Note: To learn more about Penelope Przekop's novel, BOUNDARIES, and to start reading at the beginning, go here !
Chapter 10: Andrew (continued)
If a blind man leads a blind man, they will both fall into a pit.
When I get to my mother's apartment, she pulls me into a hug that once again promises what it never seems to deliver. “What’s wrong?” she asks. Her soft skin brushes against my nearly naked body. She strokes my short hair. As a child, my body seemed to melt into hers when necessary. Now, my back curls at an unnatural angle, creating a hole between us. I stand, hunched against her for as long as I can. I close my eyes and take deep breaths filled with Chanel No. 5 until my back aches.
“I just wish you could understand me,” I say, trying to move away from her clinging arms.
She holds my hand and leads me to her sofa. We sink into its luxurious softness and she tries to cuddle me under her arm but it’s awkward. I’m too big. “Why on Earth are you runnin’ around in your bathin’ suit?” she asks.
“I was at a pool party.”
“Did somethin’ happen to upset you?” Her concerned face is blind, as if from birth. There’s no possible way to explain.
“No, I just didn’t know anybody and I got lonely,” I say, both lying and telling the truth.
“Where’s Becca? Why didn’t she go?”
“I didn’t call her. I don’t know what’s wrong with me. I wanna be alone but, at the same time, I feel so lonely.” I crack my knuckles, my brand of hand wringing.
She smiles, determined to cheer me up. “Why don’t I fix some nice bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwiches? We can sit out on the balcony and talk. I just got the cutest new iron table. This is perfect timing.” Her smile grows as my heart shrinks, beaten down by Matt’s failure and my possible hand in it. She says, “We can sit out there and have our own little luncheon.”
Without waiting for an answer, she goes to the kitchen. From where I sit, I watch her pull food out of the refrigerator; it's more than I've eaten in the last week. “Do you remember that dream you had about bein’ born?” she yells from the kitchen. “Have you thought about that lately?”
I don't think yelling is necessary.
“I don’t wanna think about it," I say. "It wasn’t a good dream.” I move to the small glass-top table next to the kitchen so that we can hear each other a little better. “And I wasn’t born. I was trapped in some horrible place; it was a nightmare.” I look down through the table, staring at my thighs. They're spread over the chair like one big leg; there’s no space between them. “It was just one dream. I have a lot of dreams. That’s just the last one I remember.”
“I just thought it was interestin’, that’s all.” She pulls the wilted outer layers from the head of lettuce and throws them into the sink. “You really should think about it.”
I push my chair back so I can lay my cheek flat on the table. The glass cools my face and the lingering scent of Windex burns my eyes. I realize that her new handful of colorful medications must be helping; it makes me happy despite my bad day.
She says, “You know, Peyton, I know you’re lonely now but your life can change at any moment. You never know who you’ll meet, or what can happen in your life.”
“It’s never gonna change. I meet people all the time. Nothin’ ever changes.”
“Maybe you’re creatin’ some kind of a pattern.”
I reposition my cheek so it can feel cool again. “Why would I want to be lonely?”
“One day it’ll be easier. There are a lot of thangs I’m just startin’ to figure out and I’m forty-four years old. I never dreamed I’d get away from your dad.”
“Comments like that aren’t gonna cheer me up, if that’s what you’re aimin’ for.” I don’t like it when she says negative things about my father; I’ve heard them my entire life.
“Everythang turned out pretty good.” She smiles and looks around as if the past no longer exists. “I love this apartment, and I have two fine children. I’m so proud of you both. God has blessed you and me both, Peyton. You’ll see. You’re doin’ so good in school and you’re just beautiful! You can do anythang with your life. You can be a doctor if that’s what you want, but if it’s not … well … you can do just about anythang.” She gazes at me and sees a ten-year-old who wears an adult shoe size and still has choices.
My back begins to ache again and I sit up. “Everything should be great, but it’s not and I don’t understand why. I honestly don’t remember a time when my life was calm.”
She stops what she’s doing and sits beside me at the table. “Life is turbulent and meaningless. God brings meaning—and the calm—if you trust him.”
“But why should there be chaos just so God can calm it down and put it back in order? That doesn’t sound like a lovin’ God. That sounds like a jerk.”
I push my scraggly uneven bangs away from my face. My eyes suddenly feel open and cool like my cheek felt against the glass table. “It’s just that, in my heart, I believe in God. I believe all the thangs you’ve told me and I believe everythang I learned in Sunday school but my mind cain’t make sense of it.”
“Nobody understands it all,” she says.
“But at some level, life has got to make sense.”
“It makes sense to me.”
I stare at her, still a tiny bit drunk. “But I’m not you. I have a different heart and a different mind. You’d be happy to stand out in the cold if you knew God was inside, but I just cain’t do that. I’m the kind of person who has to build a fire or somehow find my own way inside. I just wanna be warm. Don’t you understand?” My bangs splatter into my eyes as my hands fall to the table. The tiny hairs hit my eyelids like mosquitoes and I try to blow them away. I curse my hair for slow growth although I know it’s just in a bad stage. “I just want some warmth. Standin’ in the cold doesn’t make sense to me. Does that make me weak? Is that what’s wrong with me?”
“I don’t know. But I believe, with every fiber of my bein’, that God warms us from the inside. He’s in your heart, Peyton.”
“Do you feel warm?” I ask. I search her face, trying to see past my mother, past her pain, past our history into who is truly there for me.
“At times I do,” she finally says.
“Do I have to wait until I’m old or dead before I feel it?”
She makes a face, gets up, and marches back to the kitchen. “You have to be still and know that He is God.”
“I’m tryin’ to tell you. I know He’s God. That’s never been my problem.” I take a deep breath. “Please just make the sandwiches.” I long to be surrounded by the smell of bacon; I want to hear it crackle in the frying pan, like Rice Krispies when I was a child and believed there was life in my food.
I want her to give that back to me.
“I’m just gonna cook it in the microwave. I don’t wanna get grease on the back splash.”
"No crackling for me," I whisper.
We go to her room then to find something for me to wear. My red bikini isn’t proper, especially if one is going to sit out on a balcony in the middle of the afternoon. It doesn’t matter to her that the balcony is less than twenty feet from a swimming pool. I fall backwards across her white iron bed, my arms and legs spreading over her dark bedspread like the points of a star. Her ceiling fan slowly turns above my head, each blade capturing my reflection as it passes. The breeze is nonexistent. Buried deep in her walk-in closet, she searches for something to cover my nakedness—something appropriate for our luncheon.
I make faces at the fan blades as they pass. “Mom, why do ordinary thangs—just livin’—seem so easy for everybody else?” I flash my breasts at the ceiling fan because I think it’s funny and I know she wouldn’t like it.
“Nobody has it easy,” she yells from the closet as a pair of linen shorts fly toward me from the door. “You just don’t know how those other people feel.” She emerges from the closet holding a blue blouse. “You look fabulous in this color; it makes your eyes look less gray. Brightens the blue.” I don’t move as she shrouds me with the silky material.
“Don’t you have somethin’ more casual? My bathin’ suit will show through this.”
“It’ll be fine.” She waves her hand through the air. “You cain’t go without a bra if you want. We’ll ignore it. It’s just us.”
As she turns to leave the room, I smile up at the fan and flash my breasts one last time. “If it’s just us, why do I have to put this stuff on anyway?”
“Well, I’m here. You shouldn’t take your family for granted. We count, too.”
Although the shorts are two sizes too large, they hang nicely on my hips. I pull the blouse over my shoulders and fasten the delicate pearl buttons. As predicted, the red bikini top shows through the pale blue material, like blood gushing beneath the surface of a crystal lake. It looks sexy—like something Madonna would wear. I shrug my shoulders and hurry to the kitchen, anxious to continue our conversation.
“Today I found out that Matt failed and has to repeat his freshman year of med school. He didn’t tell me. Do you think that’s why he resents me? Do you think it’s my fault?”
While she thinks it over, I wonder how his father took the news.
“He may have been distracted by you, but I don’t see how it could be your fault.”
“I thought he cared about me. He reeled me in so many times. It was like he examined me, threw me back in the river, and then fished me out again, over and over. Why do people act like that? Why do men keep fishin’ for the same fish if they never really plan on eatin’ it or hangin’ it on their wall or whatever?”
“Sometimes we see a part of ourselves in another person and we’re drawn to them, but when we start to get close, the boundary between us and them gets blurry. It gets kind of scary. Most people like thangs to be clear and safe.” She peels the greasy bacon strips apart and lays them on a thick stack of paper towels. “Sometimes people panic. They say and do thangs they don’t mean.” She puts the bacon into the microwave, but then pauses, staring past me. I turn to see what has captured her attention, but as she speaks, I realize she isn’t looking at anything. But still, she sees something. She’s finally speaking my language and I love it. “The whole world can become surreal," she says. "The floor can shift under your feet.”
I stare with her at the spot of nothing on the wall. “I was never afraid,” I say.
“The key is: they never take the fish off the hook. They aren’t willin’ to go that far because as long as the line’s there, the connection’s there—and that’s what we all crave: a connection.”
“I think they just wanna torture the pathetic fish.”
Her graceful neck stretches like a smooth, rippling desert as she laughs. There are no wrinkles, just the gentle ebb and flow of bones and vessels. Her manicured hand, dotted with gold and diamonds, rests on the sand. She’s beautiful and deep and soft. As she speaks, I watch her throat move. “Peyton, you have to swim away. Trust me. It’s hard, but you have to find the right direction and keep swimmin’ until that line around your neck snaps.”
The gentle desert disintegrates as her hand jerks away, slamming the microwave door. She turns the knob with undue force. “That’s what Simon did to me. Oh, brother! I was his fish, all right.” I can barely hear her above the humming microwave. “I thought I found a soul mate.” Her voice grows louder and louder until she’s nearly shouting again, as if she’s afraid I can’t hear. “Peyton, the intensity is not worth the pain. There’s somethin’ better.”
“I guess when that line’s so fuzzy; it’s like they’re rejectin’ themselves. But since they’re trapped with themselves, I guess they just wanna hang on forever.” I yell louder than her sensing that volume gives my words power. I deliver a proclamation. “We all just wanna love ourselves. We cain’t stop tryin’.”
We stare into each other’s eyes until we both smell the sizzling bacon. We suck it in together. “You are so smart,” she says, turning to put the mayonnaise and lettuce back in the refrigerator. “I’m not sure if I should tell you this yet, but I started datin’. He lives downstairs.”
The microwave screams, the shrill beep digging into my ears, almost hurting.
“The bacon smells like it’s been fried. I hope it’s crispy,” she says, ignoring my expression. “I met him a couple of weeks ago,” she says without looking at me. She carefully organizes the food on plates that coordinate with her new kitchen. She prides herself on preparing not only balanced, but colorful meals, and this one screams of it. Color bleeds from the bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwiches, the yellow chips, and the red apples.
I stare at the plates. “You’ve only been separated a couple of months. You’re not even divorced yet.”
“Your dad and I were separate for a long time.”
“He loved you.”
She motions me to open the French doors leading to the narrow balcony overlooking the pool. Her arms are filled with plates, place mats, and linen napkins surrounded by coordinating napkin holders. “He’s taller than your dad. He’s divorced and his hobby is restorin’ antiques.” She giggles like a young girl. “We’ve been seein’ a lot of each other. This could be it for me.”
“You just met the guy.” The silky, blue blouse sticks to the wood siding as I squeeze past the small iron table to get to my chair. I sit down and examine the limp bacon in my sandwich. “I don’t think I’m gonna like this,” I say.
Even with the new medication, something about my mother is not quite right. I desperately want it to be but it’s not. Something is off kilter and out of whack—maybe like me.
She rubs her head. “There’s nothin’ wrong with it. Just eat it.” She takes a bite and smiles as if I’m a baby and she can convince me that it’s good. “Peyton, have you ever had oral sex?” Her mutilated food flashes at me through her lips. “Have you had it done to you?”
“Oh my God,” I say, knowing that I knew something like this was coming—that inescapable, inappropriate moment that ruins everything.
“Peyton, don’t say God’s name in vain.”
Embarrassed, I find it tough to look at her. I say, “I really don’t think I’m the right person to talk to about that.”
“But I just never had ... it ...,” she interrupts, blushing, “done to me.”
I press the balls of my bare feet into the concrete. My toes spread out as if contorted by a scream. “What about Dad? I cain’t believe this. What about the sacred Simon Taylor?”
“Your dad and I didn’t always have a very good sex life.”
“That’s not what I’m talkin’ about. And besides, that may not have been his fault, you know.”
She eats several bites of her sandwich before responding. “Peyton, this has nothin’ to do with Simon. That was a lifetime ago. You’ve got to stop thinkin’ about all that.”
“It seems like yesterday to me.”
“You’re an adult now. You understand that even men and women of God can feel attractions; they can find themselves lonely.” My heels dig into the concrete. I twist my feet but the calluses keep me from feeling anything. “Listen, I don’t have anyone else to ask about the oral sex. It just happened last night.”
It’s more than I can bear. “Why do you have to ask anybody?” I whine. “Why cain’t you just keep it to yourself?”
“When do you think we were gonna start relatin’ to each other as adults?” she asks.
“I don’t know but you’ve been tryin’ to do that since the day I was born.”
“That’s just not true,” she says, shaking her head in denial.
“Then why did you, an adult, come to me, a child, for comfort when you were depressed and miserable and ... suicidal? Why was I the only one who could make you stop cryin’?”
“I wasn’t just depressed, Peyton. I was mentally ill—and so young.” Her head continues to shake and her eyes dart in all directions as if she’s searching, as if she’s in a hurry to get somewhere.
Watching her eyes wobble makes me wonder what happened to the retarded girl and the baby she never had.
“You were not my caretaker,” she says. “You weren’t the only one.”
“You were at least thirty years old. And why did you have to tell me every gory detail about what was happening in that stupid church?”
She takes another bite of her sandwich and says, “I thought I should be honest about what was goin’ on.”
“Cain’t you understand how that made me feel? You gave me all that crap to worry about, besides the fact that I was constantly scared you’d kill yourself.” I pause and then say, “Then when I tried it, you acted like it was absolutely nothin’.”
Her head keeps shaking.
“It doesn’t matter what I’m capable of understanding now,” I say. “If that’s what you wanted—my understanding—you should have waited until I was actually an adult. And if that’s what bein’ an adult is about, I’m not so sure I wanna grow up.”
“I just wanted us to be close.”
I hold on to the edges of my chair as if they can somehow steady me. “You should have lied,” I say. “Don’t you think there are times when it’s okay to lie?”
“Thou shalt not lie, Peyton. I don’t know. How am I supposed to know?”
“I didn’t need to know that stuff then, and I don’t want to know what you’re doin’ now.”
Her head falls toward her plate until it’s almost a coordinating part of the color. She slowly eats her chips, crunching each one as if relishing their destruction. Finally, she glances up. “Please eat. You’re not eatin’.” I refuse to obey and her head falls again. “I did my best; everything worked out,” she says. “We turned so much heartbreak into good. God does that for us if we trust him.” She smiles.
“How can you say that?” I ask. “That shit never should have happened.”
“Peyton, without Simon I would have died. He was the tool God used to heal me, to bring me back to life! He saved me and showed me a spiritual world few people even begin to comprehend. Through Simon, God gave me the gift of discernment. I couldn’t just take my salvation and walk away. You’re dad never understood that and you may not either. But that was a long time ago. I realize that I could have handled thangs differently.” She reaches for my arm but I pull it away. “I’ve moved to the center of the pendulum since all those issues with the church and the years after. I have better medication. I live a normal life. And you’re doin’ better than you think.”
"No, I’m doin’ a lot worse than you think and it’s your fault. You did this to me.”
“Peyton, I’m your mother and I have to be honest with you. I’m afraid for your soul. You have a spirit of anger and destruction and fear.”
I begin to shake. Her eyes grow wide as she recognizes the trembling demon she believes in. I know there are no real monsters—only me. I shove my chair back as far as it will go, as far away from her as I can get on the small balcony. My arms wrap around the railing. “I hate that,” I hiss. “Don’t you know how much I hate that? You didn’t love me enough to be happy, or at least pretend. And then it turned out to be a bunch of demons!” People below stop swimming and look up. “I’m not sayin’ I don’t believe. I don’t know what I believe. I’m afraid to believe, but I did believe. I believed you were gonna take care of me, but you loved that Godforsaken church and that stupid preacher and callin’ demons out of people more than you ever loved me. You tried to save everybody else. You forgot about me. You loved so many people but you forgot to love me.”
“I prayed with you in deliverance. Don’t you remember?”
“You scared me. You made demons real.”
“Peyton, they are real!”
“I actually believed that I kept you alive. That’s why I always went with you. I went to save your life. I was only six or seven. I was a baby. Now I cain’t believe you slept with some stranger,” I lean toward her, snapping my fingers in her face, “just like that.”
She bolts out of her chair and begins gathering dishes from the table. Plates clank against plates. I cringe, fearing they’ll break and I’ll be blamed. Gathering what I can from the table, I follow her into the apartment thinking this is more than I can handle in one day of my nineteen-year-old life.
She drops the heap of dirty dishes onto the counter in a shocking crash. “Don’t you dare judge me. My life has been hell for the most part. Don’t you think I know how many guys you’ve slept with? You know how hard it is to stop. I’m in my sexual prime. You’re just a young girl.”
“You’re my mom. You should be better than that.”
She looks into the empty sink and turns on the water. “I’m only human.”
“Then I’m subhuman because I need you to be better than that,” I say. “You should be better than me.”
“You shouldn’t hold me to such high standards.”
“Standards? You nailed me to the cross with your standards and now you want me to help you down?”
She flips on the disposal and the gurgling sound hits me in the gut, where it hurts the most. “We’re supposed to try to live up to the standards God’s given us, but we’re all human,” she says. “We’re gonna fail. And it’s not too late.” She turns to face me and I back away. “You told me that yourself,” she says. “You said you didn’t wanna be a spiritual battleground.” She swing back around and begins to feed the vibrating sink with the wilted layers of lettuce and the remains of our food. Several utensils fall into the sink, sliding across the silver chrome. She grabs each one just before it falls into the dark hole. “I knew you were a child, I didn’t tell you everythang. I have secrets, too.”
“Did you sleep with Simon Taylor?”
“I did not.” The disposal is finally empty and the only sound is the high pitch of grinding metal.
“Do you swear to God?”
“I’m not gonna swear to God. You just have to believe me.”
I can’t bear the incessant grinding. It goes on and on, although there’s nothing left to grind. I imagine jamming it with my hand. Blood will spurt from the center of the shining sink. My pain will splatter across her face. Her eyes will close in defense, but it will be too late; she’ll feel the slime on her skin. She’ll finally understand my emptiness.
She turns off the disposal, ending my fantasy.
“You slept with some man you barely know,” I say as I begin to strip out of the clothes she gave me. “That’s breakin’ one of God’s commandments. Why cain’t you swear to God for me?”
“Peyton, what are you doin’?”
“I don’t need your clothes. I’d rather be naked than wear your clothes.” I throw the shorts and blouse at her feet. “I want my own clothes.”
She stares down at the crumpled garments. When she looks up again her hard, cold cheekbones seem to point at me. “Well, why don’t you go home then and get your own?”
When the walls of my parents’ home crumbled, I experienced the clearing of land, the evacuation of something beyond repair. I had the sensation that something new and better would appear like magic—something monumental. It was a moment of freedom. Even Becca told me I was free, on my own, and in control. She told me I should keep smiling. I should laugh. Enjoy. But as that summer crept forward, my apartment became a new prison. My parents’ home didn’t compare to the solitude I threw myself into.
It’s that place, that confinement, I run toward. I rush from my mother’s apartment toward white walls that bear no pictures, windows without coverings, and a refrigerator that cools nothing.
The brick apartment buildings form a square. Front doors sandwiched between sliding glass doors run along the façade, and useless concrete slabs, intended to be patios, lay on the ground in front of each unit. What makes the complex unique is the garden growing at its center. Like a heart, it gives the place life and character. From the inside, it appears much larger than it really is. I’d gone in once. It was beautiful but too hot, a breeding ground for insects. I had planned to return in the fall. It would be nice then, before the plants grew limp and wilted with the coming of winter.
I sit, naked in my bedroom, rubbing lotion into every pore of my skin. It’s still red from the exposure I suffered at the pool party and from a long, scalding shower. I groom myself attending to every detail. Finally, I put on my clothes, and at exactly ten o’clock, I walk out the door.
Two hours later, I return surrounded by warmth. I’d managed to convince a drunken Andrew to give me another chance. He is generous beyond reason. He even brings a friend along to witness the forgiveness. Arms, legs and muscles envelope me. My dress rises above my head and I’m not cold. I snatch at their bodies as they scurry across the floor of my prison. They delight in my desperation. They respond as if they’ve spent their lives waiting to feed me, as if they’ve been waiting in the filthy, dark corners of my room all along. I devour them, my disease strengthening with each slimy bite. I don’t care who they were. I only care that they are medical students. Matt lingers on them. They share his dream. They walk where he walks. They know what he knows. I suck them dry and cold, and then they leave.
Chapter 11 coming this week.
To find out what BOUNDARIES is about and start reading at the beginning. go here .
BOUNDARIES is Penelope Przekop's first novel. It's a work of fiction based on true events. Since writing BOUNDARIES, she has completed two other novels. ABERRATIONS was published by Greenleaf Book Group in 2008. CENTERPIECES is currently being considered by several publishers. Penelope is working on her fourth novel, DUST.