Ma’s house was a standard two story with an attic of boxed up memories and two empty bedrooms. It was an old house with dividing doors between the living and dining rooms. The hardwood floors creaked in the winter and sometimes Ma would still catch a glimpse of the old woman whose ghost crept around the bathroom.
Photos of Freddie and his siblings, Claire and Layne, were displayed throughout every room. A couple of their half sister, Deb, could also be seen, though, not as prominently.
Ma’s children were her gift and curse.
Deb was six when Layne killed himself and Freddie had to be sent to the psych unit for the first time. She was seven when Claire began cutting and they discovered Freddie’s night terrors. When she was eight, her dad divorced Ma and sued for sole custody and due to Freddie and Claire’s behavior and the history of drug abuse in the house… he got it.
Ma was sent updated photos of Deb for a while and they stayed in contact over the phone and occasional letters, but nothing so substantial Ma would call it a comfortable mother-daughter relationship.
Even so, Ma was a mother. She cooked nightly so her kitchen smelled amazing and the fridge always packed. Her laundry machines were in constant use between herself, Freddie, and Claire; though Claire did her own whereas Freddie would drop off a garbage bag of stinking clothes and pickup them up fresh and folded.
She only wanted the best for her kids… though she wondered often, where she went wrong.
A simple answer was to blame their father. A handsome drug addict who was abusive when he was loaded and became worse as they got older, Roy Nelson swooned Ma off her feet shortly after high school and knocked her up before their wedding and was gone after six years of marriage. Layne took the brunt of Roy’s anger only once. He’d smacked Layne for leaving his bike out and Ma backed Roy into a corner and told him that if he ever touched her kids again, she’d kill him. Freddie’s memories of his father were dark and what he did remember resembled Layne’s behavior so much, his memories were too blurry to tell the difference.
If their father was to blame, then it was bad blood he’d passed on to them because the environment didn’t explain Claire. She was only two when Roy left, but she had the same gray eyes as the boys.
Bad blood and gray eyes.
That’s the gift Roy Nelson gave his kids.
She loved her children, but sometimes they didn’t feel like hers. Layne was the spitting image to Roy and Claire and Freddie got her brown, nearly black hair, but the rest seemed to come from their father. People were quick to point out that both shared her humanitarian heart and, though, they had been in fights, neither ever aimed to hurt anyone, but themselves.
The teapot whistled high and strong, pressing the lid fully into the air.
Ma snapped back to the reality of sitting alone at the kitchen table. Her fingers had tightened around an empty mug.
Her closing thought was a reflection of what she’d hoped each of her kids’ eyes would have been.
A clan of dark hair and green eyes; sweet dreams and occasional nightmares; no therapy visits, only family dinners; and grandchildren accompanying her children to dinner, rather than her children, too poor to feed to themselves, coming to dinner.
Ma sighed and poured her tea.