Frog in a Pot
Mother was never willfully mean or cruel or unloving. When I was ten, she converted to Christ and began to simplify her life. She tossed out most of our belongings. And among our belongings was the family cat. One day I came home from school and in the closet of my room, I saw the strangled cat hanging. While the cat hung there, Mother drew a bath. I could hear the water running. I shouted at her, but she wouldn’t come out for hours. Now and then I could hear bits of her voice streaming down the drainpipe. Then huge wads of silence filled the air. My temperature must have shot up a hundred degrees. I heard a window slam shut. Finally Mother unlocked the bathroom door. She wouldn’t look at me. She said we must learn to rest in the Lord, to forgive and forget. Mother said the cat had dug its claws into her thumbs. She said when she had her hands around its neck, it looked bewildered. All the cat could do was hold on as she held on. It was nothing. Nothing at all. I’m tired. Let me sleep.
When I was eleven Mother told me the story of the man who supplanted Father in her affections. Mother said Father was a lousy Casanova. He was too skittish; there were no fireworks, ever. She was impatient. She was drowning. Mother wanted to preen herself, wanted her flesh to ripple from breast to crotch to head. She said, What’s a father anyway? One sperm hitting the right place at the right time. It’s simple luck more than anything.
Early in her dalliance, Mother became pregnant. She wanted to keep the fetus. She was filled with defiance. She was filled with delight. Mother said, What I want is so simple, A baby. To be a mother again.
After two coronaries, Father left. He was sick of Mother’s rhetoric. She had gone too far. She had overdone it.
Mother said one day, when her paramour was playing golf, she was walking out on the course with him and suddenly an oak fell and he lay injured and screaming. She gave the man a goodbye kiss as she watched him bleed to death. Some observed her laughing.
The following day, Mother had a miscarriage. God had told her she needed to be humbled. Whatever it is, the Almighty is in charge. God is clever and strong. God is the rock that gives shade to his creatures.
Mother chased off any friends she thought would negatively influence me, those who weren’t soldiers of Christ. She read the Bible daily, concentrating on the Old Testament. She told me girls were whores and instruments of Lucifer. Mother raised her eyes and hands up to heaven, and said, Happy is he that taketh thy little ones and dasheeth their heads against the stones.
I developed behavioral tics, including flexing my neck and shaking my head. Mother said it was deliberate. Mother said I was self-centered; I was trying to cause trouble; I was disgusting. Mother said I had an ugly nose. She would stare at the tiny pimple at the tip whenever she would talk to me. Mother said I must have sores down there where it counts. She shook her head, said, You know sores and pimples spread and never disappear! This is God’s curse for pleasuring yourself.
I was mother’s dutiful, abashed puppet. I tried and tried to cut the strings, but couldn’t. Mother boxed me on the ears, smacked my cheeks, called me a misfit, then she kissed me. If words could smirk, Mother’s did.
She told me every night when I went to sleep that I would awaken and find her there above me like the Holy Spirit. Mother made me pray and recite the rosary by kneeling on a broomstick. She would feed me raw meat and bitter foods and then cover my mouth and nose till I vomited.
Mother began to smash dishes, cut furniture, and once she gave me a concussion when she slammed a table leg over my head. She often beat me so seriously she blackened my eyes. dislocated my jaw. How many times did Mother pull a chunk of my hair out in a rage? Mother admired herself. She had an odd mixture of approval and excitement. Mother wanted me to understand that things could get much worse. She yelled if I cried and would beat me harder. I learned to be quiet. I was terrified of those beatings, not only because they hurt, but because Mother would lose control the longer or harder she hurt me with a belt or her fist. Mother was out-of-control; I thought the whole world must be as well.
An immense depression came over me. I realized to be a child is to see things and not know them, then you know them. How could I love life when I had no stomach for it? I was tired, a mad tiredness, worse than any tired child.
Everyone knows that when you drop a frog in a pot of water already boiling, it will instantaneously try to escape to safety. However, if you place the frog in cool water, which is gradually heated up, the animal will feel comfortable in its new environment and even if it subtly grows warmer, remain complacent until it dies. Was I comfortable? Was I complacent? I was confused.
Time and again, Mother asked me to kiss the hem of her apron. What for I do not know. I clamped my fingers into my palms, digging sharp lines of pain that festered. Faster, she said and grabbed hold of my arms, and rubbed them down her hips. I asked myself, when did Mother become so hostile? I can’t remember. Perhaps it was when I was an infant and she let me cry and cry. Mother would rarely pick me up or feed me. She said I had germs so she’d wear a surgical mask whenever she came near. I heard she wanted a girl but she got a colicky boy instead. Mother was light skinned. She said I was dark. Mother thought I was born with poison in my blood. She said because I was dark and dumb, her family had a vendetta against her.
Mother assured me that whatever she did was only to help me. I became her sixteen-year old man servant. I was responsible for preparing Mother’s bath, washing her body, shampooing her hair, ironing her clothes. Her eyes never seemed to see me or know I was there. I was scared. Naked from the waist down, Mother made those moaning sounds. I thought she was having a fit, that she had some kind of brain thing that gave her quivers. Mother’s fingers curled through her black pubic hair. I could hardly breathe. Sweat rolled down my forehead. I thought I was going to pass out. I wanted to die. I wanted to disappear. I told myself this wasn’t happening.
I grew into a stray of my own type led along by blindness. I watched my potential sour to malice. Then one day like loosened soil that packs a grassy hill, I left. I left like a rabbit set afire. I hitchhiked to the country and there I found a lake; a deep, transparent one. I bent over to take a drink and saw Mother’s reflection stare back at me. I knew I had to die. It was the only way to leave.
Leonore Wilson teaches creative writing in the greater Bay Area. Her work has been published in such places as the Iowa Review, Third Coast, Dark Matter, Speculative Review, Quarterly West, Madison Review, etc.