On Tending
A Drunk Mother
When they arrived back at her apartment, Hillary's mother was in the bathroom. Half of the cheap food congealed around a wooden spoon in the pot.

The toilet flushed and her mother wandered out. "Who you got here?" she said, eyes wasted but voice steady.

"I'm on my way out," Alex said.

"No, sweetheart! Stay a while! It's so good for Hillary to have a friend, you know she just doesn't ... what's that on your face?"

"It's an eyebrow ring, Mom," Hillary said.

Her mother's eyes drifted up and down Alex's body.

"Are you a boy?" she said. "Or a girl?" She gestured sloppily in Hillary's direction. "My daughter's a dyke, isn't that right, honey?" She looked around, swayed on her high heels. Sat down hard on the loveseat, spread her arms across the cushions. "It's okay to say 'dyke,' right?"

"Christ, Mom," Hillary said.

"What? Am I embarrassing you in front of your friend?" she said. "Am I making it all about me? Am I sucking up all the air in the room?"

Alex shrugged on his backpack, stuck out his hand in the direction of Hillary's mother. "Nice to meet you," he said.

Hillary's mother closed her eyes wearily, leaned her head back on the cushion. "Don't leave on my account. I'm about to pass out anyway. As Hillary will tell you." She exhaled heavily. "As Hillary tells everyone."

"I'm a boy," Alex said.

"I don't care what you are," Hillary told him.

Eyes closed, Hillary's mother snorted wetly. "Yes you do," she said.

"I don't!" Hillary said.

Alex wiped a sleeve on his face, smearing the sparkle makeup

The infant next door started up its wailing. Alex reached for the doorknob, and Hilary's stomach lurched. The globe strained its gaseous contents. Why must her mother always be in the room?

"Bye," Alex said, and was gone.

--- From The Necessity of Certain Behaviors
Shannon Cain
©2011 University of Pittsburgh Press
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