This story appeared in Word River Literary Review.
Two years after my desperate dreydl-spinning mother shacked up with Sid the Psycho Coke Fiend, the latest campaign into her lifelong ambition of chiseling away my soul, she took me away for an insurance sales convention. This spoon-fed mother of mine worked as an assistant to my grandfather her whole life and never even kind of sold a policy. She got the perks though: agent’s salary, company car, free health, and now, San Francisco. Knowing Sid and me would kill each other, she preached the trip as a bonding experience. Sid called it, “Girl time.” We were in the kitchen. My mom faced the open freezer, reading the back of a Stouffers box. Sid did the finger slice across his neck. I mock sniffled. He lunged. I ran. Mom soothed. Upshot: Josh comes with me.
We cabbed it to the Hyatt and the bellman must have shat his slacks when he saw my old girl’s nine suitcases. She tipped him five when he unloaded us in the Penthouse. He gave a martyred snort and bailed. The bathroom rivaled my room at home in size, with a Jacuzzi, three sinks, and free shampoo in a basket with little glass marbles inside. My mom slammed some depression meds and said let’s go to the Wharf. On the trolley I derailed her as the twat she was for not letting me bring my skateboard. The hills were a dream. She barfed out some dreck about safety and said she stood by her decision. No arguments. No litigation. Chin high and nose north. Standing by her decision.
Welcome to my world.
The Wharf blew. We wolfed down some pasty Italian food and spent most of the night at some auction where a bunch of douche bags peddled crap like ten-watt radios the size of trunks, jewelry boxes designed as mini-armoires, and tickets to see Cosby the next evening. Cosby: not crap. I elbowed my mom until she bid. Some Mexican family kept raising us by fifty cents. We shooed them out of the race at a hundred bucks. Our tickets now. Next up for bid: a garbage-can-sized bottle of Jack Daniels. I elbowed the sack of Maniechwitz and she gave me the meat face, which is when she elongates her jaw to indicate her disapproval. My dream remains that one day her face will freeze in this state forever.
Box of lox slept till noon while I watched Spectravision. She took another two hours to get dressed and we hit the streets for some shopping. Macys. Nieman Marcus. Lord and Taylor. I felt like a shower. The after-the-rape kind. My first childhood memory: a Miami mall with my old girl and giving her a swift kick in the shins from my stroller for exposing me to this same garbage. When we were heading out with all the shopping bags, which I refused to help carry, for moral reasons, that Helen Reddy-fawning Fig Newton of a mother of mine stopped and guffawed at a bomber jacket in the children’s section. She made me try it on and smiled like she was having her picture taken. I said it didn’t totally suck and saw the price tag. I showed her. She squinched up her lips like she did every time she needed to do some accounting and told me it would sting a bit, but she wanted me to have it.
We waited curbside for a taxi and I checked myself out in a store window. The jacket looked tragically hot on me. Then I saw the store: Skateboard Galaxy. I tugged at my mom’s sleeve.
“Josh. I just bought you a four-hundred-dollar jacket.”
“Fuck the jacket,” I said.
She gave me the Meat Face. She gave me the Sad Face. I gave her the finger and ran off. After an hour, I flagged down a cab and asked if he knew the Embarcadero Center, which lay adjacent to the Hyatt. When I recognized the area, I waited until the next stoplight, then hightailed it back in the other direction. The driver didn’t give chase or anything. I found the Hyatt. I went upstairs. I stood alone on the balcony. I looked down at the Embarcadero Center. The roof constituted four panels of glass, each the size of half a football field. I couldn’t see anyone inside. A long pathway separated the Embarcadero from the Hyatt. This path led to a fountain. Five skaters started from a distance and ollied onto the edge of the fountain, pulled railslides and truckgrinds or even cleared it.
I tried spitting, but it cascaded and evaporated. I went to the bathroom. I dumped the shampoos and grabbed the basket. I dropped a glass marble. It landed in front of a skater waiting his turn. I did it again. I did it a third time. A skater looked up. I ducked. I waited, winged one, and pegged a shoulder. I ducked. I waited. I looked down. One of them had a beard and pointed at me. The others had their boards over their heads. I hurled one at the Beard. They ran for cover under the Embarcadero awning. I put my arm into the next throw. I watched it sail. I watched it sink. My throat tightened. The marble landed. The glass panel shattered, broke, and descended. I ducked and listened to the gasps and glass settling. I hid in the closet and shut my eyes, imagining the Beard breaking down the door, a mother covering a baby carriage as shards fell on them like icicles. I imagined the cops explaining to my mom how I’d murdered hundreds with a marble.
An hour later. No cops. I peeked over the edge of the balcony. Some guy with a broom glared at me. I ducked. I sat on the bed. My mom came in with shopping bags. She wore the meat face. She said, “Put your jacket on, it’s time for Cosby.”
Front row seats at an outdoor arena. Cosby must have rocked, because the crowd yucked it up, but scenes of juvenile hall and a crime scene back at the Hyatt was the death of comedy. Then, Cosby stared at me. His eyes watered. Cosby pointed.
“Little boy,” he said, “How old are you?”
“Ten,” I whsipered, gasped, heaved, and choked.
“Ten years old,” Cosby went all bug-eyed. I looked at my mom, smiling at me, ear to ear.
“You’ve got a look, son, like you get away with everything. He does, doesn’t he?” he asked my mom, “Little boy gets away with the behavior that bad boys do,” he shouted, squirmed, and convulsed. My mom nodded. My mom applauded. Cosby segued into stories of Ennis and his own parenting ordeals.
At the Hyatt, my mom called her forty-something yenta reject friends and guffawed at how the good doctor singled me out, but never mentioned anything he’d even said. I took the remaining marbles out of the floor space in the closet. I went out to the balcony. The Embarcadero Center sat in darkness with its three glass panels exposed. I tossed a marble into the fifty-yard gap. Then another. I tossed all but one. I heard Cosby. Not Cosby the clown, not Cliff Huxtable, but a darker, more cunning Cosby.
“You can do anything you want, son. No one will ever get you.”
I exhaled and winged the last marble onto another glass panel. It bounced a few times then rolled to a stop.