Weekly Writing Challenge: 1,000 Words
sometimes emptiness has a capacity…
Albert closed the bedroom door. I heard the click of the latch as he pulled the door shut. I watched his silhouette as he walked down the dimly lit hall, the hardwood floor creaking beneath the weight of his feet. Once again I heard Albert close another door. This time it was the door to our house. Just like that Albert was gone. I turned around and ran back into bed, waiting for sleep to take over.
The next morning Mama was in the kitchen like nothing had occurred last night. Her eyes were puffy, she looked older than I had ever thought before, and her smile was forced. She sat down at the table, opened the newspaper and began to drink her coffee. I wanted to ask her if Albert was coming back, but I knew the answer. It was best not to upset Mama.
I pushed my egg around my plate with my fork, watching as the yolk ran out. I hate my eggs runny.
“Linus, don’t play with your eggs.” Mama said as her shaking hand reached out from behind the newspaper to grab for her pack of cigarettes. I heard the click of the lighter, and then smelled the smoke.
She knew I hated my eggs runny, but I knew she had been too preoccupied this morning to really fixate on the cooking of my egg. I split the egg with my fork and then very discreetly put it in my napkin. I got up to grab my book bag, kissed a vacant Mama goodbye, and headed out the door for school.
Things had been going well for a while, and I had always attributed that to Albert’s presence. He seemed to maintain his patience whenever Mama had her little episodes, and he knew just the right words to say that would put her in a calming state. Mama would seem settled, retreating into her private little world, and Albert would ruffle my hair and say, “don’t worry little man, your mama is going to be just fine.” There was nothing “just fine” about Mama. For that moment she was fine. When Albert was around.
When Albert came into our lives, the child welfare agency stopped snooping around our house. The first time they came, Mama started to panic, and began mumbling incoherently to her self, or maybe to someone. I never was sure who she was talking to when she started to slip. Albert calmly stood up from the lazy boy chair, laid the newspaper on the seat, removed his glasses, put them in his front shirt pocket and walked to the front door. He opened the door to the two welfare agents, and conveniently stepped out on the front porch before they could enter the house, greeting them like they were old friends. I watched from behind the living room curtains, and even I smiled when they all started to laugh about something. Albert shook both of their hands and they walked down the porch steps to their car. Albert stayed on the porch and waited till they got to their car, at which point he gave them one final wave, and then he turned and looked right at me and winked. Life was so fulfilling with Albert.
As I reminisced about Albert in our lives, and began to think about life without him, I could not catch my breath. The tears started rolling down my cheeks and I could not see the road ahead of me. I stopped and turned into the tunnel beneath the bridge. Dropping my book bag, leaning against the wall, I found my legs giving way, myself crumbling to the floor, and I heard a distant wailing, as I lost myself in my emptiness. I am not sure how long I lay on that cold, cement floor, I knew school had probably already started. Pretty soon the phone call would go home informing Mama that I never made it to school. Would she be worried? Would it even register?
I looked down the tunnel and watched as the shadows reflected on the walls, jumping, and playing, almost inviting one to follow the light until it descends into the dark. Watching Albert walk out the door was the light flickering and dying out in our house. Mama was slipping into her state of darkness and without Albert things were going to fall apart.
Albert had always been able to postpone Mama from sinking into the despairs with a loving touch and soothing words. She would withdraw, but Albert was capable of drawing her back. In the beginning Mama did not have too many episodes, but it seemed lately, Albert was coaxing her more and more. Albert soon began withdrawing, disappearing more often, and not coming around as much. I had heard the clicking of the door before, but this time I heard the final click.
The last words that my father said, maybe even the only words he really spoke to me before he left us was “Be a man, son. Take care of your Mama.” Funny coming from someone I did not even consider a man. At least a man worth knowing. When Albert was around I was his “little man.” I was protected and safe. With Albert life felt like it was at capacity.
When Mama went to that place, there was no way to help her, you just had to hope she was not gone too long. She was empty of emotions and left you living in her emptiness.
I began fumbling around in my backpack looking for the emergency phone that Albert gave me. Never having used it before, I found it at the bottom of my bag, pulled it out, and searched for Albert’s phone number. I was hoping to hear the ringing of the phone and his husky voice answering, instead I heard the operator telling me that the number had been disconnected.
Looking down the tunnel I could now relate to my mother.