Thursday, May 10, 2012

The Son She Loved Less

The following story is the result of the second meeting of the Indy WordLab on May 7, 2012.

A mother is at the kitchen counter with the son she loves less. Unbidden, a fleeting image of him fingerless and bloody flashes through her mind as she passes the open can of beets to him and asks him to slice them.

She feels immediately guilty and wonders if she's blushing. He's your son and you love him, she tells herself.

She slides the largest knife out of the out of the wooden block and glimpses the shiny reflection of his face, the tip of his pink tongue sticking out in the intense stare of concentration.

She slices straight through the center of a red onion the shape of a skull. The arrhythmic chop-chopchop of the boy's blade against the cutting board sounds like the drunken hand of death knock-knockknocking on the door.

She puts the knife down.

"Is this thin enough, Mom?" he asks, his fingers stained with blood-red juice.

"Perfect." She forces a maternal smile. "Do all of them just like that."

"Are you okay, mom?" he asks, not fooled by her false grin.

"Of course, dear."

She hears a sound outside and unconsciously looks over her shoulder toward the kitchen door, hoping to see, framed between the red gingham curtains, the smiling face of her elder son — the son she loves more — home from basketball practice and ready to start the weekend.

But the door remains closed. The sound fades as the passing car drives down the road.

red onion
Photo credit: mjtmail (tiggy)
"Mom?" her younger son says.

"Mm-hmm?" she answers, realizing that she's been staring at the door.

He pauses, glances from her red eyes to her trembling fingers, and says, "Why don't you go relax. I can finish the salad."

She looks back at the door and then down at the knife separating the two halves of onion in front of her. Through some trick of light and shadow, she sees the silhouettes of three people instead of two in the knife's reflection.

"Okay, dear." She kisses him on the head, thanks him, and wanders into the living room. She sits lengthwise on the couch and twists herself so she can stare out the window, her forehead propped up in her hand.

Outside, the fading light turns everything blue. Little traffic comes this deep into the neighborhood, but behind what few pairs of headlights pass by, she hopes to see her son's little red pickup truck.

But she knows she'll never see it again.

She turns to watch her younger son chopping the red onion in the kitchen and wonders whether his elder brother would have been the son less loved if he had been the one to survive the accident.

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