Friday, April 19, 2013
From "Natalie Schervo Speaking"
This is an excerpt from a larger work. Perhaps a forthcoming larger work. Perhaps not. Only time and all that ...
After the phone call, she had begun to wonder if her mother had always carried that insanity with her or if it had come upon her suddenly, like a fever, a rush of blood to the head, just a momentary lapse in judgment.
“She burned her home down,” the man said, so matter-of-factly, so lifelessly, as if crazy women had been burning their own homes down since the dawn of time, “We’re going to need to you to come down here and answer some questions for us.”
Well, could answer some questions for me? she thought. She thought but didn’t say. Her outbursts had gotten her in trouble before. Typically, the problems arose when she was in high school, like the time she shouted at Mrs. Mitchell, her history teacher, who insinuated that Natalie might have been a house slave, a product of rape, during the early nineteenth century. Since then, she had undergone counseling and could now repress the urge to shout, how about I burn your house down, when the man-robot asked her to drive down to her mother’s home, asking if she needed the address as if she hadn’t been stepping through those doors for more than twenty years of her life. Instead, she walked to Tim’s office, politely explained why she needed to leave early today, and hopped into her beat up Pontiac Sunfire, staring at the Real Girls Hotline office building as if it might suddenly combust.
The whole drive toward the house, that now distant memory turned to ash, she kept drifting into her thoughts. She saw herself driving that same road, her mother in the passenger seat. Her mother had balled the funeral program into a sweaty, papery mess. Through those fists, Natalie’s father peered up at her, that black and white printing giving him the visage of a specter. Eventually they arrived, the two of them walking side-by-side through the front door of her mother’s home, once her home too, walking past the vomit green walls and the shit brown drapes, walking past that photograph resting atop a shelf in the hallway, the one of her father and mother embracing at their wedding, the one in which his dark black figure hovered over her mother with the foreboding nature of a raincloud. Every time she saw that portrait, she reflected upon the white casket in which her mother had chosen to bury him. “An oreo,” her mother called him, “my oreo,” and with the last joke the couple would ever share, she sent him to the earth as the inverse of his once-cute-now-morbid pet name.
Her mother shuffled to her usual place, sitting in the recliner at the back of the living room, staring at blank television screen with the utmost focus, humming. So many lives had passed through those middle aged bones, so many years gone by, aging in multiples of seven like some say dogs do. All those years dwelled in two dissonant, ocean blue pupils that peered into the emptiness of space.
“I don’t think you should take that job,” her mother said, mumbling, as Natalie walked into the room.
“I’ve already taken the job.”
“Well, I don’t think you should.” Her mother turned from the TV, and her dead eyes now blinked incessantly against Natalie’s soul.
“Mom, you don’t understand, I took the job two years ago. It’s a little late for this protest.”
“I don’t think a Schervo woman should be objectified like that. I don’t think your father would approve. What about your art, dear? Your poetry, why can’t you do something with that?”
Try though she might, Natalie could not convince her mother that her poetry was shit, just a joke for the other “objectified” women in the office to share. Her mother insisted that Natalie was an artist, had an artist’s creed, an artist’s soul, and an artist’s heart. After a while, Natalie decided to stop having the argument with her all together. “I’ll try mom,” she said, “For now, I need money.”
“I think you should tell those people, ‘no.’ You shouldn’t work for them. They’ll objectify you. They will, and they won’t care. They won’t even care.”
“You’re too young to be this senile, mom.”
“I’m not senile!” her mother shot out of her recliner, sprung out of the dormant volcano of grief in the form of hot, molten lava. It all came pouring down on Natalie, the red and viscous liquid dripping off her body, melting off skin along the way.
“Calm down, calm down. It was just a joke.”
“I’m not old! And I’m not senile! I’m forty! …forty one… I’m not old, damn it! And I’m not senile!”
“Of course not, of course not, you don’t look a day over twenty five, mom.”
Her mother fell back into her chair. The leather cushion released its song when she did—the short, high-pitched, “bloooooop,” that dissipated into silence. “I’m not old,” she started mumbling, “I’m not old.”
Natalie trotted over to her mother, almost prancing, feeling young again in her presence. She did not feel young in the nostalgic sense, as old women often felt young when flipping through their scrapbooks. She felt young in the inferior sense. She felt reduced to the childish action of skipping up to her mother like little Cindy Lou Who, curtseying in the presence of her mother with the Shirley Temple grace and the big sad, orphan eyes of Annie. It was a ritual that had begun when she was a little less than three years old. Whenever she angered her mother, Natalie would skip over to her mother, innocently, and mutter, “I nose you, momma.” Her mother would reply with an, “I nose you too,” and they would hug, momentarily resolving all conflicts.
“I nose you, momma,” Natalie mumbled, trying not to roll her eyes.
Susan Schervo let silence take the room, just for a moment, before replying, “I nose you too.”
Natalie crouched beside the chair and wrapped her arms around momma Schervo. Her mother did not hug back. She just let her daughter hang there, the warmth of two bodies filling the room—this was love, their kind of love.
Natalie looked over to the passenger seat, empty, and heard that man’s cold voice, “She burnt her house down. Susan Schervo burned her house down.” How solitary did that road appear then.