Remnants of the Nest
by Gregory E. Lucas
Part 1 appears
in this issue.
“Ignore your mother.”
Ricky stepped out of the room, to the side of his father.
“That’s all your father does. You too,” his mother said to him.
So, it’s somehow also my fault that she’s become a wreck, Ricky thought. Maybe Dad’s right — best to ignore her. But instead he said, “What’s wrong?”
“I wish I knew. That’s what’s wrong.” The crying started up again.
“We’ll be home tonight,” his father said.
Ricky followed his father to the top of the steps, but as his father started down them, Ricky looked back. His mother wilted, and slid down the wall to the floor.
“Go ahead. Neither of you cares about me, unless you want something.”
“No sense talking to her. Let’s go.”
“That’s not true,” Ricky said. Although he wanted to help fix her problems, he couldn’t tolerate her blaming him for her trouble.
“Then why’re you going? You go away whenever I need you.”
“That’s not true, either,” Ricky yelled back.
“See, you’re yelling at me.” She cried hard again. His father ascended the steps. She stopped her tears and pointed at his father. “He yells, too,” she said.
She dropped her arm and stared down at her bare feet. She looked dazed and Ricky felt certain that she’d retreated far into her mind. His father tugged his arm, but Ricky didn’t budge. Instead he leaned closer toward his mother and strained to hear what she mumbled: “Why can’t I? Why can’t I just...”
Maybe she doesn’t even know that she’s speaking.
She fixed her vision inward, he could tell, on memories and mysterious figments swirling in the corners of her mind.
“Why can’t you what?” Ricky said.
His father tugged him again, harder. His father’s grip on his bicep hurt, but Ricky waited for his mother to answer.
She looked up at Ricky and emerged from her inner world. “Oh Ricky, so sorry... so... was all my fault.”
“Let’s go,” his father said. He released Ricky’s arm.
His mother’s abrupt changes frightened him even more than they confused him, but he stayed determined to fathom her meaning, so he asked again, “Why can’t you what?”
She looked into his eyes. “Find my way out.” She stared intensely at his father then, too. Confusion spread across his father’s face.
“Find your way out of where?” his father said.
So many times, over the past year Ricky had seen despair grip her like a rip current and pull her farther and farther out to sea; he had seen her futile attempts to swim ashore; they had so exhausted her that she no longer possessed the strength or the will to return to land.
“She means she can’t get back to the way she used to be,” Ricky said.
His father stared at him. Ricky saw fear flash in his father’s eyes. “You don’t know what you’re saying.”
But Ricky knew that his father had only denied that he was right because his father didn’t like that he understood more than anyone would have supposed.
“He’s right,” his mother said. She dropped her head and clawed at her jeans.
None of them said anything for the longest time. Ricky wanted to extend his hand to her, help her up, but he stuffed his hands deep into his pockets. His father hardly looked her way and huffed twice with impatience.
Why won’t Dad help her up, tell her that he’s forgiven her, tell her that it won’t take long for good times to come back? And Ricky wondered what kept himself from helping her up and saying comforting words.
The vicious current carried all three of them away from the shore, and he kept trying to swim toward his mother, but the current remained stronger than him, stronger than any of them. No matter how hard any of them swam, they couldn’t reach each other.
“What do you mean he’s right? He’s only a kid.”
“I wasn’t always like this, was I?” his mother said.
Ricky didn’t answer. She said, “He remembers us when we held hands and watched TV together, when we cheered at Little League games and when we strolled through Longwood Gardens. Remember what you told me in the garden? You told me how much—”
“What’s it matter?”
“Told me how much you loved me,” she said. A glaze softened her eyes.
“It’s all past,” his father said.
Help her up, Ricky told himself, but he couldn’t rid himself of the resentment that prevented him from doing it.
“It doesn’t matter anymore?” Ricky said.
His father appeared stunned by the question. “I’ll be in the truck,” his father said and then hurried down the steps.
“What do you mean it doesn’t matter?” Ricky said.
The injuries to Ricky’s skin burned. He put his hand underneath his T-shirt and touched the scraped skin. It hurt worse when he touched the wounds.
“Mom, what did he mean?”
She looked dazed.
Ricky listened for the birds, but only silence greeted his ears until his father banged shut the front door. He yearned for the tree full of bird songs while his father revved the truck’s engine and impatiently honked the horn. He pictured the birds pecking at the destroyed eggs at the bottom of the tree. The cardinals’ cold indifference to the destruction of their home intruded on his recollections of the happy chirping that he had once enjoyed.
His mother wallowed in despair on the floor while he summoned his strength for one more attempt to free himself of the current. The current lost its grip on him. He had one last chance to reach her before she drowned, and he extended his hand to her.
She looked at him, horrified. He kept his hand out as more horror spread across her face. He told himself to lean closer. As long as he kept his hand extended, he felt hope.
The horn honked again.
“Blood,” she said.
He turned his fingertips around, so that he could see them.
“You’re hurt,” she said.
He pulled his hand in and out of his pocket rapidly, trying to clean the blood off. With the other hand, bloody too, he hoisted his backpack onto his shoulders.
“It doesn’t matter.”
The riptide snagged him again. It swept him down the steps and out the front door. The tide was overpowering.
His father stuck his sinister face out of the pickup truck’s rolled down window and shouted. “Ricky, get the hell in the truck — now!”
His father’s command, no matter how forcefully shouted, was nothing in comparison to the force of the tide that now carried Ricky faster and further away from the driveway. He’d never known that he could run as fast as he was running now.
Ricky took one quick look back at the driveway. As his father backed the pickup truck out of the driveway, Ricky turned the corner of his block. His backpack thumped against his back while he sprinted around the corner.
Mixed in with the blur of the houses, trees, and yards that he passed, was the cacophony of his father’s shouts — “You’ll pay for this!” — and the pickup truck’s horn, the roaring engine, and even the chirps of startled birds dashing over gray-shingled rooftops.
The pickup truck accelerated. It had almost caught up to Ricky when the course of the tide redirected him. Ricky swerved left, into the middle of the road. In a flash, he imagined his father slamming on the brakes, the pickup truck screeching to a stop a few feet from him, but instead there was only a deafening roar as the pickup truck sped toward him, the impact of the collision, and then everlasting darkness and silence.
Copyright © 2017 by Gregory E. Lucas