A Mother’s Work—Clark Humphrey

Molly sneaks into the hallway while nobody’s paying attention. The party could go on without her for a while. She can let her son Sean bask in the glory of his special day. She watches from a distance as some ditsy attention-stealer, dressed in what looks like an outlet-mall knockoff of a Hot Dog on a Stick uniform, yammers away about whatever and whomever. Sean, the official subject of this party, just stands there and lets the brat ramble.

Thusly the cycle begins anew, Molly thinks. Another loud, shiny female, setting up Molly’s dear Sean for more misadventure.

Back when Molly had gotten her tubes tied after one son, she’d felt a little wistful about how she would miss out on the special joys of being a mother to a little girl.

Then her son began to attract one worthless girlfriend after another. Pretty much from junior high onward. Molly got the “opportunity” to surrogate-parent one dreadful mini-diva after another.

By now there had been so many, Molly had a hard time keeping track of them all.

There had been Suczi, named by her mother with a spelling that was supposed to bring good fortune in numerology. Had a knack for diagnosing young Sean with pseudo-medical conditions for which the only treatments were homeopathic remedies Suczi’s mom happened to sell. Left Sean when she found a more interesting “patient.”

Sharlayne came next. She fawned all over Sean whenever they were both in the same class in a subject she didn’t understand (which was most of them). Always seemed to hint about wanting to see Sean in a non-homework context; never actually did so. Left Sean when they no longer had any classes together; tried to get back together with him when they did.

Cara, the tallest of them, was the first one to really hook Sean under what, to anyone else, was obviously a crude set of romantic manipulations. Played with his heart as deftly, and as heartlessly, as the banker who sold Molly her now-underwater mortgage had played with Molly’s fiscal fears. Left Sean on an apparent whim just as he was about to ask her to the junior prom.

“Reb” (short for Reba) was the one who’d led Molly to give Sean the “birth control (importance of)” lecture. The last thing Molly needed was for Reb, or any of these never-good-enough little hussies, to become the mother of Molly’s first grandchild. But Reb, at least, had something close to a kind heart. When Reb left Sean for the school’s star jock, she had the decency to tell him in person.

Not like Solis. That one was the worst of the lot. No, just second worst. Solis had somehow gotten Sean to post bail for her after she and her “real boyfriend” got caught vandalizing the outside of a power substation.

Worst of all, Molly decided without a doubt, was Gerry. The ultimate “piece of work” woman, and the reason for today’s party. Even after the divorce, remnants of her presence remained here in Sean’s house. The dreadful neon paint on the living room walls. The remnant of the unfinished organic garden in back. And the impossible-to-sit-in modern furniture. At least that can be sold, with the proceeds perhaps paying back the rest of Sean’s legal bills.

Molly had frequently asked herself what the hell it was about her kid that led all these emotional mercenaries to glom onto him. He had never been the handsomest or most athletic boy in town. The family was not particularly wealthy.

She could only presume that his attraction had to do with the way she’d taught him basic manners, something she’d sorely found lacking in contemporary humans of all ages and genders.

Sean was always nice to girls, even when they weren’t nice to him. He listened to what they had to say, no matter how banal. He held doors open for them. He gave of his heart freely. He submitted without vocal objection to every canceled date, every “I just want to be friends,” every request for rides/study help/money, every emotional con game, every sex tease that invariably led to “Lucy pulling the football away.”

And thus, like destiny, came Gerry.

The grad-school courtship.

The “spontaneous” Vegas wedding, which Molly had only heard about once it was done.

The “ground floor investment opportunity.”

The two years’ worth of lawsuits, culminating in a jury trial, a messy divorce, and, finally, this week, Sean’s total exoneration.

Molly had her son back. All it had taken was a new mortgage on her own house and a lot of sleepless nights.

But there he was, in the middle of the room, receiving hearty congratulations from friends and neighbors, and from this clown-dress-clad dame who won’t shut up.

Faced with the need to rescue him yet again, Molly politely breaks into the center of the crowd.

“Mom! Isn’t this party the best? Hey, you’ve gotta meet Denise! She’s the legal secretary who found those papers that proved I was innocent.”

Ms. Clown Dress, having remained silent for so few precious seconds, revs right back up. “Now, that was just ONE of the things that helped to get you off. There were a lot of others. You really had ALL the evidence on your side. You’re a MUCH more intelligent man than you give yourself credit for. Isn’t that right, Mrs. Lang?”

“Oh yes. Indeed.” Molly only spoke the half of that with which she agreed. Her boy was intelligent in some aspects, but still totally clueless in others.

Denise motioned back toward the hallway, using a left hand that barely controlled a swishing, almost spilling-over, pastel-colored cocktail. Her right hand barely controlled a paper plate holding a small assortment of party snacks.

“Oh Mrs. Lang we’ve just GOT to talk! Why, I LOVE this party! You and Sean have REALLY done something with this house! And I KNOW you’re a fascinating person, because who else could Sean have gotten all his greatness from?”

Molly takes a deep breath as she lets Denise lead her and Sean into the ground-floor bedroom. It all begins anew.

Will this one need a shoulder to cry on? Pampering? An emotional calming-down? A stern lesson in good manners? Remedial instruction in driving, cooking, or spelling? A swift talking-to about why it’s wrong to cheat on either one’s homework or one’s boyfriend? Or simply a good sweeping around the floor, to gather up the leavings of a scattered brain?

Denise plops herself down on the coat-covered bed, still managing not to spill her drink. Molly and Sean (the last to enter the room) remain standing. Denise takes a short sip from her drink and resumes blabbing.

“You know, Sean told me ALL about how you were the one he always counted on to stand by him through all this financial and legal bullshit?”

She’d said the S word blandly, like just another everyday expression; Molly always saw that as a dismaying sign of unconscious crudity. Denise continued.

“I mean, you are this young man’s ROCK! You’ve done EVERYTHING for him. At least that’s what he says to me. And Sean doesn’t lie. He said at the start that he’d never lie, not on the stand or in the depositions or anywhere. l tell you Mrs. Lang, this could have been all over six months ago if Sean had just denied that he’d helped to start that Ponzi scheme in the first place. He would have gotten off easy. No prob, you know?”

How typical, Molly thought. First this ditzy dame tries to sugar her up with praise. Then she turns the tables and calls Molly’s one-and-only a crook. Molly gives Denise her patented “you won’t regret crossing me, because dead people can’t regret” look. Denise, showing no real awareness of anything beyond her own overly made-up eyes, continues.

“But no. Uh-uh. No siree Bob. Wouldn’t do it. Fessed up to his part in it; said so at every stage in that long legal process. Said the ex-wife had come up with the whole idea, but he’d participated in the selling, and he’d done it willingly. And he STILL got off! Guess it just shows what they say about honesty, right Mrs. Lang? You did such a GREAT job raising this man! I just hope when I become a mama I’ll be a TENTH as good at it as you.”

Molly pauses in her thoughts to parse the dreadful possibilities of the “when” in that last sentence. She glances to the side at Sean. He seems to be just as clueless as he often is.

Molly looks back at Denise. Then she motions for Denise to lend her her drink. Molly takes a sip. It’s all mixers.

About bbcstudiowrites

This blog is me archiving the BBC Studio Writers Workshop.

Posted on April 24, 2013, in Fiction, Seattle, Short Stories and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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