When he got home, Nathan found his mom's sticky note stuck to the Frigidaire, "be back tonight out playing bingo. IOU 50$" he tore it up, threw it away and emptied the overflowing trash can. His mother had left again, as she always did, and taken a substantial portion of his pay check with her. Sure she won every once in a while but rather than drive back with a little extra cash she would come back with a carton of Virginia Slims or one and a half bottles of Malibu Coconut. She came home at eleven thirty that Wednesday, having opted for the Coconut this time around. She spilled and sloshed her way up the stairs and into the apartment, the alcohol in her breath threatening to start an explosive relationship with the burning filter of the cigarette that was clinging so desperately to her lower lip.
Startled, Nathan jumped out of bed and grabbed for the Louisville slugger that lived behind the door, but stopped when he realized that the drunken ruckus was attached to his mother's voice and went out to escort her to her room. He didn't say a word, only listened to her drunken babble, about how she couldn't wish for a better son, how great he was to her, how one day she will win big and they could afford college, how they would soon be living in that big house that they deserved all along. "Remember to take care of yourself," she said, "Always make sure you take care of yourself."
"Always make sure you take care of yourself." These words rung in Nathan's head as he went to bed. They kept him up late, echoing through his mind, louder than his thoughts, overpowering the already useless stress management techniques they taught him at work. His mind was violent, but his body so tired from work that the baseball bat stayed where it was, and he fell asleep with his eyes open, staring at the tropical tapestry that hung above his bed.
* * *
As he lay there staring at the ceiling he thought a lot about the great woman that was his mother. She operated at extremes, she always has, extremes of compassion, selfishness, protectiveness, and total disregard for those around her. As a child she fiercely defended him from the drunken, abusive flurry of words and fists that came home every day at five thirty. On countless occasions she would play hide and seek with nathan at five fifteen, only to lock him in the closet, away from his father's club like fists, leaving her to absorb all of the spiteful drunken emotions that he had for the two of them. Nathan heard all of this, every time, and pretended to believe the stories his mother told to explain it "Me and daddy were acting, just going over the lines of the play." But in the depths of his five year old heart he knew the real story, and knew why from time to time she cooked breakfast, peering through swollen, slit like eyes, and started shaking when his father entered the room.
"Always remember to take care of yourself," she would say, "its harder than you think".
As everyone grew older, things started to change, Nathan started saving money with his mother in preparation to leave, and his father, calmed down a lot. He was still a drunk, but his raging anger turned into quiet mumbling and more empty bottles. He was turning purple, slowly dying, but he was no longer a threat, just a miserable pathetic excuse for a man, a two hundred fifty pound paperweight for the sagging, creaky lazy boy in the living room. He would be left behind when the two of them moved on to start up the new life that they had quietly been wishing for all those years.
They did eventually find the happiness that they were looking for in a place of their own, but it didn't last forever. His mother, once strong and protective, became clingy an afraid. She could barley handle being left alone, and was terrified of the prospect of her son going to college and leaving her behind. "Why don't you stay here?" she would say, "Please don't leave me behind, anything but that, please." She said this every day throughout Nathan's senior year, nagging and guilt tripping him until he abandoned his plans, and his hope and settled on getting a job and apartment of his own less than a half hour away.
These plans didn't last long, left to her own devices, Nathan's mom stopped paying rent and started to gamble. It was about a year until she got evicted, and Nathan had to start convincing girls that his mother lived with him, not the other way around. It wasn't too long after that that she stopped working and started to leech money from him and his accounts, buying fancy groceries, she almost bought a Cadillac, but was stopped by the dealer when they realized the account and credit information was by no stretch of the imagination hers. Now though most of it was used up, no more spa treatments, and she only got in one trip to Europe. Now she was reduced to Bingo and booze, and Nathan was reduced to working two shifts at two different Best Buys on opposite sides of town.
* * *
At five in the morning, Nathan awoke for the second time that night as the fire alarm wailed and flashed red lights, ridding the palm trees of their tranquility and turning them into one of Sargent Killgore's napalm fantasy's. Nathan just lay there still and silent, in an uneasy balance between apathy, and confidence that it was yet another false alarm. They kept on flashing and the faint smell of smoke crept into the room and grew stronger until it was as though he were lying in a barbecue pit. The smell of smoke grew stronger and stronger to the point where it was getting hard for him to breathe. Slowly Nathan got out of bed, and put on his blue polyester polo and a pair of ironed khakis, and walked to the kitchen.
The flames were starting to be seen, the were coming through the heat vents in the walls of the kitchen. His thoughts turned immediately to his mother who was in the next room, passed out from the night before while listening to a the Bee-Gees on repeat through the $300 head phones she had bought a few weeks ago. "They were only $280 with your discount" she said, but it didn't matter, he didn't care anymore, it was all so insignificant compared to the $30,000 he needed for one years worth of the college he couldn't go to. His mother was good for things like that, good at keeping her son "grounded in reality," as she liked to say.
Nathan stood in front of her door for a long time, staring at her, fully clothed, mouth open sleeping on top the covers with all of the remaining alcohol spilt on the floor, making the room smell like bad perfume on a middle aged woman with a drinking problem. She was gone, completely oblivious to her surroundings, to the cacophony of alarms, sirens,and her own snoring that was raging around her. Nathan, thought back to his childhood, and his adulthood, and all the things his mother taught him, and how now here she was, like his father, drunk, pathetic, and mumbling to herself in her sleep. Sure she never meant harm, but she also no longer meant good, she had lost meaning.
Nathan had to leave for work soon, and he knew it would take him a little longer than usual, it was snowing out, so the roads would be bad, and the bus would be late. He deserved better he thought, but that would have to wait. The room was full of smoke now, it was impossible to ignore, Nathan had to crouch low just to breath tolerable air. Nathan saw his opportunity at freedom from what this woman had become, freedom to finally go off and do something with his life. He grabbed the fire extinguisher and, muting the Bee-Gees, placed it next to his mothers bed with seventy dollars and some motel's phone number taped to the handle, and left to go to work and give his two weeks notice.