Writer in Residence ยท 01/31/2011

Fabulous Lightning

in response to xTx’s “While She Is Dying”

For her. For my mother. I visit and we get margaritas. She buys because she always buys and because I’m poor, but not always. She drives, too, because when we’re done, I won’t be able to walk. She makes these provisions, but we don’t mention it.

That server flirts with me. Again. My mother doesn’t acknowledge it. I don’t blame her. I don’t acknowledge it either. I won’t flirt in front of my mother. At least while I’m sober.

We stare across the table like we’re on opposite ends of a bridge. There are awful things in the water beneath us, the things we’ve said. We wave and pretend all those awful things are fish. Between us, there are hand-painted tiles and two Mexican beer coasters like stepping stones.

We take a drink of our margaritas. She sips hers, but I finish mine in a few pelican swallows. The server floats by like an angel and says, “One more! Mother is buying, yes?” This server knows the score. He winks at me.

My mother says, “Yes, another! He isn’t driving.” She puts a finger to her nose like she’s Coca-Cola Santa Claus, but I don’t know what she means by it. I think I’m too young.

I sip this second margarita like it’s hot while she tells me some things she wouldn’t tell me otherwise. This is the time of her confession.

“When you were little, I never thought you’d turn out gay, but then you started knitting and before I knew what to think, you came out like fabulous lightning. But your brother surprised me. You’ll never know how hard it is for parents.”

“Yeah,” I say, “I guess not. But I’ve known about my brother for a while.” I loll my head side to side like it’s on a spring, like I’ve got my own shitty wisdoms bouncing around.

“No way!” she says, surprised. She’s unfamiliar with words like ‘gaydar.’ I explain how we know our own. Like dogs.

“Sometimes a surprise isn’t a surprise,” I say.

She takes a drink. “Well, margaritas don’t surprise me. These guys don’t make a bad margarita.”

She takes another drink. I take another drink. We alternate drinks like the figures in an elaborate German cuckoo clock. When the server comes by, he looks at me and smiles. His teeth are white and perfect as military gravestones. “Would you like to order, mister?”

“Yes, sir,” I say. “I’d like to order everything I’ve never been able to order. I’d like to order everyone in this restaurant to never suffer another surprise. I’d like to order all their secrets revealed. I’d like to order the combination platter number seven, but with soupy beans, not refried.”

My mother says, “Oh, honey, don’t be difficult.”

The server says, “No miss, no problem at all.” He lifts one arm above his head, hand fisted tight as a complex sailor’s knot. He bends his other arm at the elbow, imitating the muscular takeoff pose of Superman. I used to come here two winters ago. I would drink myself under the table while wearing that Superman sweater I knit at art school. It even had a cape. All the servers loved it. This server remembers. “No problem, Superman. Anything for you, mister Superman. No more secrets, everyone! No more secrets in this place!” He is carried away as if on wings.

My mother gives me this look that says, “Well, well, well.” She acknowledges more when she’s been drinking. She teases and says, “Someone’s got an admirer.”

I explain about the Superman sweater. “It’s just a thing.”

She says, “Oh, I’m sure it is, sweetie. I’m sure it’s quite a thing, indeed.”

A youngish man waves across the restaurant. Not the server. This guy’s a looker. He’s got the enthusiastic face of a non-traditional college student. He probably has a family somewhere. I can’t tell his major just by looking, but at his age, it’s probably something practical. He’s waving at my mother.

I give her a look that says, “Well, well, well.” I say, “Look what the cat’s dragged in from her job at the community college.” She doesn’t say anything. She’s turning red.

The student’s coming over and he’s smiling and he’s sweeping his hair off his forehead with a hand and he’s extending that same hand and he’s saying, “So nice to meet you. You must be, let me guess. . .the writer?”

I think, Are you my new daddy? but I say, “Yes, that’s me. How ever did you know?”

He laughs the nervous laugh of a mechanic delivering difficult news about your tires. My mother gives me a look. It says, “Not this one. Anyone but this one.”

I shake the student’s hand and I say, “It’s so nice to meet you. We were going to order a pitcher, but I don’t know, it seemed like too much. Maybe you can help us? Are you a drinker, sir? Please tell me you’re a drinker.”

My mother’s in fits of blushing now and it’s not the drink. She’s sweating at the hairline, a little glowing halo of water along her forehead, the anxious glitter of attraction and embarrassment. The student slides in next to her. His smile doesn’t adjust. He doesn’t know what to say. My mother doesn’t know what to say. I don’t know what to say. I take another drink to buy myself time. Someone needs to say something, but no one knows what.

“You know, son, your mother’s an incredible woman.” This isn’t the thing that needs saying.

“Yes,” I say, “we’re all very proud of how she turned out.” My mother steps on my foot. A signal to stop, I guess. I stop. I’ve had too much. We’ve all had a little too much for this to be happening. It’s like stepping on something wet in the dark. We don’t know what it is yet. Do we even want to know? Do we ignore it, our wet socks? Do we hang them up to dry? Do we all take a drink at the same exact time? Yes, we all take a drink at the same exact time.

The server comes back around with the food. There’s a cape of cheese on my enchilada. Someone’s drawn an s on it with hot sauce. I don’t know what to say, so I wipe it up with a finger. I lick that finger and smile at the server. His teeth flash like sheet lightning. I wink to acknowledge the thing passing between us. It’s quite a thing. For her. For my mother. It’s quite a thing, indeed.

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posted by First Footing