by Kurt Hohmann
“Ma! Thanks for coming. Means
a lot to me, you going to all this bother.
“Sorry that chair's not more comfy, what with
your arthritis and all. And it's nailed down tight, like everything else here. You hear
me okay through this mesh? Good.
"Kinda weird, thinking I
gotta catch you up. I mean, when I was little, you always knew everything I was doing. Must have been rough putting me on the
school bus, the way you hated me ever being out of your sight.
"You were so sure I was a gonna be a wild
child. Drinking, smoking, running with boys. I remember seventh grade, that time you broke
your favorite wooden spoon on me. Something you read in my diary, you said. You never did
tell me what. But it taught me to hold my secrets close.
"You taught me so much. I know you were
just looking out for me. Cause you cared. More'n anybody else ever did. The guys here?
I'm sure you talked to a few of 'em when they let you in. They don't care. To them, I'm
just another job.
“Like my new 'do? Ha!
The way you keep staring at me, I know what you're thinking. All those nights you spent
yanking the tangles out when I was a kid, and here I just go, just chopping it all off.
You know what though? New hair, new outfit, new outlook.
“Never known you to be so awful quiet. Not
saying you talk too much, nothing like that. It’s just — well, growing up, the
sound of your voice, it always meant 'home.' Whether you were yelling at me, or Daddy,
“But hey, if you’re
feeling quiet today, that’s okay. Reckon I got enough to say for both of us.
“Had another visitor a few weeks back. Remember
Lyn Hager? We were pretty tight, right up into high school. She looks good. Married, couple
kids, decent job.
"I can’t hardly remember
the last time we got together. She must've been, what, eighteen? When you told her she
was 'too old' to be coming around any more? Of course you were right. I was only sixteen
— she didn’t need to be hanging around a kid my age.
"Surprised the hell out of me, her
starting that fundraiser. Even more surprising to see how many folks pitched in.
“Well, ain't this just a trip down memory lane.
You know what? I really want to thank you. For always kicking my ass back to the right
path. Took years before I figured out what you meant when you said, ‘This hurts
me more than it hurts you.’ Back then, I only knew how much I
“But I reckon it made
an impression. Sometimes a beatin's the best way to get through. Other times, even that's
not enough. You never took no shit from me — pardon my French — and so I learned
never to take it from nobody else. Just how life works. Some folks say it's my
attitude's got me where I am today. If that’s true, then you should maybe
stand up and take a bow.
“You feeling okay?
You look a little pale.
“You were always big
on the whole ‘tough love’ thing. I knew you were gonna flip, that day I came
home and told you I got myself knocked up. I cursed you up and down after you threw me
out. But you taught me to live with my choices. Make my own way in the world.
“That time was tough. No way I
was gonna raise a kid all on my own. And that boy that got me that way? He wanted nothing
to do with it. Or me. So yeah, I got rid of it. Wasn't long after, I got rid of him
too. Guess he was the first.
"When was the last time I saw you?
"Sorry to bring that up.
But you know what? All that stuff you said that day? I thought about that a lot. And like
always, you were right. Probably I did put him in his grave.
"It had to be
hard on him. I mean, he could look real mean when you
were around. But you wanna know a secret? Lots of times, as soon as you left the room,
he'd whisper in my ear. One of his dumb jokes. And we'd both do our damnedest not to laugh
out loud. All that flipping back and forth, mean and nice. It took a toll on him.
"I miss him. A lot. You must be missing
“Some parents, they
praise their kids for every stupid little thing they do. Just makes 'em think the world
owes 'em something, don't it? Not you. You always told me I’d never amount to anything.
And you know what? Made my life a lot easier. Every time some guy took me out, started
talking me up? I knew he was blowing smoke up my...well, you know.
"There was a time I'd do anything I
thought might tick you off. I'd pick up guys just cause I knew you wouldn’t
like 'em. Funny, turns out those were the same kind of guys I later...well, you know. Like
I said, even a beatin' ain't enough for some.
"You really did deserve better. You used to tell
me that every day. That, and how you never wanted me in the first place.
"Time's running short, and I’ve been
chewing your ear off. Next time, maybe you’ll feel more like talking.
"What's the matter? Oh my...you didn't
hear, did you? I can see it on your face. My date with the needle's been put off. The new
lawyer — the one I got through that fundraiser? I guess she got somebody to listen
to her. So no worries. There'll be a next time.
“And hey, it ain't so bad in here. Three
squares a day, and the food's nowhere near as bad as you think. Got a room to myself, and
nobody messes with me. 'Death Row' sounds so ominous, don't it? But shoot, it could be
months, even years, before my number comes up again. If it ever does.
"I still don't see why it's such a big
deal. Seems to me I was doing a public service. They didn't even find but a couple of 'em.
I guess cause nobody even cared enough to report the rest missing. Says a lot, don't it?
"My lawyer says there's holes in the
state's case she could drive a truck through. She's positive she can get my sentence reversed,
and you want to know what else? I might even get out.
"If I do — get out, I mean — you know what
I'm gonna do first? Come visit my Ma. Catch up on old times. No guards, no shackles. Nothing
to come between us.
"Makes me smile, every time I think about that.
Kurt tells stories, builds altars to
ancient gods, and crafts mad culinary experiments. He and his wife share a home with two
living cats, six feline ghosts, and one affectionate python. His work has appeared in Dark
Fire Fiction, Inner Sins, Chantwood, Abstract Jam,
Bookends Review, and Eternal Haunted Summer.