I pretend I am sick so I can stay home from school and be with my mother. It’s not like she ever does anything exciting. She cleans and talks alot on the phone. She watches TV, and I like TV.
I fake a myriad of illnesses – stomach virus, stiff neck, sore throat, ear ache. Whatever it takes to get her to question my health and keep me from wearing that stupid uniform for the day.
Sometimes, I’ll go to sleep with the idea already in my head. And by the early morning, that idea becomes so strong a need, I feel like I can’t possibly leave her.
Daddy’s alarm clock rings in the middle of the night. I listen for the sound of his heavy belt buckle as he steps back into the pants he’s removed just three or four hours earlier. He runs water in the bathroom sink and brushes his teeth. He loosens the phlegm in his throat, spits it into the toilet and leaves it there, floating. He takes his gun from the top of the refrigerator. I watch from the stairs as he pulls his coat on and closes the front door behind him. I imagine him walking to the subway in the darkness. I wait for the sound of the train that takes him to places he’d rather be.
“Mommy.” I stand in front of her side of the bed. “I don’t feel good.”
She reaches over and pats at the empty pillow, still damp with my father’s drool.
“Did he leave?” she asks.
“Is the door locked?”
“C’mere to me,” she says, pulling my body close to her warm skin and resting the palm of her hand against my forehead.
“You do feel warm,” which is exactly what happens when you rub your face back and forth on the carpet in the hallway.
She draws back the quilt so I can climb in next to her.
“Do I have a fever?” I ask. I want one very badly. I don’t care if I come across it dishonestly. Running a temperature means I can write my own ticket. Eat soup and toast with jelly in my bed. The collapsible metal tray makes me feel like more like a patient and less like a burden. Color and do puzzles in my bed. Mommy will send Judy to school with a note for my teacher. I’ll even get to do homework in my bed.
When she doesn’t respond to my question right away, I begin to panic.
“Can’t I please stay home with you?” I cup my hand over my mouth and start to cough, hoping this makes my condition seem more severe. I wish I could make myself throw up. Then she’d have to believe that I’m telling the truth.
* Artwork: The Murmur of the Innocents, 13