I had learned early on that I should never do two things: I should never wake her, and I should never speak to her too early in the morning.
An hour or so after she had woken she would change, you wouldn’t need to speak to her to know this change had occurred, you could see it in the way she moved and the set of her face. Something in her softened and her movements became less perfunctory. From this point on I could talk to her about anything, and her patience was near infinite.
But for that first hour, a wise man kept his voice low and his body out of the way.
My story happened on one summer morning when I was still a schoolboy. It was still early in the season and though the sky was bright the air rushing in through the open back door was chilly. I was cold but I kept my mouth shut about it, it was the wise option, and besides it would only be ten minutes or so before I left for school, so it would climatise me to the walk.
She was standing at the sink, and for the life of me I don’t know why. My grandmother did the cooking, for which we were all thankful as my mothers cooking was a thing of nightmares. Legends were written about her meals; they haunted the stoutest minds and turned the strongest stomachs. With a needle and thread, she was an artist, but with stove and skillet she was a stone-cold psychopath.
I heard the boy run along the neighbours’ garden, close to the high fence that separated theirs from our own, and I glanced through the kitchen door towards it. I blinked against the rectangle of yellow sunlight, overexposed by my indoor eyes, and even the shadow of the six foot fence seemed washed out by it. All the fences around our property were high, we always had animals and it seemed the safer option. Besides we also had a lot of children, and sometimes – unlike the animals – they would bite.
Then came a thump on the fence, I assumed it was the boy next door colliding with it, and, glancing at my mother, I thought she had made the same assumption. Her brow furrowed and her face darkened at the sound. I turned and concentrated on my breakfast, but before a few moments had passed another thump came from outside, this one louder.
It sounded deliberate, not just a boy burning off excess energy but an actual deliberate attempt to draw our attention. I looked up, and my mother’s face had darkened further. I could almost see the storm clouds gathering around her head, I imagined tiny forks of lightning as they struck down into her dark hair, prodding whatever part of her brain dictated her mood.
I tried to make myself a little smaller.
The anticipation was killing me.
Then there was a third crash, this one seemed loud enough that the possibility it wasn’t deliberate completed vanished from my mind, and as I turned my mother was off, both her tongue and her feet moving twenty-to-the-dozen. She was at the fence, half climbing it and yelling things that a polite man would not repeat. Her slight frame seemed to grow and multiply, ten arms clutched at the fence, four feet kicked at it, and at least twenty pairs of lips screamed obscenities.
I surveyed my immediate surroundings, making sure a stray foot wasn’t protruding from under my chair, that my schoolbag was not in the way and that there was nothing else that would attract my mother’s ire.
She stormed back into the kitchen, her rage subsiding into a turbulent, boiling anger.
She grumbled, occasionally raising her voice loud enough for me to take it as a statement directed at me, where I would nod approvingly and agree wholeheartedly, only to recede back into a seething anger.
The mother of the child had hidden when she saw my mother at the fence, she had called the child back into the safety of the home and had slithered down behind the kitchen cabinets.
Personally, I thought this wise, but agreed with my mother that it was awful behaviour, unfitting of a parent, and truly the act of a coward. I nodded in the right places and set my face in the correct expression of heartfelt agreement. Slowly my mother’s anger began to subside.
And then it happened.
My jaw dropped, I can actually remember feeling it hit my upper chest, when the egg hit the kitchen window. Immediately I was struck at the impressive amount of yolk it contained, it smeared the opposing kitchen wall in a dribbling shadow as it ran down the recently cleaned window.
Words cannot adequately describe what happened next. I may as well try to explain the motions of the stars, or why bird song makes me smile. There is a beauty in pure rage, that I know, something sublime and perfect. As horrid as it may appear, I can see the allure of perfect wickedness, and the utter unrestrained freedom that must come with it.
But I would never want it.
I have seen horror; I have seen the enraged mother on a warpath.
The fridge-freezer shook as she wrenched it open, for a moment I could see it almost topple. I was near enough that it might land on me, and considering how the day was going that might be a blessing. She ripped something from the shelf inside and stormed back into the back garden. My heart sank a little when I realised I would not be crushed under the fridge-freezer and, looking into the remains of my breakfast, I listened to the carnage.
It only took moments. With no opposition, my mother’s rage spent itself in a cascade of wanton destruction. The neighbour did not show her face, and I assumed she had holed up in the buildings cellar, waiting for the storm to pass. I heard fingernails scratching across cardboard, and the unmistakable sound of eggs shattering as they hit a hard surface.
I didn’t need to see it to know what my mother had done, there had been an almost full tray of eggs in the refrigerator, but I knew they would not be in there anymore.
They were currently dripping down the neighbours kitchen window.
No more than a second later my mother returned, a strand of egg white stuck to her hair, wiggling as she walked back into the kitchen. I felt my lip twitch, and with a resurgence of fear I realised the horror was not over. I squeezed my lips together, biting my bottom lip in an attempt to restrain myself.
A little snort escaped, and my mother turned to face me.
My mother is a tiny woman, slight of frame, dainty even, whereas I am my father’s son – as much as I dislike that idea – large framed and relatively tall, but at that moment I swear she towered over me.
The egg white slipped from her hair and dropped down onto the kitchen floor.
I barked laughter.
I felt terror.
I should have made a will, I knew it. I should have made some kind of arrangements.
Who would look after my comics now?
She stared at me.
I saw my life flash before my eyes.
It was mostly unimpressive.
I knew what I was going to say. They always told me that my quick tongue would get me in trouble, I always told them I couldn’t help myself. So I knew I shouldn’t, but I knew I would.
“Well, mom…” I began. “That was grown up wasn’t it!”
That’s was it, I’d done it. It was over. So long life.
For a moment she stared at me with her dark eyes, and I thought of the movie Jaws.
It was barely a moment, less than the time it takes a mad-woman to fire twenty-four eggs at a neighbours window, but I had hit that slow motion moment of my own personal horror movie. It was the showdown, but I was no match for this beast; and I knew it.
Bravely I stood my ground, calculating my escape routes and hoping my fear would give me an edge. The eggs were gone, so she would have to fall back on the margarine; and it wasn’t soft-spread.
The moment stretched out, and I saw her lip twitch.
I tensed, my flight to safety already planned.
Then the twitch spread to a smile, then to a grin, and then my mother burst out laughing.
For the rest of the day I felt half-a-mile tall.
posted by Alan Preece
on April, 27