That morning her mouth looked dark and evil covered with purple-black lipstick. Her eyebrows smudged black. An old-fashioned fox fur curled around her neck; her beige wool suit showed off her figure. She always showed off, but did his father even notice? A lot of the time his father left the room, even when he sat across the room. Phil watched his father glance around as if searching for something, a puzzled expression on his face. Was he bewildered, wondering who these other two people were?
Phil’s mother shrieked at him. “Wear a tie!” Her voice closed in. “Don’t dare look away from me, Son. Put on the goddamn tie. Hurry, we’ll be late.” Before he could nod yes, her hand flew. “Don’t embarrass us.” His cheek burned with her slap.
From the backseat of the car, Phil studied his father’s profile. His father hummed to himself in a soft voice, his hands appeared loose and relaxed on the steering wheel. Phil tried to imitate his father’s tranquility by loosening his fists and humming a little bit. But his heart kept beating fast, he stopped humming and made fists again. At eight, he stayed worried after watching a man in a TV movie have a heart attack and die. The movie started him worrying.
His mother turned, reached across her seat to the back and swung her hand at him. When Phil ducked, she frowned. “Your tie’s still crooked. Straighten your goddamn tie. Don’t you use mirrors?”
They walked up the church steps. Beautiful organ music rolled down through the open front doors. Once inside the glow of candles and the smell of incense welcomed him. At first.
But Phil hated Sundays and church, and hated being trapped in the middle of the pew
with a parent on each side. Once they settled in the pew he wiggled, trying to lean away from his mother, but where to go? During prayers, he prayed for his mother’s fur to come alive and choke her. He imagined laughing when her eyes popped out of her head, when all the blood would pour out of her eye sockets. He wouldn’t try to help, he’d watch her bleed to death.
His thoughts and pictures in his mind made his stomach hurt. The bacon, orange juice and eggs rumbled, fell down into his bowels. He doubled over, wishing he hadn’t eaten breakfast because he should’ve known this would happen.
Stomach problems happened a lot. Mother slapped him and yelled a lot.
No escape until Communion, when people would be moving around. As soon as Communion music began, he stood. He ignored his mother’s tug on his sleeve and hurried to the bathroom. After he finished on the toilet, he didn’t want to leave the safe room. No incense would cover his stench.
Phil opened his eyes to stop the pictures.
He laid his hands on his chest to soothe his heart. Dr. Drummond told him he must learn ways to calm himself. Doc D. said if he practiced, he could change his sad and bad thoughts into happier ones. Think. Okay, here comes a good thought: The Ivy looked like a much nicer place to live, much better than the hospital or the rehab center. Except for the nurses’ station, the building didn’t feel like a hospital. Smaller and quieter, almost like a house. He had his own room, and didn’t have to deal with a dull roommate. He could walk around the courtyard safe inside the tall serpentine brick walls covered in ivy. The courtyard reminded him of old courtyards in London.
The first day at The Ivy Phil planned to cheek two pills to see if he could get away with being sneaky. Women always told him he had a charming smile. The proof came when a nurse walked into his room. She handed him a pleated cup, looked down and fiddled with a button on
her sweater. She should be watching him swallow pills. After a few more seconds she left. Her medicine cart rattled down the hall. He smiled.
How many pills would they give him every day? Not important. He would decide. It would be fun to make up a pill game. For two days he took the red and blue ones, then switched to three white ones and back to red and blue. The ones he saved he put into an empty toilet paper roll and stuffed both ends with toilet paper to keep the pills safe. He hid the roll in his underwear drawer.
Like that big day when he gave his birthday present money back to his father, his mind sped up with thoughts. He saw himself riding his bike to the river, staring at the fast-moving water wondering why he turned into s a terrible son. How would it feel to jump in the river, bash himself on the rocks and make everything go away? He still felt the same way about himself. Still that selfish, greedy boy.
The Ivy wasn’t near the river he used to visit as a kid. He didn’t have the energy to go far. The fault of all the pills they forced him to take. Thank goodness he had the sense to only take half of them each day.
What if he got lost searching for the river? Someone would catch him and put him in jail forever. They’d call his parents. Would they call his parents? They were so old and sad now, they couldn’t help him anymore. Suddenly happy when he thought about his mother growing old, maybe dead. He and his Dad might get along then and talk a lot more without her around.
Instead of the river, he had all these pills. He’d always kept an escape hatch in mind.