Clouds settle corpselike over the first day of spring while a slow shadow covers his yard in a desaturating film that makes the early blooming buttercups by the mailbox seem drab. Not bothering to do whatever it is he walked out onto the porch to do — check that very mailbox, perhaps — he turns and walks back inside, latching the door behind him as a measure to preserve the hues of the indoors, those rich beiges and topes.
Someone is laughing loudly in a distinctly Bronx accent on the TV, and he turns it off almost without breaking stride.
His mother, when she was still alive, used to sit in the lounge chair by the window, the home shopping network on max volume while she conjectured wildly about the weather and its subsequent effect on her various joints. He had to hide her credit card after a while, as neither of them had any use for the myriad kitchen utensils and miracle blankets which arrived often enough for him to establish a rapport with the UPS man, who agreed wholeheartedly that the folks on those home shopping networks were downright predatory towards the elderly, but hell, they probably kept him in a job, too.
How many would be unemployed, he wondered, were forcing others into mistakes and then fixing said mistakes not our two great economic pillars. Upon which had he built his own fortune?
Taking a moment to stare at the china cabinet that housed her collection of commemorative I Love Lucy plates, he remembers hating the moment he noticed that his mother had become her mother; it was when she pulled off her sock to show him how swollen her foot had become on that particular day. It was a Tuesday.
“Can you believe that?” she asked rhetorically, motioning to the purple veins that, for all he knew, could have been a perfect replica of a Berlin subway map.
In that moment, he wished he could become his father: absent.
In some ways he had always distrusted the institution of motherhood. To him, he fact that a baby essentially held the mother hostage for nine months and put her through ungodly amounts of pain rendered the concept of motherly love little more than a flavor of Stockholm syndrome. It was only later that he realized how this was to be repaid, and just who was keeping whom captive.
He walks into the kitchen to put a kettle on for tea that he would only ever drink a few sips of, but which will keep his hands warm long enough for the space heater in the den to rest for a spell. He refused to be the vision of his mother, sitting there with a blanket draped over her lap, a blanket which never got washed and, he didn’t like to think about, was probably mildewing in the hall closet. He hadn’t opened that closet in years.
All this is not to say that he can’t afford the heat, he just doesn’t spend an extravagant amount on it. Don’t let the body get too comfortable. That’s always been a motto.
It was the height of irony, he realized, that he spent nearly two decades of post-doctoral years working as fertility specialist at a series of institutes and clinics around Research Triangle. Irony was allowed to be intentional though, wasn’t it?
He stood in front of his refrigerator looking at the postcards he had been sent from friends and family. He made a habit of never keeping a postcard on the fridge from a location he himself had visited, and he had removed very few over the years. The one from the Amish Country came from his mother, who had travelled by bus with her church widow’s club to watch a Christian theater group put on a musical rendition of the story of Jonah, replete with animatronic whale.
As good as anything you’ll see on Broadway, she had assured him. He had never been there either, but somehow still doubted her.
The best aspect of his job, he always thought, was that he worked deep in a laboratory most of the time, and never actually met with or spoke to or had any interaction with the people whose children he was in charge of coaxing into existence, save for the handling (although never directly) of their sperm and eggs. All for the best, he’d smile; he was at least a good parent, a neutral parent, in the deistic fathering construct of his fancy.
With no progeny all his own, this gives him great comfort, to know he had a greater role in the continuation of the species that most procreators, and was certainly better qualified. It wasn’t all clinical, either. Sometimes he would even talk to the petri dishes, giving them the news of the world and the latest sports scores, careful not to present any biases, save for hopefully imparting a prenatal and preternatural hatred for the Chicago Cubs. Nature, he conceded, sometimes needed to be helped along.
He used to be much grimmer in his outlook on his occupation. Daily, his thoughts would boil over until he had to pause in his work and collect himself. Steadied, he would go back to the microscope slide or petri dish and wonder just what sort of parents those cells might belong to, what sort of human beings, because what they were the child would become.
His mind would flicker over the scenes of his own youth, which were not so much openly oppressive as passively indoctrinating — a verdict he had reached after much deliberation — and wondered, playing the advocate of the other side now, just how and when parents had somehow hit upon the idea that children were theirs. Who’s to doom the child of the bigot to become one himself? Why must the working class father be able to instill in his son a distrust of the intellectual, and the academic father able to do the same with a condescension toward manual labor?
Keep an open mind, he might say to them, and be careful who you let fill it. Now go on!
Sometimes, he thought, an empty mind is preferable to one so carelessly jaded.
He spent a lot of his working hours concocting his own Freudian theories on childhood. He believed for the longest time that the prevalence of modern epidurals had dulled the mother-child connection. After all, it was only when something caused you such immense pain that it was worth protecting.
Maybe, he thinks, in that instance, he could understand Cubs fans. He chuckles.
The kettle shrieks. He pours the boiling water over a teabag, removing it almost as soon as his cup is full — strong coffee, weak tea, he had heard someone once say. He walks back into the living room and sits down in the lounge chair by the window. He puts up his feet, veined and swollen, and turns the TV back on, lowering the volume ever so slightly.