That Slight, Slight Noise This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

August 22, 2012
By
Ring. Ring.

I flushed the commode, washed my hands, and dashed into my room to catch the phone on its fourth and final ring.

“Hello?”

“Hey, Mary, it’s Mommy.”

“Oh, hey. How are you?”

There was a near inaudible sigh. “I’m fine. How are you?”

“I’m good. So, how’s everything going?”

That slight, slight sigh again. “Oh, it’s okay. I was calling you because I got this email address. You can send me a message, I won’t be able to reply, but you can email me telling me to call you or something.” Her words nearly slurred, but the thought that she might be drinking faded quickly, because I wanted it to.

“Oh, okay, cool.”

“All right.” I jotted the information on one of the pink Post-Its that decorated my desk. “Okay, got it.”

“If you have time tonight, email me and I’ll call you later to tell you if I got the message. I’m not sure how it’s supposed to work.”

“Sure, I’ll email you. So how are Uncle Paul’s kids?” My mom babysat for her brother’s two elementary-school children.

“Oh, they’re good.” There was another slight sound in the background. I could hear, or maybe I just imagined, her molars grinding or her lips smacking. “Shelly and Jacob brought home their report cards to-day.”

“Oh, yeah? How’s the weather? Is it cold yet?”

Those slight, slight pauses. “Yeah, well, it was 30 degrees this morning.”

“Oh, wow,” I said, knowing I was the patronizing California daughter. Thirty degrees did sound cold, but so did a lot of things. “Did you know Grandma and Grandpa Snyder came to visit?” I wanted to suck my words back in as quickly as I said them. It was hardly a big deal that my dad’s parents came to visit – they often did – but Mom had been wanting to see us lately.

“Oh, yeah, Steve told me. Are they still there?”

“No, they left Tuesday.”

“So are you guys still trying to come out during winter break?”

“Oh, I think so. We’re still trying, but we have to start paying for car insurance soon. And then, I went to take my license test, but they told me I need driver’s training since I’m under 18, so now we have to sign up for six hours of classes and it’s more than a hundred bucks for each of us.”

“Yeah.” I heard what annoyed me, but what I liked to pay attention to: those slight, slight personal noises.

“Well, I’d really like to see you guys.”

“Yeah, me, too. I’d really like to go down there soon.”

“I’d like to visit you guys in California.”

“Yeah,” I said, almost uncomfortable. There was what was best for everyone, and then there was what meant a couple of weeks of smiles between welcoming and departing tears.

“Oh, yeah, I wanted to tell you guys, with my disability, you should be able to apply for more grants. I was trying to work it out for Steven, but with you it’d be easier just to list me as your parent. Because with Dad and Christine’s salaries …”

“It’s too much for scholarships!” I interrupted with a laugh, and then wondered if I shouldn’t wish to suck back that comment and laughter, too.

“Yeah. ’Cause I’m not getting anything. Someone should get something outta my disability.”

I giggled again, pretending her comment was a joke. My laughter covered those slight noises.

“So anyway, could you remind Daddy to get my Section Eight application? I left him a message but …”

“Yeah, sure.”

“You know what, maybe you could get it. Just call up the welfare office and ask for housing authority.”

I scribbled on a pink Post-It as my eyes let me know they’d enjoy tears spilling out. “Okay,” I said, thinking I controlled my voice.

“All right, honey.” She yawned in the background. “I’m going to let you go now; I need to get to bed.”

“Yeah, it’s late over there, huh?” I tried to steady my wobbling voice as shady, transparent thoughts of my mother’s, not just lost potential, but wasted and solid talent was made apparent through this phone call.

“Yeah. I need to wake up at six.”

“Well, all right, Mommy.”

“Good night, honey. I love you.”

“I love you, too. Good night! Take care.”

“All right.”

I hung up and went back to the bathroom to continue my shower. I looked in the mirror as my face began to scrunch, trying to squeeze out the tears. Ridiculous black tears trickled down my cheeks. Earlier that night I had reveled in perfecting my Halloween make up.

I hopped in the shower and sobbed, hardly weeping though. My face continued to scrunch, in sobs and in laughter as I thought cynically about my little moment. My pitiful mother, my pitiful mother, it’s so sad, all that could have been of her life. I know plenty of other people with such wasted potential, but this is my mother. But you’re a lucky girl if your biggest problem is being sad about your mother … Yes, lucky, thank you, Lord, I know so many people have it worse than me, but stop crying, oh, now you’re laughing, yes?

My face convulsed again as I realized how uncommitted I was to this moment, this being one of the very few times I cried and wanted to let “it” all out. But let what all out, my mind demanded. Where is this crying getting you? How is this not just a big distraction (oh, the evils of the word!) from all the things you’d like to accomplish?

I knew I’d write this all down, and I laughed, but what might have been audible was drowned by the shower. I bet you’re just clinging to this moment because you just want something to write about, my mind insisted. I laughed and sobbed again.

I got out of the shower and brushed my teeth. I smudged the mist on the mirror so I could see my face. I was always interested in how my face looked before, during, and after a good cry. I liked my wrinkled brow and ruddy complexion against the white, white bathroom walls.

I went into my room and saw my computer waiting for me, waiting for me to process my little conversation-turned-moment into neat, black words.

Oh, but my curling hair can’t wait. Before I blow-dried it quickly, I tried to reflect more on my mom’s misfortune, but I’d already mentally and emotionally filed that experience under “Not-Really-A-Big-Deal.” I was disappointed in, but proud of, myself. My, what large emotional defenses you have, I thought. I grinned at my still-wrinkled brow and still-pink face. It contrasted nicely with the beige, beige walls of my bedroom.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.






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