The Littlest Bully
That was my mama, Mary. She grew up special, in a family of bullies. The only girl, her brothers had each other to push around. Her mama never hesitated to take her husband’s fist to keep him from fixing on Mary, from ferreting out where she’d been sent scurrying to hide. Next day, her mama would be extra rough on Mary, but it never stuck, not after she’d protected her.
In a house of loud and aggressive voices, mama learned how to push others around, but she turned out far too pretty and smart not to drench herself in honey first. I know that she loved to party, because she still does. She must have really gone to town in her teenage years.
I guess, though, that she never learned to pick a man who wasn’t of her own ilk. Another bully who’d beat her up sooner or later. As we grew older together, they seemed to get meaner; the ‘honeymoon’ kept getting shorter …weeks and even days instead of months. I once went through a list of ‘nice’ guys, one by one, suggesting she try dating one of those. You’ve never seen more eye-rolling.
She knew knew that she was addicted to bad boys, to men who could make her fear, make her cringe, after the partying fizzled out or went out of control, but she couldn’t stop herself, couldn’t change. We fled my pa when I was small, but I bet he was not much different from the other guys that kept showing up in our lives. After she licked her wounds, rested and healed, she’d start getting antsy, and there would always be a next one.
Every Christmas, we’d spend the Eve and Day at mama’s folks’ house, her and me. Her brothers would bring their wives and kids for the big dinner only, but mama and I would sleep over from the night before. She’d start to change as soon as we got to packing for the overnight, getting pushier and meaner, and then, by turns, a suck up. That cycle, at its most intense with her family, was a lot like her dance into getting beat up by her latest lover. She wasn’t like that during the intervals of just the two of us alone.
By the time I started to understand all this stuff, I no longer cried for mama’s bruises, her frightened and lost child look made me angry, but she’d always protected me, so I felt I had to forgive her. If she ever noticed my anger, the few times it spilled out, she just took it for a ploy, as though I was practicing to be one of the bullies.
Here’s the thing though. It’s like the bully gene skipped me. I know how to do it, being steeped in it by now like a well-used tea bag, but it doesn’t please me like it seems to do them. I always meant to ask mama about that, about whether pa’s family was different, even though I don’t think she knew them. He was from ‘away’ …the Maritimes I think? and I think she told me he headed further ‘away’ after we ran from him, that he won’t be run into or found again.
There are really a mess of things I always wanted to ask mama about and now all I can do is sit in the hospital and watch her lying there with machines hooked into every nook and cranny of her soft pillowy body. One evening a nurse came in and found me with my head on her tummy, soaking her in tears, and gave me what for. I’m allowed to hold her hand sometimes and that’s all.
The doctor says they don’t know if she’ll ever wake up again. The bad blow to her head damaged her brain and it might not heal. So why can’t I hug her, my sweet and sour mama who loved me even as she was messing up our lives, why can’t I hug her now? Why not, when she might never come back, might might might …die.
She’d had a manicure that day, and it’s growing out looking old, and I can’t understand why it needs attention when it’s been almost two weeks since that blow to her head froze us in time.
I was at school when he did it, that latest cussed animal. She was lying on the kitchen floor when I came home. The back door to the landing stood open, and I ran to it and yelled down the alley, “You can stay away, too!”. When I tried to wake her, I couldn’t, and so I finally called 911. Lots of heavy-booted people crammed into out little apartment and then took her away on a stretcher. They nagged me for the guy’s name, but he was a brand new one and I still can’t say I knew it for sure. Brad? Chad? Cad?
Mama knew how much I hated those men. She’d sneak the new one in at night and I’d know by the way her bedroom door was closed in the morning that she wasn’t alone.
She’s alone now though. Alone as me. Even if they would let me hug her, I can’t reach her, can’t see her eyes, can’t feel her soul. That’s why I was laying my head on her before, because at least I could hear her heart beating.
Being the littlest bully was always a disaster waiting to happen, mama. You’re going to be a bully or hang with them you’d better be the biggest and toughest. We’re both alone for real now. Alone alone alone.
I swear that when I have my own apartment the biggest roomie I’ll ever have is a cat. Maybe I’ll call her Mary and ask her all the questions that are bottled up forever now.
We hope you have enjoyed this short fiction by our newest editor, Vera Ignatowitsch.
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