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Literature : first proof

A Mother Like This One

by Robert Lopez

From waffling exactitude comes exactly what one would have called for, if only one had known more.

Rachel Hulin, Mom as Matador, c-print, 16 × 20 inches. Courtesy of the artist and Pierogi Flat Files.

There is probably an office building, a compact car, a woman who works for a modest living. She is most probably an honest woman, so let’s not assume anything about her because she is left-handed and cross-eyed. That she wears blue eye shadow shouldn’t bother us either. This is how she was raised, so we can forgive her more than this. If she has a family she is probably good to them. She probably wakes up early to cook them breakfast, usually scrambled eggs, though sometimes it’s waffles. If she has a son it’s probably the son who begs her to make them every morning, guilts her into it about twice a week, although there’s never time for this. This is what she says to him, she says, I don’t have time for this. She is always late to work whenever she makes waffles for her son, if she has a son, which she probably does. The creases in her forehead and the way she carries her oversized brown leather handbag across her body, bisecting her breasts, tell us she has a son, one who likes waffles a little too much. After the waffles she drives her compact car to work, probably to a restaurant, otherwise an office building. Not a high-rise, nothing with complicated architecture, it’s a building like so many others, utilitarian, nondescript. Let us give her the benefit of whatever doubt we can muster. Once at work behind her desk, inside her cubicle, she receives phone calls from her son, roughly once an hour. What they talk about is between the two of them and not our concern. We won’t even speculate as to the nature of their conversations. What’s more important is that her bosses understand or rather they tell her they understand, but the truth is they don’t like it. They don’t like it anymore than we do. They tell her as long as it doesn’t take away from her duties and she tells them her son is special, but it’s not true. There is nothing at all special about her son, if she does indeed have one. After all, this woman has lied before. She even lied to get this job, telling the bosses during her interview that she had five years of administrative experience, that she helped run her father’s business before he died. All of this is untrue. Her father was a police officer, has never once owned a business, and is still living, though he has been ill of late and likely won’t last another year. This is the kind of duplicity we’re talking about here, this is who we’re dealing with, a woman who has misled any number of people any number of ways. Frankly, we wouldn’t put it past her to fabricate a son. Don’t let the leg warmers and canvas sneakers fool you, this woman is clever. If her son is real, if he actually exists, doubtless he is inappropriately affectionate with her. He is always hugging her a little too closely, kissing her forehead, her neck. He puts his arm around her whenever she is within arm’s reach, which is almost all the time. At night he crawls into bed next to her and they wake up together the next morning. They even have their own special language. No one can understand what they say to each other, but it sounds like baby talk, like gibberish. This makes everyone uncomfortable and we’re no different. We don’t like to see this sort of thing. We don’t like to see this sort of thing because we’ve seen it before and we know what it means.

Robert Lopez is the author of two novels, Part of the World and Kamby Bolongo Mean River, and a collection of short fiction, Asunder. He has taught at The New School, Pratt Institute, and Columbia University, and was a New York Foundation for the Arts Fellow in Fiction last year.

For more by Rachel Hulin, visit her page at Pierogi Flat Files.