From the Upcoming McTavish Regressions: Arabesque

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1952

Las Vegas, America

Mom is dancing with large feathers on her head and I'm watching with my wide, four-year-old eyes from the side of the stage. In the audience, pretty much everyone wore glasses. They all sit in groups of five or six, in these cool booths with leather studs, drinking amber liquid and tall clear drinks with straws and limes and tiny umbrellas. Mom's “The Main Attraction: Cherise Taloure,” and she sparkles just like a diamond.

We moved to Vegas just after we left Dad, not long ago. I didn't like him anyway because he would make Mom scared for days; I could tell by the shape of her mouth, and her eyes hardly blinked. She cooked and stuff like normal, but she didn't really talk and she looked at her watch and the back door a lot. I mainly played with Lego.

Las Vegas was like one big Lego set, except with lights and fountains. Everybody was real happy all the time, like my mom's manager, Joey Debiasio; he talked real fast and wore rings on almost every finger. Mom's mouth was always smiling and she blinked just fine. One day she was wearing a ring, too, a big shiny one with little feathers on the sides in gold. I bet it came from Uncle Joey, but I never found out.

Loreen was looking after me most of the time, and I was allowed to go to only the afternoon shows, when Mom performed as the star attraction. But then her star shows didn't start until way later, and I wasn't allowed to go anymore. Loreen and I would play Lego most of the time, well, she smoked a lot of cigarettes and drank that amber drink that smells weird, and I played Lego. I didn't notice, but there weren't other kids around in our condo complex. I learned how to swim and the weather was always nice and sunny. I squinted a lot, looking up to the condo window to see if Mom was up and around. She and Joey slept in a lot.

One day a real nice woman came to see us and she gave me chocolate from her little red purse with the snaps on it. It was a big bar of Hershey's, how did she know my favorite? I was so happy that day in front of the “damn cartoon box,” as Joey called the TV. I ate my chocolate with Yosemite Sam, and Mom had a grown-ups talk with the nice lady in the kitchen. When they had finished, Mom told me that the nice lady was going to take me on a trip to a big hotel for kids. I was so excited that I was going to meet other children that I got my Lego ready right away.

Mom's mouth was different when she packed my bag, but I only glanced at her and kept packing, looking at her again. I wanted to make sure I had every last piece of Lego, even the little twosies. She hugged me hard then lit a cigarette.

   “Bye, squirt,” Joey said to me from across the room, sitting with amber drinks on the table and not smiling at all. At least Mom was smiling with her weird mouth, and the nice lady had the same smile, kinda a half-smile, ya know?

   “Bye.” I held the nice lady's hand and we walked out into the hot day.

Turns out the kid's hotel was an orphanage and I was the newest stray. 'Cept that didn't dawn on me until after about four days, when I'd asked the nice lady—whose name was Martha Day—when I get to go back. It was a great place and all but I was ready to go back to Mom.

   “This is your new home, Jeffrey.”

They had to chase after me, because as soon as I realized what was going on I ran outside and headed straight for the highway. Kicking and screaming. That’s how they brought me back each time I tried to get out, panting like a cheetah. I remember watching National Geographic with Mom about the cheetah. Fastest animal on four legs. I told Mom I could run faster than a cheetah and she laughed and said she bet I could. She bet I could.

Many years later, I wrote a poem for her:

Return

It is strange to be a corpse

the way you have left me lying here

gutted and torn by the crows that found me

in among the mallows

under the midday August sky

 

I will return as a whisper

in your silent moments

weaving a son's call on a wild loom

that crashes and splits its

tender wood just so you might listen

 

I know you will miss me

yet you were always missing something

so my absence will simply

blend into all the other

beautiful things you have thrown away