--IT’S ALMOST ALWAYS ABOUT THE SECOND AFTER
She sees her son dressing, with his shirt off, and pauses to get a good look. The act feels criminal, perverse, yet nostalgically familiar. She takes in his entire back, the tendons and contours, but mostly the ruptured areas.
Aaron’s home for the holiday, having just arrived yesterday. A college freshman.
At breakfast he watches her eat. She’s always been a bad liar, even without saying anything. The affair she’d had was a radioactive alarm blinking on her face. Her husband left long before she learned that affairs existed for one reason only: decimation.
“What’s going on?” her son asks. He’s grown so big, muscular, a man really. The cereal spoon in his hand looks the size of a cuff link.
“You seem nervous.”
“Don’t lie, Mom.” But he scrunches his face, the way he did as a young boy, before the divorce and dark years.
She’d been a freshman, once, too. There was fraternity she went to on Fridays with beer kegs and vats of ruby colored alcohol. A boy with David Cassidy hair took her to his room. He had stacked Copenhagen cans in the window, shaped like a pyramid, but outside a street light reflected back on the building’s pillars that looked colonial.
The boy’s friends showed up an hour into it. She thought they were joking. They took turns, traded high-fives. Her head was hazy from the Spodie Odie, but she fought back, biting shoulders and arms, only they seemed to like it, told her, “Harder,” said, “Yeah, Bitch.”
She never saw the marks, but she thinks now that they must have resembled the ones she saw on her son’s back earlier. Angry blackberry cloudburst bruises. Teeth impressions.
Who’s to say how he got them? He might have a girlfriend, though she’d always thought her son the gentle type. If she asks, there’s a small chance he might be truthful and she’s not so sure she wants to go there. Christmas is three days away. There are gifts. They might all be happy.
When he gives her that look again, she stands, grabs the pot, says, “How about some more coffee?”