..some micro-fiction I originally wrote in 1994 or so... semi-autobiographical... edited a few times ... appeared in "Smile Hon, You're in Baltimore" and heard on "The Signal"
As soon as I see her, I know she’s junked. Her hands look painfully swollen and puffy. Her cheeks, gaunt and sunken in, like someone had dug them out with a soup spoon. Dried spit, caked white, crusts on each corner of her mouth. Her half-lidded eyes are glazed over and unfocused, as if she can only see things within a foot of her—not that she’s trying to see anything.
She saunters towards the back, led by the boy, and sits almost directly across from me. The boy can’t be more than four years old, but is as alert as his mother is high. She spends her time nodding off, in & out of the heroin induced nirvana in her mind, while he maneuvers from seat to seat, alternating between looking out the window and catching his mother before she falls out of her seat and onto the floor of the bus.
He begins to get more agitated as we round North Avenue and start heading south on Wolfe Street. Every few blocks he tries to wake his mother up, each time with a little more desperation. At best she offers him nothing more than a quarter-lidded nod with a bit of a snort for good measure. At worst, she doesn’t even acknowledge his existence.
Finally, as we near Johns Hopkins Hospital, he stands up on his seat and rings the bell himself, his cute little fingers barely able to reach the yellow stripe. As the driver slows to their stop, he hops down and starts tugging at his mother’s arm. “Momma! Momma!!” he squeals, “We gotta get off he’e!” …just loud enough to snap her out of her state of euphoria and bring her back to the city of Baltimore—at least long enough to let him guide her off the bus.
Listening to the little boy’s voice, ingraining itself into my brain, takes me back to when I was his age… guiding my mother through the maze that is the New York subway system… making sure we got on the right PATH lest we end up at the Port Authority rather than Hoboken.
I wonder if he sits like I used to, in front of the television watching reruns of Batman and Gilligan’s Island, chomping on a box of Lucky Charms, hoping that Batgirl would show up in her skintight jumper, or that the Professor would finally get them off that fucking island. All the while, my mom would be slouching in a chair in the next room with lines of drool making etch-a-sketch patterns on her chest while she mumbled about how much she missed her friend Janis… Joplin, it turned out to be. I would just pray that she could work off her fix in time to cook something for dinner before I went to bed.
I realize that the bus is almost empty. We’re almost at my stop—the last stop. I use my sleeve to wipe the tears off my face and the drippings from my nose, wondering how long I’ve been crying… was I wailing… who had noticed… who cared?
I send my heart out to the little man one last time, wondering if he would have the same chances I’d had, the same luck. I wonder if he too would grow up too early because of the premature responsibilities, missing out on a childhood you only try to relive once it’s too late. I shake my head. More than likely, he’ll just be another casualty, found lying in the street, in his teens, with a few bullet holes—Baltimore Birthmarks—in his body. Which fate was better?
I finish composing myself as I walk towards the front of the bus, wiping my sleeve on my jeans so the snot won’t stain, trying to shake that boys voice from my head. It’s times like these when think I can feel the pain of the whole world, but I’m powerless to ease it. I think about dinner as the bus doors slide shut behind me.