My Mother Was a Girl
By Sheldon Kranz
He tried to sound matter of fact. "She had an awful lot to do. She said
she'll call you this week." He knew he sounded apologetic and he felt himself
growing angry. Besides, he hated lying. What May had really said was, "I
don't mind you going to see your mother, but I simply don't want to go.
We can't get along, so why make trouble?"
She was right, of course, but still she could have come with him for
an hour to avoid this. He heard the voices of some people who were standing
in front of the apartment house. A girl laughed.
"I don't know what she's so busy about," his mother said. "She hasn't
any children to look after. What is she so busy about?"
"How should I know," Robert said, and knew it was the wrong thing to
His mother sat up straighter in her chair. "How should you know?" she
repeated. "Well, please tell me who should?"
"Look," he said. "Don't worry about May."
"I'm not worried. I'm just asking a question. Is there any law against
that?" She was using that cold, polite tone which always infuriated him.
"What are you so concerned about May all of a sudden?" he demanded.
"She's fine. She just couldn't make it."
"You needn't shout," his mother said. "If May can't find time to come
over, you needn't shout at me." She looked less tired now than when he
had come in. The people in front of the house had gone inside.
He waited a moment, and then he said carefully, "Have you heard from
Harry?" Harry was his older brother who lived in Chicago. He was a successful
insurance man, and it was one of his mother's favorite topics.
She immediately went into a detailed account of Harry's last letter.
Robert smoked and only half listened. Harry was the good son. Wrote every
week. Sent presents, too, at the right times. It was easy being a good
son in Chicago. Sometimes he wished he and May lived in California. The
warm September night was tempting through the open windows. It was dark
and quiet, and he wished he could just get into his car and drive somewhere.
His mother went on talking about Harry, and he nodded, hoping she would
be in a better mood by the time she finished.
Harry writes you haven't answered his last letter," she said. "Why haven't
you answered it?"
"I'll answer it this week, " Robert said. "I've been busy."
"Everyone's busy in your house. You don't seem to have time for anything."
His mother shifted restlessly in her chair. "Seems to me you can find a
few minutes to write to your brother."
"You're right, " he said. "You're absolutely right."
"I shouldn't have to tell you these things. What are you so busy about?"
"I work," he said. "I work hard. Being in the automobile business is
a full-time job."
"You do look tired." She examined his face critically. "Have you lost
weight? You can't afford to lose weight with your height."
"I'm fine," he said. "Everything is fine, I just don't have time for
a lengthy correspondence with my brother."
"May should give you vitamins."
"Leave May alone. She feeds me fine. She's a good cook. "
"You still look thin to me," his mother said.
"So what do you want me to do," he demanded. "Buy a coffin?" No matter
how hard he tried, it always came out wrong.
His mother's eyes widened. He stretched his long legs out defiantly
to cover his embarrassment. The warm night breeze came into the room. A
car honked raucously.
"What kind of a way is that to talk to me?" she asked. "What kind of
a way is that to talk to your mother?"
How many times had this happened in the past? How many more times would
they go through these scenes? She was still using the same words she had
used when he was twelve. Here he was thirty-three and married, and she
was still at it. And he hadn't learned yet how to be with 'her.
"If you buy any coffins," she was saying, "you'll he buying mine. Or
perhaps you won't have time for that, either. You don't have to come here
and do me any favors. You show up once a week and think that's enough.
You sit and look at your watch, and you think you're doing someone a big
favor. If Harry were here, things would be different, believe me."
He stared at her thin, angry face, and he hated this woman who nagged
and accused, and made him go home and fight with May. Every time he came
back from his mother's he had trouble. He hated her for being able to confuse
him and make him lose his temper.
"If Harry were in New York, I wouldn't be alone. I wouldn't have to
sit here alone and wait for you to visit me."
The pain he felt made him shout, "Then go live in Chicago! If Harry
is such a good son, then let him send you the money and go live with him."
He stood up and pulled on his jacket. "Every time it's the same thing.
You're never happy unless you have a fight."
His mother looked very small in the overstuffed chair.
"I'm going home," he shouted, "to a little peace and quiet." He strode
out of the room and slammed the front door as he left.