Around 8:30 that evening, Robert’s mom lay under the covers and beside him in his bed.
His head rested on her heaving chest. In her lap, she held an illustrated children’s book so Robert could see the pictures. And she read to him.
He knew a seventeen year old boy shouldn’t lay on his mother’s breasts. He knew a mother shouldn’t read and sing to and tuck in her high school aged child.
But the routine was comforting.
She smelled of perfume hiding cigarette smoke, and mouthwash overpowering cheap wine. She smelled like a hypocrite. Like a fraud. She had always smelled like that.
Robert hated the cowardly odor. But as he lay on her breast and listened to her read, like a dog basking in the sun, he had no room to speak.
So he didn’t say anything. But the anger persisted and spoke poison in his ear. Everyday, the buried remorse pushed him further and further to betrayal. At first, he imagined little things that would irk her. Like not washing her fruit before he served her.
She often preached about the dangers of cellphones and how they cause brain tumors. Or how microwaves caused radiation and cancer. Or when not washing the rinds of a watermelon before cutting them, the knife slices through salmonella and infects the actual fruit.
Robert didn’t believe any of the nonsense, but a deep part of him still feared microwaves, and cellphones, and unwashed fruit. And though he’d never smoked, because he had asthma, nor would he drink, because he had a weak constitution, at least according to his mom, Robert still longed to betray her.
He wanted nothing more than to break away from her overbearing shadow and do something that would turn her lower lip into a quivering mess, her tongue into a sharpened blade that poked at every fault he possessed. He desired the tears that would stream down her face when she realized what he had done.
He imagined her sobs and his sobs as they cried and apologized in bed and fell asleep together as they had when he was a toddler.
Now that he was older, when he fell asleep, she would place the book on the nightstand and hum a lullaby. She’d pray, then leave the room.
Her side of the bed would grow cold. The mixed odors of vice and cowardice lingered for a few moments, but eventually they left too.
“You okay, honey?” she asked him.
Robert nodded, his face smearing across her chest.
She stroked his thick, dark hair. “You’re awful quiet tonight.”
“I’m just tired. I think the school year has caught up to me. Can you read something else?”
She opened the nightstand drawer and removed another illustrated book and began to read.
He thought of their meeting later that night. QP had said ten. Well, Robert would be late. His mom wouldn’t leave the house after nine, so he’d have to sneak out when she fell asleep. That thought excited him.
He wanted his mother to discover that he had snuck away without her permission. That he had put himself in danger without thinking of her. Little would she know, he had only thought of her.
She placed the book on her lap. “Robert,” she said.
“I heard you were around that nasty girl again. What’s her name? Hannah.”
“Savannah. And she’s not a nasty girl. She’s my friend. And she’s nice.”
“Do you know her mother? She’s a whore and a drug addict. And children are products of their parents. That’s why you’re so sweet natured and mild tempered.” She tugged his ear. Playful.
He grinned at the familiar pain. “She’s not like that.”
“She’s a whore. I heard she’s had two abortions already. Which also makes her a murderer. You know that Christ prohibits premarital sex. He also prohibits marrying outside of the faith. You need to find a young woman who loves God as much as you love him.”
“Mom, I’m not interested in dating.”
Robert thought of Tyler when he said that. Still, his statement held truth. Despite his attraction to Tyler, dating meant sharing life, and to Robert, life was as suffocating as his mother’s whims. He found death enticing, and that’s what he courted. Death.
“I just want to be your little boy. Forever.”
She grinned and her face glowed. “You’ll always be my little boy.”
Robert knew that. Even if she discovered his collection, he’d be her little boy. She’d never tell anyone else that her son, sweet little Bobby, collected the heads of birds, the tails of rats, the bodies of squirrels. That he sewed them altogether to make his own twisted creation.
He glanced at his toy chest, where the monstrosities lay hidden. A guilty pleasure washed over him.
What if he just opened the chest and showed her? What would she say? What would she do?
He thought she might be proud of him. Her creative little doll. But maybe she’d be sad. Disappointed. Maybe she’d ask questions she didn’t want to hear the answers to.
“Where’d you get these?”
And he couldn’t lie, not to his mother. Not to her face. Not like she lied to him every night with her smells and her words.
“I hunted them down and killed them. I cut off their heads and their tails and their limbs with the kitchen scissors. The same scissors you used to cut through the packaging for our dinner last night.”
“Why’re you smiling,” she asked.
“I’m just thinking about how happy I am.”
His mom leaned over and kissed his head. “I’m happy, too.”
She read to him and her words washed over him like a warm water. He settled into a fake slumber, dreading the moment her side of the bed turned cold.