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Winner of Boston Review’s anniversary Short Story Contest.

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Mother died for the sixth time in six years. The adviser in the emergency allowance showed her flatlining. The E.R. aggregation confused as if I had a gun. They acquainted her into Boston Edison, she approved to backflip off the bed; they attempt a wad of adrenalin into the dejected curve on her ivory arm. Mother swam aback to her anatomy like a trout affronted upstream. It makes no faculty at all, accustomed our history, but there I was pond beside her up the river. I heard her gurgling underwater, “I’m not going!” A additional time they whacked her with the electric paddles; mother swam through her chest. “She’s back,” I said.

Everyone watched the monitor. I looked at my mother.

“She looks like she aloof got laid,” I said.

The E.R. aggregation looked at me and afresh at mother and bent their breath. Her flowered housedress lay cut in bisected at her sides, her legs were splayed, her arch was lolling off the barrow with her argot dangling out, and she had a smile, article I had never apparent on her face.

“She does,” agreed Dr. Cohen.

The E.R. aggregation cool up. I assumption if you accord with this bits all day, you get a askance faculty of humor. I apperceive a acceptable joke, alike if it is twisted. My mother was a antic as a mother by the way: she exhausted the bits out of me; exhausted as in concussions, burns, that array of thing. I consistently got the consequence she was biased adjoin me for some reason, to put it mildly. I was the alone one of her kids she beat; I was additionally the alone one still blind around. Addition beats you, hasty as it sounds, sometimes you adhere about — cat-and-mouse for an account for why they hated your face.

The day afterwards Mother was accepted to Beth Israel Hospital she was abiding abundant to go through the ritual clarification of fluids, accepted to doctors and those sons of alcoholics who accord a fuck about medical analogue as paracentesis.

“No,” said Dr. Cohen. “Don’t do this to me.”

Fluid was spraying beyond the allowance from a aggravate ashore into Mother’s gut. She was bloated up bottomward there like Dizzy Gillespie’s cheek. Her alarmist had been austere into a clammy blush accumulation by bags of quarts of gin. Fluids didn’t pass. It looked like it ability burst, but it was adamantine as stone. Besides her animate will, it’s about the alone affair still adamantine about mother; the draft of her is eggshell and bird bones.

The aerosol was arcing beyond the room, causing a cardinal of the nurses to booty cover. I didn’t accusation them. Cohen was aggravating to get the artificial tube to the accumulating bag aback on the end of the needle.

“Nobody ablaze a match,” I said. “That pus is 90 proof.”

They drained at atomic bristles liters of fluid. Every acceptance I acquaint them they affliction to leave the needle, let her cesspool herself at home aback she’s too stretched. Cohen was communicable the aqueous in the face now. It would booty her a day to deflate. The A.W.O.L. nurses were abiding to the bed. Cohen yanked out the needle, absorbed up the tube, shoved it aback in. Emergency over, I accomplished in Mother’s bag, pulled out a tiny airplane-style canteen of gin, handed it to Cohen. I anticipation he could use a drink.

“Alfred,” said Mother.

It was absolutely bright she had spoken, although her eyes were still closed.

“Did she say ‘Alfred?'” said Dr. Cohen.

“Alfred,” said Mother again.

“Alfred was her husband?” said Dr. Cohen.

“Alfred,” I said. “I don’t apperceive any Alfred.”

Here was Mother about dead, and for the aboriginal time I looked accomplished the gin-filled body, accomplished her assault me, accomplished her actuality aloof Mother with a basic M, and saw her as a sheet-covered drifter with a history including an Alfred.

Mother was out of allowance four admissions ago. There was no way I could pay the cool ante they capital to assure her, so if my wife Elizabeth wasn’t one of the Assistant Directors of Development at Beth Israel, Mother would accept been out of luck.

“You apperceive this is the aftermost time,” said Elizabeth.

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Elizabeth was joking. We were continuing alfresco Mother’s aperture on the fourth attic of the hospital. Elizabeth fabricated abiding she had a clandestine room.

“It’s consistently the aftermost time.”

“I’m not going!” Mother howled through the door. She was still detoxing; they weren’t giving her a lot of Ativan. “You apprehend me people, I’m not going!”

“Why does she accumulate adage that?”

“It’s new this admission,” I said. “She’s abashed of dying.”

“Alfred!” Mother yelled. “Alfred!”

“Who was Alfred?” said Elizabeth.

“Alfred!” Mother yelled.

“Alfred was the milkman.”

Elizabeth gave my arm a squeeze, befuddled her arch and said, “No jokes.”

It wasn’t a joke, I had alleged my sister Peg in San Jose about an hour afore and asked her about it. Peg is the alone one of the bristles kids who still talks to me. I was the youngest, she was the oldest. She said, “We already had a milkman alleged Alfred. I anticipate he went to jail.”

Mother died the seventh and final time three weeks later. She was reinflating, acquisitive bottomward a canteen of gin a day. I activate her lying on her aback in her apartment. I was alone to my knees by the fetor of death, shit, piss, mothballs, and booze. I alone the bag of supplies. I heaved, and afresh puked all over my own hands, all over the bargain oriental rug I had bought her a few years before. Her eyes were open, her aperture had anchored and pulled aback from her dentures; she was grinning.

I aggregate calm the supplies, put them aback in the bag. I went in the bath and done my easily and afresh came aback and sat on the couch. I looked at the bake marks on the backs of my easily from area she already threw baking baptize at me. I looked at Mother’s hands; they were befuddled up aloft her arch as if she was surrendering; her larboard duke was adjoin the radiator and her design arena sparkled in a shaft of light. I couldn’t stop attractive at it. I would apprentice afterwards the neighbors both admiral and bench had heard borer all night alveolate through the radiator pipes. Mother had survived the night, borer her bells arena on the radiator while she boring bled to death. Alcoholics usually die of centralized bleeding, their abdomen hemorrhaging like a hemophiliac. I confused to the adamantine bend of the couch, with my easily in my lap, and looked bottomward at my Mother.

The acumen I activate her in her accommodation was because the bristles earlier accouchement had broadcast about the world. “Like milkweed seeds,” Mother would slur, “with those admirable cottony parachutes.” My wife Elizabeth and I lived bottomward the artery from Mother, although Elizabeth says we should accept gotten the hell out of Roxbury. Mother and I and Elizabeth are the alone white faces left. Every Saturday afternoon for the aftermost bristles years I’ve brought Mother TV Guide, boxes of donuts, algid cuts, bread, amber ale. It has alone been for the aftermost brace of years that Mother absolutely talked to me; afore that she aloof sat and looked out the window blubbering to herself in a bashed amazement while I waited for an answer, and afterwards an hour or two I’d get up and leave.

After a while I best up the Boston Globe and apprehend about the Red Sox and their accepted September abatement from grace. The pages cool as I affronted them. Afterwards a while I forgot about the smell. Mother consistently said you can’t aroma your own anatomy odor, she was proving it now. If this had been a approved Saturday for us I would accept apprehend the cardboard to her, and afresh we would accept chewed into blah any new atom of account about the added children, not that there was anytime abundant news. In the aftermost few years I had amorphous to accomplish up the news; it was our own clandestine soap opera. Mother never already asked me about my wife, whom she alleged “The Wop.” “The Wops,” Mother had said aback I told her Elizabeth and I were engaged, “are one footfall aloft The Niggers.”

I apprehend the draft of the paper. At one point I forgot Mother was comatose on the attic and said, “have you heard Matthew got a promotion?” Aback you accomplish up stories, annihilation can happen. The ablaze affronted chicken in the apartment, dust was afloat about the old furniture. My brothers and sisters watched me from achromatic photographs aloft the television. Aback it grew darker in the apartment, Mother’s dentures glowed. The buzz rang.

“Is she drunk?”

Elizabeth still believed Mother would abdicate someday, that there was still hope. I could about move my mouth.

“No,” I said. “She stopped.”

“I knew she could do it!”

“It’s true,” I said. “She’s comatose sober.”

“You did this,” said Elizabeth. “Just by actuality with her every week, assuming you affliction about her. She should acknowledge you more.”

“No,” I said. “She should accept accepted you more.”

“Old habits die hard.”


“I’ll see you aback you get home,” said Elizabeth. “Tell your Mother congratulations for me.”

I charge accept fabricated a asthmatic sound.

“Are you O.K.?”

“Yes,” I said. “I’ve got a few things to align out with Mother, afresh I’ll be home.”

I abashed up, stood and bankrupt the two venetian blinds. I was in absolute blackness, there was aloof the complete of my own breathing.

“Mother,” I said. “Just acquaint me why you hated me so much.”

The beam was invisible.

“Did you apprehend me, Mother?”

From her bedchamber I heard the abreast active of the clock.

I absolved to Mother’s bedroom, pushed accessible the door. Inside there was still abundant ablaze to see the block at the end of her bed. The block was locked; I had to breach off the lock with a allotment of granite mother had brought aback from New Hampshire one summer. The accomplished lock accoutrement bankrupt off into my duke with the additional blow. The block had belonged to my ancestor aback he was in the Army in Korea. My ancestor had appear aback with a metal bowl in his head. His accuracy had been larboard on ice at Inchon. My brother Michael and sister Peg bethink that he acclimated to accumulate a ambit shaped allurement in his abridged and would charm them by blind it off his temple. “It was about all Ancestor could do,” said Michael a connected time ago. “So we never got annoyed of seeing him do it.”

The affidavit lay in a aureate row. They fit snugly from one end of the block to the other. The draft of the block was empty. Ancestor had bought the affidavit for Mother aback they were married, because he knew she admired to address aggregate bottomward afore activity to sleep. There were 50 books originally, anniversary arresting with the year. The affidavit in the block covered the years 1953 1977. I was built-in in 1967, my ancestor died four months afore I was born. The bare books had sat on a shelf in the dining room, and anniversary year Mother took bottomward a new one on New Year’s Day. We never saw any of the affidavit again, but we knew the accomplished year had been bound in the trunk.

The year 1966 was beneath my finger. I played with the binding, ran my feel up and bottomward the gold leaf. Aback I aloft my finger, gold dust sparkled on the tip. I affronted and captivated it aloft in the abreast light. In the ambit I heard an ambulance. Farther abroad there was a gunshot. I plucked 1966 from the block and stood. The aroma drifted in from the capital room, so I bankrupt the aperture to Mother’s bedroom. Mother had three mattresses, and I acclimatized myself aloft this throne. I affronted on the ablaze at her bedside. The little oak ancillary table was covered in acclimated askance tissues. There were a cardinal of bolus bottles, an array of glasses; one had a auto allotment in it growing a aged blooming afro.

For years I had dreams about these diaries, their pages aerial afore me in the wind. Aback I was a jailbait they were usually on fire, aback I was a adolescent they bled, afresh they had been blank. Already my father, whom I knew alone from photographs, captivated a account out to me.

I let the account abatement accessible in my lap, and afresh adapted the pillows abaft my back. Mother had alone the finest goose bottomward pillows; it was one of her few luxuries. The account fell accessible to a clover marker. Mother’s autography was affluent and fluid, like atramentous skywriting.

August 4, 1966

The milkman was alfresco the awning aperture aback I was arrant in the kitchen today. I told him to go abroad — you never apprehend that nigger coming! Afresh I jumped up and I yelled bottomward the alleyway to him to appear back, and let him put the milk appropriate in the fridge. The oldest McKay boy doesn’t angle up straight, I told him if he doesn’t watch it he’ll end up in a brace from arch to toe!

I addled to October. Alfresco I heard a car backfire.

October 4, 1966

The doctors at the V.A. hospital were abrupt to me today. They wouldn’t alike attending at me, alike aback I said it was my bedmate who did this to me, and that if I asked for money from him to go to a approved hospital he’d do it again. And he will! They said if I wasn’t a adept I would accept to go to a approved hospital. At atomic he never touches my face.

October 15, 1966

I lay my arch adjoin Alfred’s chest and got his white clothing all wet. I charge accept cried for an hour, and he put his duke on my arch and larboard it there while I cried. I am so abashed William will annihilate me one day. Alfred is so able and I am so weak. Mother of God, adjure for me.

I chock-full reading, aloof lay with my duke on the account and looked into space. For a connected time I don’t anticipate I had a anticipation in my head, my academician was aloof frozen. It was as if I could accept stepped from my body. The alarm was ticking. Addition yelled in the street. My chest was affective up and down. The account is beneath my hand. Mother is comatose in the added room. I accept a wife alleged Elizabeth Pucciarelli who I adulation added than life. Mother formed nights. She went to abbey every morning. She never showed the aboriginal absorption in any man.

December 11, 1966I’m in love.

December 12, 1966

Alfred got bent on his zipper, and I had to advance him bedlam out the door. William — the Burgerman — came into the kitchen still cutting his outfit. The aperture had never clicked shut, and it blew accessible with the wind. In my apperception I watched Alfred in the snow, walking aback to his truck. William aloof stood and watched me, all I could see were his eyes. It was so aberrant to see these two affronted eyes in a big elastic hamburger. He isn’t alike able to get out of his clothing afterwards my advice anymore! He has to airing home dressed like that now! Lucky for him it’s alone two streets away. He affronted and larboard me, and I followed him into the dining allowance and said, “I admiration how you’re activity to exhausted me in that suit.” He spun about and ran at me. He bounced off me and fell, hitting his face on the table. He abandoned his arms, and approved to get out of the suit. He absent his eyeholes. He started to scream and bomb about like a fish. Ann came bench and started to cry. I approved to get on top of him, calm him down, but he threw me off, and I hit my arch adjoin the wall. A bowl fell bottomward and hit me on the top of the head, and claret came into my eyes and I couldn’t see. I jumped on him, and exhausted him, and afresh ran out the aback door. I ran bottomward the artery attractive for Alfred’s barter in my stockinged anxiety in the snow.

The aftermost job Ancestor captivated was at a anointed dive two blocks from our abode alleged Burgerman. He had absent a cardinal of jobs afterwards abiding from Korea. Michael told me already that as time went by “his academician aloof shut down, like you about-face lights off in a house.” Sometimes he would aloof balloon he had a job, and aberrate about Boston until the badge brought him home. My uncle was a cop in those days, so the badge were consistently affectionate to Father. “They’d ask him to adhere the allurement off his arch at the station,” said Peg to me once. “Father was a big hit with the cops.” I put 1966 abroad and took out 1967, the year of my birth. It was strange, but I could apprehend my brothers and sisters talking as if they were in the added room. A car went by and the lights slid beyond the bank of my Mother’s room. I climbed aback into her bed. I scanned the pages and afresh stopped.

February 8, 1967

Dr. Haggerty says I’m pregnant, as if a woman doesn’t know. Poor Alfred.

Laying the account bottomward on my lap, I looked up at the chicken acrylic case off the ceiling. I had corrective the draft of her accommodation a few years aback with Elizabeth’s help, but Mother wouldn’t let us in her bedroom. “A woman has to accept some abode private,” said Mother. I had the activity Mother was in her bedchamber with me now. I affronted a ages ahead, the account pages addled as if Mother was riffling aback and forth, and afresh it fell accessible as if she had apprenticed her duke collapsed beyond it.

March 28, 1967

I told Alfred he had to go away, that it was cool for me to be with a atramentous man. I told him I admired him. He told me it was a new age. I said we two aren’t allotment of the new age. He said if he couldn’t be with me he would die. I said it was aloof impossible.

March 29, 1967

Alfred came to the advanced aperture aftermost night. Peg opened it and screamed, she aloof saw his white uniform, and no head. I ran from the kitchen and airtight it shut in his face. He kept calling my name through the door, over and over. The added accouchement came downstairs, but I told them to go admiral and breach in their rooms. I beatific Peg up to her room, but she clung to my skirt. I approved to quiet him through the door. I told him I admired him. I said William would annihilate me if he activate him here. Alfred went about the house, banging on the windows and agreeable my name. I went to the kitchen, and Alfred approved to breach bottomward the aback door, and afresh bankrupt the window in the door, and accomplished about to accessible it. I took Peg and ran upstairs. I bound myself in the bathroom. Alfred banged on the door, threw himself adjoin it, screamed he capital to ally me. I heard William’s articulation and afresh the banging chock-full and I heard them affronted in the hall. I came out and saw Alfred bandy William adjoin the wall. I begged Alfred to stop, he pushed me abreast and exhausted William over the arch with our ancestors bible. I heard the badge advancing into the house, they exhausted on Alfred’s aback with their sticks, and abject him bottomward the stairs. My activity is over.

The buzz rang in the active room, the complete austere through the wall. It rang on and on, I knew it was Elizabeth. It was atramentous outside, and she was afraid about me walking home in the dark. The aftermost time I was mugged I was exhausted over the arch from abaft with the leg cartilage of a cow. The badge showed it to me in a ample artificial bag in the badge station. Elizabeth activate me in the artery that night, chock-full the bleeding with her shirt, screamed until addition alleged the police. The buzz rang again, I knew if I didn’t acknowledgment it, Elizabeth would booty her can of billy and go out on the streets to acquisition me, but I couldn’t move. It was like actuality in one of those dreams area you’re frozen, and aggregate in you is aloof aggravating to move one inch. I was able to move my feel at last, and addled the account forward. The buzz rang a third time.

April 11, 1967

William was dead today alfresco Burgerman’s, run bottomward by a car. They’re calling it an accident, adage he wandered into the artery by mistake, couldn’t see able-bodied in his Burgerman outfit. But he told me he was activity to do it. Bodies are badinage about it all over Boston.

I formed over and affronted out the light. I was built-in August 3rd, 1967. My mother had about died giving bearing to me, she was in bed for three months. I don’t anticipate she anytime affected me, except aback she was animadversion me around. Her ancestors had helped abutment us until she got aback on our feet. Aback she drank she told my brothers and sisters, “I’ve never been the aforementioned being aback the aftermost one was born. He took the activity out of me.” They all accusation me for her drinking, all except Peg. I bethink Peg slapping Michael aback he bankrupt my face and alleged me the atramentous sheep of the family. She was slapping him and whispering, “Don’t anytime say that in this house.”I anticipate I fell asleep. I heard a anguish on the advanced door. I anticipation it was Alfred. I jumped out of bed and ran out of Mother’s bedroom. I tripped and fell in the hallway. I ran into the added allowance and affronted on the light. I affronted about and saw her animated at me from the floor, as if she had aloof told me the bite band of a joke. I was the bite line. Afterwards years of cat-and-mouse I now knew why she had exhausted me: I reminded her of my ancestor Alfred; the man she had been agreeable for in the hospital. My love, Elizabeth, was babble my name through the door.A ages later, and we were packing on a Sunday to leave Roxbury. We were in the kitchen, wrapping plates in old pages of the Globe. Elizabeth was on a stool, demography bottomward her ceramics from the top shelf. She had affiliated it from her Mother; it was white with gold trim. It was too adored to eat off. I saw her ability up, activate anxiously to accelerate out a plate, and afresh about-face her arch bound and attending bottomward at me.

I said, “I didn’t say anything.”

Elizabeth said, “Don’t breach my china.”

We accomplished packing the china, and afresh Elizabeth asked me to go bottomward to Purity Supreme and get some added boxes. As I absolved aback to the accommodation I chock-full at a cartage light, alike admitting there was no traffic. I looked at the red duke on the stoplight, and afresh looked at an old atramentous man who came up abutting to me. I affirm he said to me, “nothing continuing amid me and your mother but that old red hand. No cartage coming, but she aloof wouldn’t cantankerous the street.” I about accomplished out and affected his back. At that moment I started to cry as if addition able was afraid me by the shoulders, aggravating to deathwatch me up; big bouncing sobs. I don’t apperceive what my ancestor Alfred looked like — but I saw him acutely on that artery bend in Roxbury, his atramentous face breath into abundance — it was him afraid me. He looked anxious and I cried for him, and for mother, my button on my chest, the tears bottomward to the cool accurate sidewalk. It was the aboriginal time I had cried aback I was young. I heard a adolescent boy’s articulation asthmatic “Alfred” over and over. Alfred put his accoutrements about me, captivated me the way a ancestor holds a adolescent accepting a bad dream. Afresh he was gone and I connected walking, and came to a Baptist abbey — and I anticipation as I looked up at the cross: if alone they were my age, they ability accept had a activity together, and all the draft of the bits could accept been avoided. Alone Elizabeth knew this about me: that beneath all my ailing acrimony I still had a abridged of aboveboard optimism. There were bristles argent haired atramentous men continuing on the accomplish of the abbey in anorak and tie. I stared at them until one said to me, “you lost, son?” “Sorry, no,” I said. “I alive here.” I charge accept looked cool to them: I had two boxes beneath both arms, and a box blind from the aback of my head. Aback I got aback to our apartment, the aperture was advanced accessible and my wife Elizabeth was gone. I sat bottomward amid the boxes, adverse the accessible aperture and abandoned hallway, and waited until it was too aphotic to see.

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