His mother upon seeing Mac seemed not startled but victimized by the fulfillment of some inevitable prophecy, and immediately began a recitation of her apartment's shortcomings. She walked away from the screen door, still talking, and Mac let himself in.
Hers was the west end in a row of four apartments tucked below the pavement of Highway 80, upon unsure pilings along the bayou. It was not far from where he had lived in Cooper's trailer. He hadn't known, then.
In too-small purple knit shorts and hornrimmed glasses she beckoned him into the tiny, wrapper-littered kitchen and complained of a stopped drain. "I ought to just throw everything out the window--that's where all the shit around here goes anyway. Into the bayou." As she moved she gave a running narrative account of the various furnishings. The television was on, loud, and he heard running water somewhere. She went into the bathroom to turn it off; Mac remained standing in the living area.
The floor was joisted and he could feel footsteps from the adjacent apartments. There was a knee-high brown ring along the papered walls and a smell he couldn't place. She came back out, murmuring.
Mac said "How long you been here?" For the first time she paused speaking. She estimated the time as three years. "Or thereabouts." He sat down upon a couch-convertible into which the bed had not been fully retracted, leaving an uncomfortable angle for his legs.
His mother poured herself a glass of uniced tea in the kitchen and returned with a cigarette. She sat upon a folding chair brought out from the hall closet. He said he'd seen her at work, in the ticket booth of Showplex 6. It was an old double theatre recently chopped into several considerably smaller auditoriums. Dollar admission. She considered this, nodding slightly. "I used to work for the man that owns it, when he was down at Third and DeSiard. That was back before y'all came along."
"The building's not there anymore."
"Yeah, they tore it down." She asked if he wanted tea; he said he'd take beer. "Don't know that I have any--" She was gone a while, then returned with two cans, handing hers over for Mac to pull the tab, then his. "You working now?"
"Been thinking about going with UPS. Being a driver for them."
"They had a wreck on the interstate the other day, one of them. Stopped everything all up."
"Yeah. I had to sit for an hour."
"The driver got killed, that girl on the television said."
"I could see the ambulances. His leg was about clean off him. Had a wife and two boys."
They drank beer. "I guess that means they got a opening now," his mother said. Long minutes passed. "You ought to put in for it."
"Guess so." They watched television and drank; Mac offered to retrieve more beer. The refrigerator was packed with cardboard cases of Old Milwaukee and little else. When he got back from the kitchen his mother had changed clothes; they seemed the same garments, yet the colors were different. Never a small woman, she had gained weight recently. She moved to the couch beside him and talked above the hyperbolic chatter of the evening talk shows. A lot of the names she mentioned Mac didn't know. She quietened during the news, perhaps feeling the beer.
"I know that girl, she's the sister of a real good friend of mine." Mac pointed at Kelly.
"Know her pretty good, huh?"
The news went off. For the first time she turned the sound down, with remote control. "Have you talked to Johnny?"
"Yeah, that's how I got where you live."
She began to speak nostalgically of the time when John had once sent money for her birthday. "But that was before he married and had kids." Mac was certain that his sister had mailed the money that time.
"I went to Connie's the other night," he said. "She wouldn't say nothing to me."
His mother scowled, rising from the couch. She left the room, and the water was running again. He heard her murmuring as before. He finished the beer. "I'll send you some money, after I get working again. It's just a little slow right now." She said something he didn't hear, then called him, louder.
He went to the bedroom; she wasn't there. Slowly he backed down the hall toward the living room. Warm, humid air spilled from the bathroom, stifling him. She called him again. He stepped inside, saw briefly that she was already in the tub, and tripped in his haste to step back.
"I'm going, Ma. . ."
"Wait--" She began to talk, more slowly now. There were Old Milwaukee cans spilling from the curtain beneath the sink. The toilet at the opposite end smelled unflushed.
The house he remembered more than any other had a blue toilet; that he remembered, and the suitcase-record player his mother played her sixties singles on and danced in a bathing suit in the living room and the time a man came to the screen door and she danced and pulled at her suit to the Cowsills and John and Connie and he were all ashamed and the man asked if any of them wanted to leave the house and Connie nodded Yes but the man left without any of them.
But she was already somewhere else. Anger emerged at some issue or person he wasn't familiar with. Her voice was husky, serious, as in a family discipline lecture; "I couldn't wait to get shut of you kids. This ain't being mean, me talking. I'm just giving you something you can use later."
"Yes ma'am. I've got to go on."
There was more; "Now that bitch can go to Florida and fuck labrador retrievers for fifty dollars a party, as far as I'm concerned. . ."
She called him again and as he left he could hear the soft slapping of the washcloth upon the water.