It may be decent, it may not be. I'm still sending it off to publishers in the hope that someone will be interested in at least requesting to see the whole thing. It was also included in my Christmas cards this year in lieu of gifts.
Merrick’s mother was strange. What was worse, she was not strange like all of Merrick’s friend’s mothers. Jordan Blancet’s mother fed her kids Vegemite sandwiches every day, and during school vacations, she drove all over the country in a battered old RV searching for evidence of space aliens and flying saucers. Karen Treylor’s mother wore pearls, heels, and starched chiffon aprons to do housework, and she always had three-course meals prepared – with appropriate dinner music – when her husband came home from work. While Michael Hammonds’ mother spent hours each morning working as the town librarian, she typed up letters to their congressmen and state representatives about things like conspiracy theories and corporate funding of overseas anti-American terrorist activities. Even as strange as they all were, they were more normal than Olivia Koga.
At first glance his mother seemed to be mostly average, although her choice of clothing sometimes left something to be desired. When people first saw her they noticed that she was tall, coppery, and just a little bit exotic, it was only after that first impression that they began to see her for what she truly was. And as far as Merrick was concerned, what she was was weird.
First, she dressed just a little too strange for their small East Coast town, with her ever-present medicine pouch and weird blend of Asian and American clothing. He could never understand why she thought a kameez tunic went well with blue jeans and beaded moccasins, but it seemed to be her signature style. Her long, straight, dark-brown hair hung to her waist, and the thick bangs that shadowed her eyes made her look more like a fairy tale witch than a professional gardener.
Second was her habit of conversation. She talked to things, all kinds of things, everything. Stones, plants, earth and animals all ended up on the receiving end of his mother’s monologues. She spoke more often to animals and inanimate objects than she spoke with other people. Far worse than her penchant for continuous conversations, in Merrick’s opinion, was that she would do it in public. She was never bothered by the odd looks she got from passersby as she cheerfully spoke to a chipmunk, or even a chunk of granite, but Merrick noted every curious glance and each shaking head.
Third and possibly worst of all – even more so than the talking – was that she loved her job. Lots of Merrick’s friends’ parents loved their jobs and that was fine, they were not cemetery groundskeepers. Merrick thought that anyone who spent as much time around dead people as his mother did should be happy to get away from them once she clocked out for the day but as far as she ever got from work was next door to their little cottage home.
While his mother’s weirdness never seemed to end, it was often worse when they were at home. For instance, Merrick would often find his her standing in their tiny backyard, staring beyond their little wall, not moving except for the rise and fall of her chest. He once asked her what she was doing when she stood so still.
“I’m just talking with them, Usdi,” she had told him and pointed beyond the stone wall with a smile dancing in her mischievous eyes.
Merrick had followed her gesture beyond the cemetery that surrounded their little cottage. Only white clouds, blue sky, and green treetops were visible past the headstones and other graveyard statuary. There was nothing there for her to be talking to, much less anything that could talk back.
“Mama, there’s no one out there.”
His mother had laughed. “That’s one way of looking at it. But Merrick, remember this, there are many ways of seeing things, and some of those ways are much more enlightening than simply looking with your eyes.” She had smiled at him when she had said it and her eyes had sparkled in the bright sunlight.
“What do you mean? How else can you look but with your eyes?” Merrick had demanded. “You’re not making any sense.”
“Most people look with their eyes,” she had said as she had knelt down to look directly into the coal-black eyes that matched her own, “but if you’re wise and know how to do it, you can see things that other people can’t because you look beyond what’s obvious and see the possibilities of all the things around you. When you can do that, you can talk to the wind.”
* * *
Merrick was twelve the day he hurried off the bus to the garden gate that divided their front yard from the dirt lane. Two short days were all that separated him from the summer holidays, and he could barely manage to keep his mind focused in the face of two months of more or less unrestricted freedom. He turned and waved to his friends still on the rickety old bus, until it disappeared around the corner in a thick, swirling cloud of dirt and dust.
He tore his eyes from the road and dashed into the cottage, intent to have a try at his newest video game – before he gave in to the call of the early summer afternoon, and fled outside to the old cemetery until dusk. His plans, as well as his sneakers, came to a dead stop just inside the kitchen doorway.
In the small, sunny kitchen, his mother stood on tiptoe as she pulled various pieces of china and glass from the upper shelves of the cupboards. Several taped up boxes were already stacked on the floor beside the table. As she stretched to reach the backs of the cupboards, her long hair swayed across her back and her bangs threatened to fall into her eyes.
“Mama? What are you doing?”
She spun around and almost dropped the cow-shaped creamer she had drug from its hiding place among the cobwebs of the deep cabinet. She frowned. “You know, I’ve been trying to break this thing for years. I guess I’ve got to pack it again after all.”
“Mama,” Merrick said in a warning tone. He was in no mood to deal with his mother’s usual elusive manner, and he had no qualms about letting her know his patience was in short supply that day.
“You wanna know why I’m packing everything up.” She toyed with the creamer.
He stared at her. Considering the situation, he did not think he needed to explain his unspoken question.
“We’re moving, the day after tomorrow, as soon as school’s out for the summer.”
Merrick stared at her. “What do you mean we’re moving? We can’t move. We live here. What about Boy Scouts? What about my friends?”
She smiled. “Boy Scouts isn’t an anomaly original to Jansbury, Merrick. They have it all over the country, in other countries even. And you won’t have any trouble making new friends. You’re a very likable boy.” She pretended to study his face for a moment. “Maybe a bit on the quiet side, but people seem to automatically like you regardless.”
“But we’ve always lived here. Why leave now?”
She closed her eyes briefly before she answered. “We’re leaving now because it’s time to leave.”
Merrick shook his head furiously, his eyes narrowed. “No. I’m not going anywhere. You can’t just decide to make us move for no good reason.”
“Okay, Usdi, whatever you say. Hand me that stack of newspapers, would you?” She gestured to the papers that were piled on the far end of the kitchen table next to where Merrick stood, and set the creamer down beside a half-filled box.
Merrick glared hotly and threw his backpack down on the tabletop, causing it to slide across the polished surface in a messy flurry of newspaper sections. The bag bumped into the box first before colliding with the creamer, sending it flying. The distinct sound of shattered porcelain met both their ears, and he looked up at his mother in unadulterated defiance.
“Good, I don’t have to pack it now,” she chuckled and nudged the broken pieces of white vaguely cow-shaped porcelain into a pile with the toe of her moccasin; her lips quirked into a sly smile, “I really hated that thing but it was a gift from an old friend. I couldn’t just get rid of it no matter how I felt about it.”
Merrick continued to glare at her. She never acted the way he thought a mother should act. She never really got angry. She never yelled at him like his friends’ mothers yelled at them. She made even less sense than she usually did with this insane decision to leave the only home he had ever known. He folded his arms across his chest, his forehead creased in deep furrows, and stood his ground.
“I know you don’t understand but, like I said, it’s just time to go.” His mother’s eyes softened as she gazed at him. “It’ll be nice to see your uncle again, don’t you think?”
“What do you mean by that? Uncle Brendan lives in California,” he snapped waspishly.
“You’re right, he does.” She bent to scoop up the fragments of creamer into a small paper bag.
“But we live in Connecticut. He’s coming here?”
She looked up from her task and leveled her eyes at him once again. “No, he’s not coming here. We’re going there.”
Merrick looked around the home he had lived in for as long as he could remember. He did not know what to say, what to do to make her change her mind. He could not even be sure he would be able to change her mind at all.
“Merrick, I know it’s going to be difficult for you to move to a new place, we’ve been here ever since you were a baby, but things change and it’s time to leave now. It’s time to go to new places and see new things.”
“Can’t we just take a vacation? You know, like we did last year when we visited Uncle Brendan and went to see all the touristy stuff.”
“Your uncle and I have discussed this already, Usdi. I decided to let you finish out the school year and then move to the city. You’ll like living in San Francisco, it’s a lot more fun than living in boring ol’ Jansbury. There’s always something going on.”
Merrick continued to watch her, unconvinced.
“Go on now, there’s still lots to do before the movers get here.”
Merrick angrily drug his feet to his bedroom and stumbled into a stack of cardboard boxes piled just inside the door. In utter disgust, he kicked the boxes and watched them slide across the floor and bang against his bed. He ignored his mother’s call from the kitchen that reminded him to fill the boxes rather than take out his frustration on them.
That evening, after he had refused to leave the confines of his room even to eat dinner; he heard the trilling of the phone and his mother’s gentle voice as she answered. Determined to find out more information about his mother’s current insanity, he slipped from his room and crouched in the hallway to listen to the one-sided conversation. He strained to hear what she said, but all he could make out was a handful of words that meant nothing out of context. The only thing he could be sure of was that she was speaking to his uncle.
Once she had said goodbye and ended the call, Merrick craned his neck to look around the low wall that separated the hallway from the kitchen. He could see his mother leaning back against the counter, the phone still clasped in her fist and her eyes closed. A sudden noise from outside drew her attention immediately to the window, and Merrick was surprised to see fear blossom in her eyes. He had never known her to be afraid of anything. Not even once.
He waited but nothing more occurred and she finally walked from the kitchen to the living room where she set about moving books from the bookcases into boxes with a bit more force that was truly required of the chore. Her hands were trembling. Still unnoticed, he crept back to his room and silently closed the door, allowing his anger to slowly give way to curiosity. He had refused to do anything remotely similar to packing, but seeing his mother’s reaction to what was most likely just a stray cat pawing through their garbage, he wondered if maybe leaving Jansbury was not such a bad idea after all. Maybe his mother was right. But he could not help feeling frustrated about being so completely left out of the loop about the sudden move. He wished she would just tell him what all of this moving business was truly about, rather than keeping it a big secret and springing it on him the way that she did.