. I guided her back through the kitchen and kicked the mouldy towels away from the door so she could have some privacy. When I got back to the lounge, Ma was pretending to nod off. I gave her a kiss on the mouth and gobbled some of her pills but she kept up the act. So I sped around scooping up the drum clamps, song lists, and reams of videotape off the single mattress on the floor in the far corner of my bedroom.

Plucking a twisted sheet from the carpet, I stood on a Coka-Cola bottle of late night urine.

“You won’t get nothing in there,” Ma suddenly hollered. “We can all watch movies together.”

There had to be a better plan. I got down on a pile of spent tissues, gripped my fingers together, and consulted my shrine to John Bonham and Keith Moon.

The toilet flushed three times before Kay marched through the kitchen, scratching her nose on her watchband, all traces of drunkenness gone from her movements. I thrust her an open palm and slid backwards down the hall.

Ma’s room appeared tidy. Her leotards, confectionaries, step machines, and Mills and Boon anthologies were all stuffed in the closet, and no matter how many times I bounced on the king-sized bed it never left a crease, but the place sank of Hoover dust and Johnson and Johnson talcum powder and baby oil. I sneezed at the dentures on the bedside cabinet and found the keys to the Valiant in an airport disaster novel.

“The damn thing’s bust,” Ma cried, “and you’re too drunk, taken too many pills. Your band called six times about practice. At least eat something, darling.”

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