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Wednesday, November 12, (Same Day), 9:32am

Okay, so now things totally change again. God DAMN IT!!!! Long story short, Maurice wants to have a face-to-face this afternoon. Can’t tell me what it’s about. I called Levi right away and the piece of shit didn’t pick up, of course. Chances are he knows exactly what that was about and doesn’t want to talk to me before Maurice does. What’s really fucked up is Levi and I are seeing each other at the taco joint on La Cienega this afternoon and how does he know I’m not canceling or something? If I were going to meet someone later in the day and they were calling me, I’d definitely pick up just to make sure they weren’t canceling on me. And Levi thinks I don’t see through his goody-two-shoes for the boss bullshit? Why do I even confide in that ancient asshole? 

Called my boy ‘Monsoon’ too and he didn’t know. Monsoon usually hands out daily ‘guard’ jobs for Maurice (bodies, places, and things) since he started out as the head bouncer at TaTa’s, Maurice’s strip club where my sister works. I didn’t mention that yet, did I? God… there’s so much ground to cover in getting up to speed. Okay, so I have to meet Maurice at 1:00pm at Upper House… that’s just above Sunset near West Sunnywood so I can still meet Levi at 2. I hope. Where was I with this? Oh, that’s right… MOTHER. 

After the license plate incident with Levi where it just happened to have the digits 229 on it and be in a place where I knew we were committing an unspeakable act even by criminal lifestyle standards, I laid low for a minute before deciding to drive out to Barstow to see Mama. That’s where the atomic karma bomb I keep alluding to went off. 

It had been a while since I’d seen her. Maybe even several months? I know we celebrated my birthday in late July, the first time she’d met Dez. It was right around the time I did the deal with the Renita boys to purchase those military grade small arms that finally allowed me to afford my shit-hole apartment on the beach. As an aside, I’d always wanted to live on or at least near the beach so it fulfilled a life-long dream. Other than the fact that I can’t swim and have an intense fear of drowning, I like the sound of the waves and the thoughts that come up when I take walks out there at night. The water and sand are like nature’s heroin after a long night spent on the edge of my seat wondering (hoping?) will tonight be my last on Earth.  

Prior to my birthday, the last time I’d seen her we got into an argument over my sister becoming a stripper at Maurice’s club, (if you’re thinking she was the one against it, you don’t know mother). I remember at my birthday party, I taught her how to text me. Neither of us are big on phones and the uncomfortable silences that often arise, so texting quickly became a crutch in which we never hear each other’s voice but always have this false assurance the other person is there, listening and accessible. Except deep down, we all understand that’s not true human contact. I’m sure the fact that it became a crutch and that I don’t ever call anymore hurts her in some way, but she’d never admit to it. Then again, she never meets me halfway and makes the damn call herself either. And I just think, ‘it bothers me, doesn’t it bother her?’ We’re both Taurus, if you hadn’t guessed by now. 

It didn’t matter in the end, because like all children, I eventually blame myself and the self-inflicted beatings begin. Why have I taken this long to drive out there? What the fuck is wrong with me? Verna has asked me to go with her a few times and I’m always too busy moving up the Lycor family food chain to do it. In my head, I’m imagining Mama shuffling around the house out there at the edge of the desert, tending to her rock garden, yelling at the occasional tractor trailer that kicks up too much dust when the driver isn’t paying attention, always being lonely and living in that head space of isolation. I feel like all kinds of demons come out of the woodwork when you’re like that… fear of the ‘other’, the sense that the universe is arrayed against you whenever you leave the house. Many oddities of the human mind manifest quickest when deprived of friendly human contact. 

I’d gotten straight with Maurice and gave Dez the keys to my place then set out for Barstow figuring I’d make up for all those times our text conversations just fell into nothingness early in the night. Or even worse, the times where I’m trying to get caught up in life (always?), do the same shit she does and intentionally not text either just because even that simple act feels Herculean and too much of a distraction from my bullshit existence. Anyway, I got in the damn car and finally made my way. 

The drive takes hours and once I’d left the outskirts of the city, I shut the radio off and just listened to the hum of that eight cylinder Corvair engine. When things got a bit more desert-ish, I rolled the windows down and tried to hear the hum of nothingness out there among the mountains and rocks reaching ever higher for the sky, as isolated from each other as the people living out there.

For a minute, I even felt a cloud lift and completely separate from my misdeeds with Levi just a few days prior to leaving. Something about the desert opens you up and unplugs you from the ego. Things lacking in importance just fall away. Silly notions that you are the center of the universe you perceive and of the scales of justice constantly being weighed with reward and retribution as you ebb and flow from fortune like the tide going in and out seem even sillier. You come to the desert to forget, I think, because it has no memory. 

Then you arrive at the edge of the real desert and your mother tells you she’s been diagnosed with rapidly advancing Stage 3 cancer of the right breast. And those silly notions and that fucking number on the license plate and that poor bastard’s fist against the trunk all climb back into your head, lock the lid and make themselves at home. Perhaps for good this time if you don’t crack the… okay, I’m gonna keep that one from myself for a while. From the notion that it should be written down, anyway. Not yet. Cancer first, okay, you selfish prick?

When you pull off the exit, you can see Mama’s little pueblo style house on a pretty barren outcropping of raised rock and dirt in the distance beyond the Motel 7’s, the McDowell’s, and that service station with the most decent mechanics in the world that has served me so well in emergencies a few times when I had to really go hide out in the desert so that others would forget me even when I couldn’t afford to. As I come off the exit, I usually look to see if I can spot Mama putting out clothes on the line, especially seeing as it was close to sundown and she spends almost no daylight hours indoors. Probably the one saving grace for her mental health. But she wasn’t out there. Strike one. 

As I pulled up the long, familiar drive, one of the few places within driving distance of Los Gatos that can mentally take me back to before what feels like a lifetime of evil misdeeds, I noticed her patio furniture was almost all missing and the chair that was left had a broken leg. In general, the exterior of her little one story home, usually impeccably kept with small rock gardens, a swing under an orange tree, and several other whimsical touches felt as cold and desolate as the environment surrounding it. Strike two. 

As I got out of the car and heard the sound of the door shutting behind me, crisp, clear, and almost stunted in the dry desert air, a chill went down my spine. All the windows were drawn and it was actually nice outside. Perhaps she was laying dead inside? When WAS the last time we texted one another? We hadn’t spoken in months. Perhaps this too was an old debt repaid somehow by someone… Jesus, it just occurred to me what a liability this journal is. Strike two and a half. 

She opened the front door before I could get to it and just stared at me, a grim look etched into the lines of her face as I glanced up and down to see that she was wearing her sleeping socks and a cheap floral nightgown. Something about her seemed less dignified than usual. All completely out of character for Mama, even at 4pm in November living in the middle of nowhere. 

Strike three. 

That’s all it took for me to I know the karma detectives had already paid a visit and it was a matter of finding out the gifts they’d left for me. With Mama out in fucking Barstow of all the people and places the reaper with the scales could touch. I mean, is there even any doubt anymore that my life is so thoroughly fucked with? That I’m some kind of player in a game of tests, forever boxed in by my own psychic limitations? 

And so Wilma stood there, practically scowling at me, the visit completely unexpected and yet she somehow seemed to be waiting as well. Standing before her, feeling her penetrating stare, I intrinsically knew the fact that I was waiting for her to tell me what my (her? You selfish prick…) debt could possibly be just could not be apparent. I had to smile at her and hold up the flowers I’d brought. A clutch of hummingbird Mint, the scent a favorite of mine when Mama first discovered it thirteen or so years ago when I was a merely a teen with dreams of becoming an FBI agent like I’d seen on the American TV shows. That or a cowboy gunslinger. 

“What the hell are you doing here after all this time?” she clapped. “You didn’t think to call first?”

I nervously shifted from one leg to another. Self-consciously held the flowers behind my back with both hands. 

“You’re buying time, aren’t you?” she asked, leaning in, her eyes narrowed to study me like only a mother can. “What kind of trouble are you in?”

“Mama, can’t a son just visit his mother once in a while without the inquisition?” I blurted out.

Her eyes traveled up and down my six foot frame several times as she placed a hand on her hip. “No, they can’t. Not at a time like this. I’m sorry you came, goodbye,” she stated dismissively while turning to close the door, as though I was a traveling salesman hawking wears she couldn’t care less for. 

I jammed my hand in to keep the door from shutting; and it nearly did, right on my knuckles. “Mama, are you fuck- okay, I’m sorry, but are you… freakin’ kidding me?” I shot back as I struggled against her ample strength to keep the door ajar. In what seemed like an instant, her strength left her and I almost fell forward into the front hall, knocking over the coat rack in the process. Once I regained my balance, I looked up to see her back to me, arms folded, and her head down. Here it comes, I thought. 

I walked towards her and she spun immediately into my embrace. So unlike Mama as to seem almost foreign. Like an alien body snatcher had paid a visit to gas up, get a burger, and take over Mama’s body. The feeling of her trembling arms clutching at my back then going limp will haunt me for the rest of my miserable existence. 

“Mama, come on, what is it?” I asked, realizing immediately that it was overzealous and what time I’d spent holding her didn’t yet warrant the question. “Forget it, don’t tell me yet if you don’t want to, whatever it is, I’m sorry. I’m sorry, Mama that Dmitry didn’t come out sooner, I just -” 

“Please just be quiet, I have to tell you something,” she entreated. 

I ever so gently attempted to pull away from her but she gripped the soft black leather of my jacket even harder; to the point I felt the pull against my shoulder like some kind of human vacuum packing. Then the crying began. 

I may not remember much beyond… let’s say seventeen or eighteen years old, but I know this for sure: I have never seen my mother cry. Not when papa left us before emigrating, not when her younger sister went missing and her older sister was found in a drain pipe, tortured, raped, and disfigured nearly beyond recognition by the sick, evil fucks running the local Duaspala. Never. But I know I saw a tear run down her cheek before she quickly wiped it away. The only thing I could think of was that my sister had died or been murdered and her body was in the left in the living room in a body bag for Mama to stare at for days on end as she made herself coffee and shuffled back and forth through the house. Fuck it, I had to ask again. 

“Mama, you’re scaring the shit out of me, you really need to tell me what happened, is it Faith? Did something happen to Faith?” I asked, using all my strength to keep Mama at arm’s length. 

“Faith? Are you seriously? Did something happen to her?” Mama asked, tears running down her cheeks, this back and forth quickly turning into a comedy of word errors. 

“Mama, no, I’m asking because I’ve never seen you cry like this, I just saw Faith, but I don’t -”

“Cancer, Dmitry, cancer!” she yelled, the hurt and anger rising up through her body on the second ‘cancer’ like a boiling hot spring, causing her to go hoarse and the tears to flow harder with every utterance. “Of the right breast,” she yelled as she grabbed her own tit, making me, her little boy, uncomfortable even under serious medical circumstance. “I found out the other day, but you and your sister wouldn’t fucking know because I never hear from either of you out here all alone on the fucking… on the fucking moon!” she bellowed. 

With that she turned and hobbled to her living room. By now the sun was getting low and the soft brown walls, the curvature of the arched hallway, and the pinkish hues coming through the window, all gorgeous and soothing, seemed at once to mock us as I stood there for a moment, shell-shocked, trying to absorb the enormity of this. Think back to movies and television I’d seen. What are the follow-up questions to know whether or not things will be okay?

But I didn’t even ask. Not yet. My head was swimming and anyway, she just needed me to be there. Maybe going there came about as an act of mental communion with my mother over a great distance. Maybe all the shit I’d gone through with Levi and the never-ending stream of consciousness that parades through my mind lately regarding this reality and my place in it had this written into the script all along. The confluence of recent events to that point seemed much too convenient to be nothing more than a chaotic happenstance. 

Anyway, I followed Mama into the living room to find her standing before the couch, staring at it as though she was making a mental checklist before laying down to die. I quickly slid in and sat down on the couch and she gave me a dirty look before letting her eyes and the corners of her mouth droop; a look of total sadness and completely surrender before she finally collapsed. I grabbed for a pillow, placed it on my lap, then told her to lay her head down and get comfortable. 

She rested her head there and though the thought of stroking her cheek softly or her hair came and went several times, I didn’t dare touch her. That seems silly in retrospect, because what she might have wanted at a time like that far outweighed my desire to avoid temporary discomfort because she might swat my hand away. 

“That’s it, Mama… I can stay as long as you need someone to talk to,” I softly intoned. 

“Are you in trouble?” she asked.

My whole body stiffened at the inquiry, repelled by the thought of myself again, being made to sound so inhuman as to never consider visiting my mother unless she could be of service. “What makes you always think I’m in trouble?” I tersely replied. 

She put her hand to her mouth and looked off, seeming lost in thought for a moment as I stared down at her. The first time since I’d arrived that she wasn’t angry, hysterically upset, or both. 

“I don’t know, Dmitry, I just have a bad feeling about what you do. I’ve never said it before and I should have,” she belatedly replied before turning inquisitive again. “What do you do exactly?”

I sighed and looked out the window, distracted for a second by the sun glinting off the several hundred foot tall cell tower in the distance. I held my hand up to block the light and in a sign of what was to come that night, cocked my head, barely paying attention to how I answered, “Mama, you know I’m not a doctor. Or a lawyer. Or a garbage man.”

Wilma’s body began to vibrate, her shoulders jerking up and down as she tried desperately to keep from crying again. Her physical choking off of emotions pulled me from my trance like state, marveling at something that didn’t seem quite right out that usually open slightly rounded off Puebla window. I tried nearly as hard to convince her to just let go of her emotions. “Mama, it’s okay to cry, it’s okay to be emotional in front of me… how many times did I cry when we first came here? And I was twelve! Faith was only eight and she cried less than me!”

Mama laughed before coloring in the details, “I remember well, every night! The worst was when that cruel sonofabitch ICE agent kept saying he wouldn’t bring you water unless you stopped crying. Faith at least had lice to cry about!”

“Okay mama, I get it, Dmitry the big cry baby as you two liked to call me,” I said as our laugher began to die down and the underlying sadness came back in to check on us after leaving us for an all too brief reprieve from the weight of the… diagnosis. I don’t even want to type cancer ever again. 

This time, I believe I did let the inner part of my arm touch her hair gently as I reminded her, “But for real, mama, if you can’t cry in front of me, who can you get in front of? We all need to let it out sometimes.”

“Definitely not Faith,” she shot back with acid on her tongue. “Being here has made her hard… not here as in America but Los Gatos, California, whatever.”

I looked at her with a smirk and an arched eyebrow before taking the bait. “What you mean is being a stripper, a job that I hooked her up with has made her, as you said, ‘hard’. There are plenty of people here, young ladies, who aren’t hard just because they live in Los Gatos.”

 

“Well yes, it’s just…” and the heaving shoulders began again, nearly knocking the pillow off my lap and out from under her. But no tears. She was ‘crying’ alright, but like a cistern in the desert, her ducts had no water left. As though she’d been saving up a lifetime of tears for that one moment when we embraced, myself having never seen her cry and finally getting to witness it like a comet that only comes around once every twenty-eight years.

“There, there, mama… it’s all fine. Whatever you think or feel, it’s perfectly okay. I know Faith and I haven’t exactly lived up to the ideal ‘immigrant to America makes good’ story you probably had, and that’s okay to think that,” I said, before trailing off again. Because I really was now thinking that. Where did I go wrong? What steps could I have taken to avoid this life? 

“Really? It doesn’t upset you…” she interrupted, snapping me out of my self-pity.

“It upsets me that you think it, yes, but you’re right is what I’m saying. And by the way, you really need to call Faith as soon as possible, you have to tell her,” I demanded, my voice growing angry as my subconscious processing of the fact Mama didn’t have us over for some kind of formal occasion to break such horrible fucking news that will obviously affect us almost as much as it affects her. 

“I will, Dmitry, I will, just don’t make me do it right now, please.” 

“That’s fine, but I’m telling you, if you don’t call her in the morning, especially seeing as how she has off a few days and can process it, then I’m going to call her myself, understand? We care about you, Mama, we love you, please keep us informed of stuff like this from now on,” I said, my voice wavering towards the end, still afraid she might reel around and backhand me, cracking my orbital socket with her ample, bony knuckles. Mama is no joke in the physical strength and ass whooping department. 

But she did nothing of the sort. All at once I felt her entire body go limp on the couch, as though she may have fallen asleep midway through my commands, her constitution giving thanks to her for being so vulnerable that it could finally exit the fight-or-flight mode she’d likely been in since the diagnosis. 

“Dmitry,” she whispered, her tone indeed sleepy and half out of it,“thank you for coming out here. It means… it means a lot, and…” 

“There, there Mama, I just wish I’d been here sooner,” I said, finally having the courage to gently rub her forehead while she slipped deeper into a leaden sleep. Of course now I couldn’t move and had nothing better to do than sit there and think about all that had happened up to that moment. The quiet out there atop the mesa her house rests upon has no corollary in Los Gatos unless you go to the very top of the mountain range up behind the Sunnywood sign. When you haven’t experienced it in a while, it can be unnerving to feel as though you can nearly see your thoughts dancing around in front if you, hammering away at the top of your head, then finally coming to rest further away as though in some kind of police line-up done at a distance. Which thought is most important? Where am I going after this? Who am I? Do I know anything about myself? Is my mother going to die sooner than I’d ever imagined? What will happen to my sister? She depends so much upon Mama as a sounding board. Will that have to be me? Can’t she just find a decent man and stop stripping at Tata’s? How much will Mama have to suffer through the chemo and every other medical atrocity visited upon those who receive this terrible diagnosis? 

 

At the risk of sounding selfish in some way, it felt like maybe I was responsible for this. As though my actions after not heeding the warning signs on nights such as that severe beating of Nelson at the safe-house caused my reality to rearrange itself in order to produce this punishing result. A game of constant one-upsmanship between my actions, the pull of my conscience, and whatever the hell entity controls the sights, sounds and other sensations that we perceive to make up our everyday life. If all of the above were true, then this would be a reality tailor made for my own misery and suffering due to the misery and suffering I’ve been putting out into the world.

 

And that part is fine by me, I don’t mind paying for my sins with some pain here and there; losing big on a bet… crashing my favorite car… rejection by a woman I’ve fallen for… nearly losing a finger in some warehouse heist. I’ve come to expect all of that and more heaped upon me. Knowing this about my existence causes me to adopt a two steps forward, one step back attitude. Moving up… but slower than i would if I just listened to my gut more and wasn’t such a piggish scumbag at times. 

 

But this was the first time that this negative energy of consequence touched the one person that I love more than anything in this world. It feels all the worse having anticipated it, mainly because there’s been a kind of ‘cruelty creep’ going on in the work Maurice has asked me to do. For whatever reason and by whatever power, the more the things I’m involved in go against the screaming alarm bells in my conscience, the worse the inevitable retribution usually is. 

How could that be? It’s just coincidence. None of this makes any sense to put yourself at the center of reality itself, attributing your action or lack thereof to some sort of ripple effect causing good and bad to happen. It’s narcissistic, in a way, isn’t it? And yet, whenever I attempt some kind of equanitmity towards the concept and towards my own being, the results are obvious. Whenever I rail against it all and believe that the nasty thing I’ll do next won’t have any consequences and even signs that doing so was the worst possible decisions, the effects are like a flashing neon sign: “DMITRY, YOU FUCKED UP AND NOW YOU’RE GOING TO PAY.’ I’m still trying to figure it all out, this journal being the most obvious result. But something happened that same night that could provide an important clue to removing this splinter in my mind’s eye. 

You see, I sat in that spot on the sofa for hours after Wilma finally fell asleep. She has a small forty inch tv on the opposite wall and though I probably wouldn’t have had to fully get up to reach the remote on the bar separating the kitchen and living room, I dared not disturb my mother. There were still a lot of unclear details or areas she could have been fibbing about regarding the diagnosis; I don’t know if she really found out about it earlier that week or maybe the doctor told her month ago and she was waiting to see if I’d actually call her or pay a visit in the time since. She needed a good night’s rest, and I wasn’t about to fuck that up no matter how many pins and needles it felt were being thrust into my leg. 

As night fell, it became customarily quiet and still out there in the desert. Her windows, pulled tightly shut, made it feel as though I could hear the dust settling throughout the home. My mind wandered, as it often does when I’m ‘home’, to the past, and the many times I’d fallen asleep on that very couch and would stare through that window for hours at a power transmission tower in the distance. It’s four legs, each extending down to a giant bump on the desert floor, made it look like some kind of steel giant mired in red quicksand. I used to daydream that it would pull it’s legs up out of the ground and begin walking towards our home, stepping over it of course, on it’s way to terrorize Los Gatos like some kind of old monster movie about technology gone wrong. I pictured a shot like in those super-hero movies; looking up from the round at me, panning slightly as I watched the metal Godzilla stride over us… nothing more than gnats to be squashed should we become a nuisance. 

It has a red light at the top that, as a teen, I would concentrate on in an effort to quiet my racing thoughts and fall asleep, usually after a night of partying, my fear of creeping past Mama’s room to my own and waking her the reason I’d chosen the couch for that night’s rest. I found it soothing and sometimes it’d take so long to fall asleep that I’d still see it blinking relentlessly even with my eyes closed. Here I was, how many years later, staring at that fucking tower, I thought to myself… and what had changed? As it turns out, the tower is what changed. More specifically, it’s exact location out there in the desert. 

And as I stared at it for the first time in years, I felt an icy chill crawl down my spine and the hairs on my neck standing at attention. You see, besides staring at the damn blinking light, I used to play a game with my eyes where I’d try to line the tower up perfectly centered between my mother’s window treatments which made a kind of symmetrical desert triptych, the three sets of barely visible power lines leading to smaller towers downstream fanning out to penetrate the two adjacent window panes. Then I’d close one eye, switching between left, right, and full vision to be sure I had the perfectly balanced photograph in my mind’s eye. 

Now, it seemed impossible to even place the tower in the center pane; no, it sat almost completely in the pane right of center. “That’s impossible,” I thought to myself, as I sat up straight, my back stiffening to the point it cause Mama to stir a bit. Did my dreams of this thing sprouting legs and moving of its own volition finally come true and I just happened to miss the news that night? 

Of course, when I’d lay there years ago, that right there created a big difference in point-of-view: I was laying there. I’d twisted my body and compressed my spine as much as I could to further replicate that original point-of-view, Mama waking be damned, and sure enough, my triptych subject seemed to lean even further away from the center of my old glass canvas. How could that be? Would the power company go through what must be an absolutely intractable amount of planning and work to relocate what has to be at least a two hundred foot high transmission tower… a little to the right? 

This kept me up most of the night creating its own kind of symmetry with my years spent on that couch as a teen. Still trying desperately not to wake Mama, only this time, it was an unselfish act, meant to keep her as comfortable as possible while I, yet again, pondered the mysteries of existence. “What if I drove out to that tower? Do we have old photos taken with myself or Faith or Mama against the window or, even better, off to the side of the window? Would there be any way whatsoever to prove this powerful notion correct? Perhaps the house had moved a little to the left as it settled over the years? Is that even possible? 

More than anything, though, I wondered if my growing obsession with the object on the billboard, the number 229, and the colossal structure in the desert that seems to have nudged itself had anything in common. How many events conspired to put me on that couch, noticing this? Will I ever know? 

Mama woke just before sunrise. She joked that I must have developed arthritis throughout my entire body having to stay like that the entire night. As she flitted about the house, more like her usual self, I felt good about the fact that I’d come to visit. Score one on the karma board for Dmitry. This was followed, immediately after, by shame that I was, yet again, making this about myself. All of it about me, me, me. What the fuck is my major malfunction? 

With text messages pouring in from Maurice, Levi, Stavo, and even my sister Faith, I briefly played at getting back in the car before noon and heading back to Los Gatos. I beat around the bush as I told Mama. 

“Listen, you hear my phone blowing up, there’s things, you know… I mean, even Faith!” I stuttered and stammered, watching as the tears began welling up in her eyes and her face turning red. 

She steadied herself with one hand on the edge of the sink, the other hand coming up to cover her mouth, “Just go! Don’t make excuses about Faith! And Dmitry, so help me god, if you tell her before I do -” 

“Mama, you know I won’t, but you said you’d tell her the next day,” I shouted back, sensing an opportunity to change the subject of my leaving. 

“Don’t think I don’t see what you’re doing,” she retorted, already onto me. “I’ll tell my daughter when I’m ready, when I feel okay about it, but for god’s sake, if you’re going to come here and leave less than 24 hours after finding out your mother has cancer to go… murder someone or destroy a family, then I may as well swallow the rat poison under - this - sink!” hammering her fist against the counter harder and harder with each word. 

I stood there in excruciating emotional pain as her lashing carved a hole in my chest. She was right… although I’d never killed anyone innocent enough to pull too hard on my conscience, the fact that I’d even consider leaving right now was another example of my own selfishness. And for what? To tear a hole through the fabric of Los Gatos society on a daily basis so that some borderline psychopathic scumbags could buy another mansion or yacht? 

I looked up at Mama, standing there, staring not so much at me as she stared at the area just below my chin. Which was somehow worse than if she were making eye contact. “You’re right, I’ll stay a few days. I’m sorry,” I forced out like I’d forgotten to breathe before saying it. 

Through a practically imperceptible jerk of her head, I knew this came as a bit of a shock and a huge relief to her. She was lonely up here. Of course she was. But she’d never admit it and I should never make her admit it just to make myself do the right thing. 

“Well… that’s good then,” she flatly stated, followed by going back to doing some light housework - in her bedroom. With the door shut. 

Standing there alone now, I wondered if it was the best move to stay out there. Should I tell Maurice or anyone back home besides maybe Faith (assuming Mama doesn’t hold up her end), the reason I’d be out of commission for a few days? Probably not. I’d have to think up some excuse… maybe some bullshit story about crossing one of Nicolai’s men and, out of respect, not wanting to show my face at a few places where we usually cross paths. Using Nicolai, respect, and unmentionables always works when you need some decompression time, so scared of the Russians are every goddamn crime family in L.G., even the cartels. It didn’t used to be like that.

Putzing around the house and taking long walks out to the desert, walks Mama begged me not to go on since she’d seen a rattlesnake in her rock garden recently, a lot ran through my head, most notably, I could feel the acute the pain of sitting there all day with nothing to distract you that Mama must have felt these last few… days? Weeks? Just knowing you’re going to die and… well this part sort of makes me cry. Which isn’t as rare as my mother’s tears, but still is a once every few years event, if that. 

But you see, my mother never really lived. She lived for us, meaning my sister and I. Before he left, my father as well. And that motherfucker never gave one single damn about her, let alone his children. If I were to ever see him, I think I’d take my barber’s razor blade and… eh, I’m getting carried away. But seriously, imagine going your whole life and never wanting for anything not because you’re incapable but because life has told you in some way you simply cannot want? 

Part of the reason I hooked up with Maurice and started this totally amoral life was to help Mama do the things she’s never been able to do. Get her hair done… eat at fancy restaurants. Have nice clothes. I didn’t have a woman at the time (not serious anyway, I had plenty of women), so who else would I be making money for? And we did some of those things… but now I know it wasn’t nearly enough. 

I felt my conscience, for lack of a better term, growing while out there with nobody around except a now terminally ill mother. Empathy, if anyone truly possesses such a thing, can be a hindrance for obvious reasons in my line of work. As demonstrated multiple times already in this personal… ledger, journal, account, whatever. It doesn’t exactly lend itself well to caving in someone’s head, stealing money that belongs to people that don’t have any to begin with, but then also, self-care. Such ideas swam around my head, sometimes colliding with one another in the pool, other times taking deep dives to where I considered the effects my actions fanning out from each act and felt like I couldn’t ever go back to a life of crime. 

Soon enough afterwards, though, Mama hit me with something that not only meant I should probably look for work on my way back, try to find an Uber passenger going from Barstow to Los Gatos, and dig around the desert for buried treasure, it also meant I knew it was ‘safe’ to return home. Karma-wise, anyway. 

In two words: MEDICAL. BILLS. 

I nearly choked when she pulled the first one from the drawer. This was just for diagnostics unrelated to the actual treatments, which would cost in the hundreds of thousands, rather than the, by comparison, puny $34,000 bill I now have pinned to a bulletin board above my kitchen table here. Maybe I should sell this table. And the bulletin board. And this computer. I’d sell a few unnecessary organs if not for the fact that there’d still be bills left over for Mama to pay. Perhaps Faith can grow an extra set of breasts and be some kind of specialty attraction at the strip club. But then she might get cancer in one or all of them and we’ll be in even further hock. For Christ’s sake, FUCK. CANCER. Seriously.

I just kind of blacked out there for a bit wondering what I know about cancer even. It turns out, not much. It feels like received knowledge or something. Not sure what that was. 

Anyway, just before leaving, I cleaned up Mama’s place a little bit, because I noticed it wasn’t as spotless as it usually is and that that one thing could drive a person mad in her state. If she at any time felt unable to keep up with the dirt, it’d just be like a highlight on her own mortality. She’d had enough of those lately. When I was cleaning around the window sitting at ninety degrees to the couch… you know, that window, I caught glimpse of the tower again and just stared at it for what had to have been ten minutes. I tried every which way to bring back whatever delicate memory I could conjure of its exact positioning, trying to remember details about the land surrounding it, and the things I could remember: distance to the nearest towering piece of rock; the way the desert grass atop a hill maybe halfway between myself and the tower appeared to move across the bottom of the tower whenever I’d slide my head back and forth; the sag of the wires and where they lay on the cross slats of the window treatments; all of that now seemed off. 

“What the fuck are you doing with your head, son? Are you sick?” Wilma said, scaring the living shit out of me and knocking me out of that coma-like trance. I wheeled around and saw Mama standing there, hands on her hips, forehead knotted and lips pursed, looking at me as if she might need to pay MY medical bills soon. 

“Oh, nothing, I just, the transmission tower out there, I like to…” I trailed, unnerved by the way Mama bore a hole through my skull with her almost aggressive stance towards this. The strangest thing is that her look produced in me a hint of… I don’t want to say fear, that’s not quite right. SHAME. It produced a feeling of shame, as though I’d just been caught playing with my pecker for the first time and my face relayed just how good this thing I’d discovered felt. Soon, though, defiance followed shame and kicked her the fuck out. 

“You got me, Mama…” I said with a sly smile. One that let her know I wouldn’t be brow beaten talking about this. Why that felt necessary, I have no idea. “That electrical tower out there in the distance. You know when I laid down on that couch,” I said, pointing to the couch,“as a teenager, trying not to wake you cause I’d been out partying, I used to play these tricks with my eyes, keeping it centered between these window slats. I can’t do that anymore, it looks like it’s moved. Did they ever dig that thing up in the last few years, knock it down, and rebuild it… a little to the,” I trailed again, spinning and pointing some more like a madman as I tried to discern the actual direction. “Southeast, I guess it appears?” 

“Are you out of your fucking mind, Dmitry? Have you been doing meth? Or Rhsk?” she deadpanned back. To the point I had to choke back a bit of a laugh. 

“Mama, come on, I’m serious, this is driving me a bit bananas -” 

“I’ll say it is. What an odd thing to wonder, haven’t you got anything else to think about?” 

“Did they ever pick it up and… move it?” I persisted. 

To her credit, she stared off for a few moments, attempting to recall whether or not ‘they’ ever had. 

“No, not that I’ve ever seen. And you know, I’m always here.” 

“Okay, cause it’s definitely in a different spot,” I said, beginning to flush as the absurdity of this conversation hit me like the heat from flames as I sit burning on the stake of growing embarrassment that I’d actually mentioned this to my mother of all people.

 “Dmitry, I’m not trying to insult you, but why would they pick up a, what, three hundred foot tower? Maybe four hundred foot?” she stated, quizzically, “…and then move it a few feet to the right? Just to confuse you?” 

“That’s all you think it is, Mama, a few feet? Cause that’s what it looks like to me too. It can’t have been far,” I shot back, turning her, unwillingly, into a participant in my own insanity. When I turned back, I could see from the look on her face just how unwilling.

 “Maybe you should see a doctor with me the next time I go,” Mama retorted, now unflinchingly staring at me like I was on display as some kind of carnival freak. “You’re just misremembering, Dmitry…” and she walked off back to the bedroom, continuing with her back turned, “And by the way, thanks for making me forget about my cancer for a second. I thought I had problems.” 

Standing by that window after she left the room, I felt utterly alone. Alien, almost. An utter disconnect with every organic thing in this…universe. Then a question hit me, less because of Mama’s choice of words then the way she said them: 

“Who would they be?” I nearly said to myself out loud. 

I left the next morning, every bone in my body aching from sleeping on that motherfucking couch. Tired from staring at that goddamned cell tower. I could have stayed longer, but… it was time to get to work. 

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Frank Perrotto
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