by R L Davis Hays 2017
“Tori, honey? Could you come in here when you get a sec?”
My mom’s voice sounded strained and I had just walked in the door. What could it be so soon? The bittersweet smoke lingering in the air screamed to me of the presence of Derek, her cigarette-toting man-thing. By God, he had the worst taste in smokes.
I used to love the smell of my grandfather’s pipe, stuffed with the butt-ends of his cheap cigars, a sweet hickory scent that infused my grandparent’s log cabin with the trappings of comfort and acceptance. Not the same as Derek’s at all.
Clutching my backpack, I hurried to my room, briefly catching the sight of dark hair on curled toes peeking out of two Birkenstocks that had seen better days. Through the door to our living room, I could see his pajama clad legs as he sat in the same spot he had claimed the first day mom brought him home. What little sunlight that floated through the window draperies caught in the cloud of clove smoke and was prevented from intruding further.
“Did you hear your mother, Victoria?”
I dropped my backpack to the floor, my hand on the handle to my bedroom. So close. I almost went five seconds without Derek parenting me.
“Yes, Derek. I heard her. Can’t I just put my stuff up first?”
“You don’t have to backtalk.”
My eyes rolled out of sheer habit. Tossing my pack to my bed, I moved into the kitchen to see my mother, her walker against the counter, trying her best to reach up into a top cupboard. A stack of groceries covered the counter-top, the bags littering the floor, and the back door was standing open.
“Why doesn’t Derek help you with the groceries?” I asked for the millionth time as I lowered her off her tiptoes and placed the soup cans onto the shelf with ease. Perhaps I was born for the simple task of reaching high areas for my tiny, middle-aged mater. Seems as likely as any reason.
“He doesn’t come over to do chores, Tori. He works hard. Let him relax,” she mewed.
I sighed. It was the same line she used for my absent father who watched her body disintegrate until he had had enough of “taking care of a mooch” and decided to leave her.
“He could at least shut the door if your arms are full, couldn’t he? That wouldn’t take any of his precious energy.” I mumbled so she could not hear too much as I closed the wooden door.
“I’m perfectly capable of–”
“No, you’re not, Mom.” I heaved a sigh and grabbed the plastic handles of a floor-dwelling bag. “You have a freaking walker to deal with. You shouldn’t have to carry groceries from the car by yourself.”
“No, she shouldn’t.” Derek magically appeared at the arch to the dining room. It was like the click of the back door summoned him. His gravel choked voice continued to scold me as if I had been the one squatting in the other room listening to her struggles this whole time. “You should be more helpful for your mother.”
After the day I had just been dealt, something in me snapped. “You’re right, Derek. I should’ve known my mom was at the store and should’ve dashed home like The Flash to help her with the bags! Utterly brilliant!”
“Tori.” My mom admonished me with her tone. “Just put the things away for me, please? I need to lie down. Can you do that without yelling at anybody? Please?”
I wilted. “Sure, Mom.”
She shuffled to the arch where Derek ushered her to the hall with a waiting arm. He was such a freaking hero. I resumed sorting the items from the bags, muttering to myself. “I wasn’t yelling at just anybody. It was still a pretty stupid thing to say. How am I supposed to help when I’m not even home, Derek? Tell me that. Like you tell me everything else; you’re so smart and so wonderful. Why can’t you tell me that? Huh?”
Meaningless, pointless venting. Eventually my grumble petered off to silence and I was absorbed in organizing the shelves, the frig, and the small pantry closet near the back door.
An hour later, I realized Derek’s true genius. I had cleaned the kitchen without being asked. Pure evil, that’s what he was.