Ben shares his bedroom with the resident demons. The lights flicker on and off, the TV set goes on and off, on and off, like a strobe light—all by itself. Ben’s not doing it. Ben’s not making it happen. And he just can’t take it. And even worse, his Mother/Angel/Older Woman (Claudia? Heidi? Claudia?) comes to him at night. She pushes the hair off his forehead and strokes his hand.
“You need to move, baby,” she says.
Ben groans. He rolls over on his side.
“I’m not going anywhere.”
The older woman climbs into bed with him. She strokes his back and tickles him.
“You need to move, baby.”
Ben climbs out of bed.
The Older Woman—his mother, his angel, his lover—is just an illusion. A hallucination. In other words, she’s not real. And the whispering voices in his head—her voice, so soothing, so insistent—they aren’t real, either. (Are they, Dr C? Tell me they’re not, Dr C.)
He brushes his teeth. He stares at his reflection in the mirror. His hair is dirty, and he could use a shave. He ducks his head, spits into the sink, and straightens up again. His angel, his mother, his lover is standing there behind him—she’s smiling into the mirror at him.
“This house isn’t good for you, baby,” she says.
How is he supposed to listen to an illusion? Better to listen to his Perplexity. He tries to just ignore her. But it isn’t easy.
She pokes the back of his head. Hard. She tells him: “I am not an illusion.”
He continues the attempt to ignore her.
“You’re not going to be able to ignore me forever,” she says.
Maybe not forever, Ben thinks, but for as long as I need to.
“And how long is that going to be?” his illusion asks.
How the hell is he supposed to get the voices out of his head when they can read his every thought? When they know what he’s thinking even before he does?
“Not every voice,” she says. “Just me. And trust me, Benjy, you need to move out of this house.”
She pauses for dramatic effect.
“It’s haunted.” The demon mother snickers. “I know. Because I’m haunting it.”
He knew it. He knew it all along. The fucking place really is haunted.
“With demons?” he asks.
“With memories,” she tells him.
He would rather have demons.
“Who wouldn’t?” she says. “Memories are so much harder to get rid of.”
Ben twitches and tics, bobbing his head to the right and then the left and then forward. He raises his right eyebrow and grimaces.
“You don’t like memories, do you, baby?”
You’re just an illusion! Only a hallucination! Georgie silently screams. I don’t have to listen to you, because you’re not real.
Still twitching and ticcing madly, he heads into the kitchen for an energy drink. His illusion follows right behind, tsk-tsking the entire way.
“Caffeine,” she says, “is the absolute worst thing for tic-in’.”
“I know that,” Ben says, sniffing. He sniffs so hard that he seriously worries, for a second, that his brains will leak right out of his ears.
“Stupid, stupid, stupid,” his illusion says.
“Shut up,” Ben tells her.
But she ignores him. “First,” she says, “Ya don’t have brains. Ya have a brain. And it won’t leak out yer ears from sniffin’. The only way it’ll leak out is if ya decide to shoot yourself in the head. Then it’ll leak out, that’s for sure. Out yer ears, out yer nose—do ya wanna try?”
His illusion is even crazier than he is! It figures, doesn’t it? John Nash gets a CIA operative for his illusion; Ben gets a cross between Carol Kane and Sandra Bernhardt, neither of whom appeal to him sexually, and neither are the least bit emotionally stable.
His illusion, dressed in white gossamer, appears directly in front of him. Is she some kind of succubus, or incubus, or whatever? Which one is which? He can’t remember.
She clears her throat. “What I said,” she says, “is: Would ya like to try?”
Okay, okay, okay—now he knows she’s an illusion. Now he knows she is not real. Which means that he’s on dangerous ground. The more you talk to an illusion, a hallucination, the stronger it becomes. And still he can’t help himself. Shut up! Just shut up! he tries to tell himself. But the words are out of his mouth before he’s had a chance to think.
“Try what?” he asks.
His illusion, his gossamer mother–angel hands him a blue steel, white grip .38 special. “Blowin’ yer head off,” she says. “Watchin’ yer brain leak out yer nose and ears. Ya wanna try it, Ben? Ya really wanna?”
She presses the gun into his hands. “Nobody’ll know,” she says. “Yer all alone. Who’s to know?”
She is the devil. She’s a demon, Ben tells himself. He’s got to stop talking to her. He’s got to stop listening to her—or she’ll catch him in her spell, and she will kill him. So Ben backs away from the apparition, letting the gun slip from his hands down to the floor. His angel/demon/mother picks it up. She presses the sleek, cold blue steel grip back into his hands again—and smiles at him.
He just now notices her crooked teeth. They’re yellow and snaggled, sharp-edged. Her crooked teeth scare him. He shudders. He fights the urge to hop—first on his left foot, then on his right. First left, then right. Like reading left to right. Left to right. He’s going to hop; he’s going to tic. He’s got to. He’s going to.
The teeth, the breath—they’re his mother’s—and that’s his mother’s lipstick smeared on the enamel. His mother scares him. She’s always scared him. But somehow, he just can’t get rid of her. He just can’t get away from her.
He wants to go home. But he is home. There’s nowhere left to go. Why not? Why not pick up the gun? Wasn’t it his mother who always said to him:
“Benjy, if ya wanna check out, now, remembah: Check out fast. No drugs. No hangin’ yerself. Ya jump, Benj—from the 32nd floor. An yull never live to tell about it.” Then she laughs. She screeches. She cackles.
And Ben knows now—his mother was a witch. She had these long, pointed fingers. Her nails were always filed sharp, like claws; they were always grabbing at him, digging into his flesh.
Is she really dead? Ben wants to know, or only living dead? Ben prays: Oh Lord, please hear my prayer. Kill her, Lord. Kill her so I don’t have to. Please, Lord. Don’t make me kill my own mother.
And then Ben flashes back to another memory of his mother:
They’re in the Hamptons. It’s 1987, and Ben is 11 years old. Mom has gotten heavier, this year she’s up to 250 pounds, at least. She wears this massive, red-striped bathing suit with a white gossamer cover-up. She floats, bounces, and galumphs into his bedroom, night after night. She’s crying. Always crying.
“Ya don’ know what it’s like, Benjy. Ya really don’ know what it’s like—when yer husband decides ta leave ya.”
He loves his mother. He really doesn’t want to see her cry. He will do whatever she needs to get her to stop crying. Stop crying.
He sits up in bed. The blankets slip from his skinny, naked, 11-year-old chest. His mother is sprawled at the end of the bed, sobbing.
“He’s leavin’ me, Benjy,” she moans. “He’s leavin’ me. I just know.”
“Mother, don’t cry,” he begs. “Please don’t cry. Please.”
She creeps him out. She makes him shudder—but she is his mother. She buries her head in her hands. She sobs; he sees her giant bosom heaving.
She sobs and heaves. And Ben watches. He watches the sleeves of her nightgown slip off her bare shoulders, exposing the top of her breast, the massive brown areola. He doesn’t know what to do. He can’t remember ever seeing her breasts before. He wants her to cover them back up, but she’s crying, crying—and she won’t stop.
“What’ll I do, Benjy?” she pleads. “Where will I go?”
He hates to hear his mother cry. It’s worse than hearing his sister cry, and almost as bad as hearing his father cry. Mothers shouldn’t cry, he thinks. They should be happy. Happy always.
“He’s the only man I ever loved, Benjy,” she whimpers. “What’m I gonna do?”
Ben doesn’t know what she’s going to do next. He just wishes she’d cover her breasts; he doesn’t want to see them. He shouldn’t have to see them. They’re gross and too big—and scary. My mother’s breasts are scary.
“And the only man who ever touched me,” she moans, “like that. Oh, Benjy.”
Ben thinks about his father touching his mother. He thinks about the porn mags and all those exposed pussies—those wide-open pussies. And he thinks about his father touching his mother . . . like that, there. He thinks about his father fucking his mother. And putting that . . . there. It’s gross. Oh God, it’s gross. Ben knows it’s gross, but he is still getting a hard-on. He can feel it tenting his pajama bottoms. He wishes his mother would leave. Just go away. Go away, mother.
Instead, she flops to her stomach across the bed. Her hand rests on Ben’s thigh. Her fingers are cold, her nails sharp. Ben can feel them scratching, tattooing his skin. Groineology. They’re massaging his legs, working their way up—they’re moving toward his balls, his dick—his shaft. Oh God she’s touching . . . that. He groans.
Ben tries to move away, but his mother’s hand holds him tight. She begins to stroke him.
“Your father,” she says, “was the only man who ever touched me.” Her voice drops. “Sexually, I mean.”
Ben wants his mother to stop, but he’s paralyzed. It’s like he’s turned to stone—he can’t talk. He can’t move. Not even when his mother slithers up his body. Not even when his mother’s naked breasts smash against his bare chest. Not even when she kisses his neck and drags her tongue across his bare skin, and slides her mouth down his chest, to his belly, to his cock. Not even when she takes him in her mouth and begins sucking on him. And not even when, a few seconds later, he cums with a spasm and a shudder that shakes his entire body, leaving him ashamed and humiliated, wishing he was dead.
Even then, Ben can’t say a word. He can’t even move a muscle. It’s like he’s dead-invisible. He’s floating high above the world. He watches his mother discreetly cough into her hand and deposit the prepubescent cum she’s sucked from him onto her fingers.
“Oh, my,” she says, tugging the straps of her nightgown back over her shoulders. “Oh my.”
And Ben, still floating high above the whole world, doesn’t know why she’s saying, Oh my, oh my—like that. He doesn’t know why she keeps repeating herself. He doesn’t know why she won’t leave and go back to her own room.
She slides off the bed. She readjusts her nightgown. She flips her hair behind her ears.
“Benjy,” she says. “What we did right now—I don’t want you thinking there was anything wrong with that. I was just giving you a bit of relief. Okay, honey?”
Ben still can’t talk.
“The thing is, though, baby . . .” his mother stops. She bites her lips, lowers her brow—still searching, Ben thinks, for just the right word. His mother’s like that. She always wants exactly the right word.
“So, okay,” she finally says. “The thing is, some people—your father included—don’t always understand how things are between mothers and sons. So, I’m not saying don’t tell anyone. I’m just saying you probably should be kind of careful about who you do tell—because I know you, Benjy. And I know how you never want anyone to . . . disapprove of you.” His mother waits, then adds, “Or be mad.”
(Parenthetical Pet Peeve) People who start a conversation with, “I don’t mean this the wrong way, but . . .” or “I’m telling you for your own good.”
Ben says nothing. His stomach is in knots, remembering how it feels, when people disapprove of you, when somebody is mad at you—when nobody is happy with him.
“Or not even talk to you anymore.”
Ben can’t take it. He starts crying.
“For God’s sake, Benjy, lighten up,” his mother says. Then she takes his nose between her fingers and twists. Affectionately. But it hurts.
Ben’s tears fall harder.
His mother, her nightgown slipping from her shoulder again, bounces out of the room.
“Lighten up, baby. Life is just too fucking short to go through it all hang-dog. Know what I’m saying?”
And then she’s gone.
The room is quiet and Ben can’t stop thinking about her. Mother. I did that with my mother, or she did that to me.
He thinks about how his mother goes to every single one of his Little League games, and he thinks about how she bakes chocolate brownies from scratch, and makes fudge sundaes with vanilla ice cream and hot fudge sauce. He remembers how on his ninth birthday she took him and three of his friends to McDonald’s, and then over to Coney Island, even though she said that nothing but niggers and spics ever went to Coney Island these days. He remembers how his mother, when she bandages his knees, kisses them with her mouth open, to suck out the germs, slathers them with medicine, and then sticks colored Band Aids all over them. She’s a good mother, Ben thinks. A mother who loves me—a mother who takes good care of me. She doesn’t smack me around like my buddy Luke’s mother. I’m lucky, Ben thinks. I have a mother who loves me like that.
Finally, Ben falls asleep, still thinking about how his mother loves him and how his father is leaving them both.
Tough writing session today, but I remain centered and balanced. I do miss the beach though. I used to go there a lot to feel centered. Water seems to ground me.
© Jonathan Harnisch 2014
Jonathan Harnisch: An Alibiography