MOMMY DEAREST by Ellis Hastings
 
It was a cloudy day in 2004 when Edgar “Eddie” King was first assaulted by his childhood bullies. Up until that dark moment in time, which would remain embedded like a scar in his memory for the remainder of his life, Eddie had simply been picked on and called names. He was known throughout the school not by his birthright, but by the pseudonym “Mama’s Boy” cast unto him like a dark cloud hijacking a sunny day. That was okay, however, because it never bothered him much. In fact, the young boy was more curious as to why it was such a taboo in childhood to be considered a mama’s boy. What was so wrong with having a mother you love? He often wondered.
 
“I know it’s hard, Ed, but you have to empathize with those bullies,” Eddie’s father would tell him one day after school. “Not every kid is fortunate enough to have a mother that loves them as much as yours loves you.”
 
Three years after offering this encouragement to his son, Eddie’s father was killed in a massive car pile-up on his way to work one cold December morning. The police report revealed the driver at fault, a nineteen-year-old Biology major from Georgia Tech heading home on winter break, had drank one too many malt beverages the night before. The impairment, coupled with a patch of black ice and worn brakes, caused the driver to lose control of his vehicle in the middle of a busy intersection. Amongst the sound of a dozen car horns blazing and the squeal of rubber on pavement, the top-heavy Tahoe spun sideways, where it struck a pothole and flipped three times, bulldozing Eddie’s father’s 1999 Saturn on the third rotation. It lost its momentum after turning the Saturn into a crushed beer can. No one else—not even the drunk driver—suffered more than a few broken bones.
 
Eddie still remembers how his mother broke the news. It happened when he was in English class—which he excelled in due to his studious nature. Interrupting the teacher’s lesson covering run-on sentences, the intercom rang. Every child in the room cast their eyes to the small circle on the ceiling. Watching it as if a disembodied arm would fall from it and pull one of them into the static above.
 
“Mrs. Carr?” an old and raspy voice called down.
 
“This is she,” Eddie’s teacher replied disinterestedly; eyes remaining fixed on the dry erase board with several example sentences scrawled across the surface in red and green marker.
 
The voice paused, and the sound of shuffling papers was heard, “Can we have Edgar King for checkout?”
 
The teacher dropped her marker and glanced over her shoulder to make sure the young boy hadn’t gone to the restroom or skipped class. Not that the bright child would ever consider such a thing. “He’ll be right there.”
 
The class went silent and turned to the quirky child. Eddie felt a pit the size of an apple core expand in his stomach. Something wasn’t right, his gut instinct told him. His dad or mom never checked him out from school unless it was his birthday. They didn’t even check him out when his dog had gotten run over by a distracted driver two months prior. He didn’t know what was wrong but knew that something dreadful awaited him at the end of that long, dimly lit walk to the front office.
 
A faint smile spread across Mrs. Carr’s lips, “Mr. King, I guess it’s your lucky day.”
 
Eddie nodded quietly; beads of sweat slowly beginning to form on the ridge of his widow’s peak. He wiped them away absentmindedly and packed up his stuff, then threw his plain black bookbag over his shoulder and left the room.
 
When Eddie got to the office, his mother was standing there waiting for him. She had a comfortable outfit on that said she had been at home on the couch prior to checking him out; sweatpants and, oddly enough, one of his father’s shirts which was a size too large and, as a result, bagged down to her waist like a mini-skirt. Her strawberry blonde hair was brushed to one side but remained frizzy and unkempt in other parts, signalling that she hadn’t spent much time getting ready before heading to the school. The strangest thing in the picture, however, was that she was wearing a pair of sunglasses indoors.
 
“Mom?” Eddie said.
 
“Hi...” she managed, before having to clear her throat. “Hi, Eddie. I just thought I’d take you out to get some ice cream.”
 
Now, Eddie’s concern had become a raging wildfire. “Why, mom?”
 
“Oh, you’ve just been doing so well in your classes, and I know how upset you’ve been over those mean kids taunting, so I thought you deserved a break from school.”
 
This was an obvious lie, a twelve-year-old Edgar King realized, but to make his mom feel better, he decided to play dumb until after they got their frozen treat.
 
After that day, Eddie’s world was flipped on its axis. He had always been closer to his mother than his father, but he still loved his dad more than words could express. Although he wasn’t much into sports, Eddie still loved watching them with his father to bond. His mother would watch with them sometimes, but she never shared the same infectious enthusiasm as Eddie’s father had.
 
Now that he was left bastardized in such a cruel and unforgiving world, Eddie’s only means of influence in his life was his mommy dearest. As a result, Eddie became less masculine than he already was at his pre-pubescent preteen age and became more of what his tormentors would call a sissy.
 
When the year 2004 rolled around, Eddie had been without a father for nearly a year, and the changes in his behaviour had become obvious—a broken thumb jutting from an otherwise undamaged hand. Eddie hadn’t noticed how much more “girly” he had become, but the other kids in school did, and they weren’t going to let the sissy-boy get by the rest of junior high unscathed.
 
On a cloudy day in the spring of eighth grade, the bullies left school early and headed to Eddie’s house where they waited for him in the bushes. Upon Eddie’s approach up the stone walkway to his porch, the kids pounced, hitting him with anything they could find; large sticks, rocks, and even an old gym sock filled with quarters, not stopping until the boy’s face was beaten raw.
 
Once she heard the cries of her only child, Mrs. King’s motherly instinct kicked in. She rushed outside right on time to see Eddie’s childhood bullies running up the street, and her son lying semi-conscious in the front yard. His nose was broken, hooking so dramatically to the left that he would no longer be able to smell from that nostril. His right eye socket was fractured and had swollen to the size of an orange, with the bloody eye in the centre resembling the naval. Various dark purple, almost black, pockets of blood were arranged randomly across his face. When Eddie saw his mother, he began to bawl. Mrs. King could see that a few of his front teeth had been knocked from his mouth during the beating.
 
“Oh, Eddie!” she shrieked, rushing to her son’s aid and taking him in her arms, cradling him like a baby. “What have they done to you?” She showered his forehead with kisses and began to cry, herself.
 
“We are going to go to the police, Eddie. Yes, we will. And those policemen are going to find those devil children and take them to jail for a long time. And if those bullies try to fight back, the policemen are going to hurt them real bad first. Yes, they will!”
 
Mrs. King took Eddie to the hospital where he was treated for several facial fractures. A few days later, she used money from her late husband’s will to pay for dental implants for Eddie’s missing teeth. The small King family then pressed charges against the few attackers Eddie was able to remember. After a short-lived battle in court, Eddie and his mother lost due to there supposedly being an insufficient amount of evidence. On this day, Edgar King discovered that sometimes there’s no such thing as justice. But like the mean names the kids in school called him, Eddie didn’t care much. At least he had his mommy dearest: the first and most important woman in a young boy’s life.
 
Three years later, when Eddie was a senior in high school, he had surprisingly found a date to the school prom. By this time in his life, his glasses had gotten thicker, his teeth needed more dental work, and his midline had grown significantly. In the months leading up to the prom, Eddie had asked a shy girl in his math class that he found cute if she would go with him, but she turned him down. He then asked another crush of his to accompany him, but she too had declined. With a sigh, Eddie decided that prom wasn’t for him.
 
On the Wednesday just days before the big dance, Eddie was approached in the hall by a stunning girl; a blonde-haired bombshell who was one of the most popular girls on the cheerleading team. As expected, she had been dating the starting quarterback—who just so happened to be the same kid that had broken Eddie’s nose with the sock full of coins three years prior. She was set to go to prom with the football captain until she caught him cheating on her with another, more voluptuous member of the cheerleading squad. Upon this discovery, she called it off, then walked up the hall where she found Eddie, and asked the young man with the disfigured nose if he would like to take her to prom that Friday instead.
 
When Eddie got home that afternoon, he found he was happy in what felt like the first time since his father was alive. He rushed down the hall to the living room where his mother resided in her favourite hand-me-down chair, drinking a tall, steaming mug of chamomile tea.
 
“Hello, dear,” she said, getting up from the recliner to hug her beloved son. “You seem happy today. Is there any news you would like to share?
 
“I’ve got a date, Mom!” Eddie declared, on top of the world.
 
Her expression of joy instantly soured, “A date?”
 
Eddie nodded, “Uh huh. It’s with one of the prettiest cheerleaders in the whole school. We’re going to prom on Friday. But guess what else!”
 
“What?” The lack of enthusiasm was obvious in her tone.
 
“She asked me!”
 
“Eddie, I don’t know...”
 
At this, the young man rolled his eyes, “Oh, come on, Mom. I mean, I know it seems too good to be true, but at least I can go to prom this year. If she was just playing around with me, she wouldn’t have been able to hold back laughter when I said yes.”
 
“It’s not that, Eddie,” His mother sighed. “You’re a scrumptiously cute boy, and any girl would be beyond lucky to have you. But girls can be so mean. So... vicious.”
 
“But, Mom—”
 
“You don’t need any of those soul-suckers in your life, honey. You’re too good for them. The only woman you need is Mommy Dearest.”
 
Upon her last statement, Eddie visibly cringed. When he was younger he’d delighted in calling his mother “Mommy Dearest,” because that was what she was to him. But now, in High School—and after his acne-infested goth phase—Edgar King had outgrown that part of his life. He still loved his mother, but he was no longer that weird kid coddled by his over-protective widow of a parent.
 
He was seventeen and had a full scholarship to the University of Georgia waiting for him. He was a man now—or so he liked to consider himself, as most seventeen-year-olds do. Deciding he was going to live his life for himself, not his mother, the shy chubby kid with the disfigured nose went to prom with a cheerleader. Yet, still, he couldn’t shake the worry in the back of his mind. Part of him feared his mother was right; that he would show up to prom only to find his date dancing with someone else, and that he would become the laughing stock of the entire school. He’d read the book Carrie a couple years ago; he knew how savage teenagers could be—especially when it came to the spring dance.
 
 
 
Years had passed since prom night. At first, the young lady had gone with the shyest kid in school to spite her cheating ex-boyfriend. However, during the slow dance, when the lights were dimmed, and all that was illuminated beneath the blue glow above was the soft, innocent face of Edgar King, something changed in the cheerleader’s heart. She found herself oddly charmed by the young man. Sure, he had a little more weight hanging from his hips than she cared for, but that could be changed.
 
She discovered that she and Eddie shared quite a bit in common. They listened to the same music, had a soft spot for romantic comedies, and were both secret aficionados of horror literature. At the end of the night, when Eddie dropped her off in his mother’s old, half-broken Chrysler convertible, she sent him a text saying that she had a great time and would like to go to dinner with him before graduation. Now, a decade later, the two of them were still together.
 
Mommy Dearest had nearly lost her mind when her son came home to visit during the Winter break in his senior year of college. The first thing out of her son’s mouth when he walked into the living room—neglecting to give her a hug, mind you—was an inquiry as to whether or not he would be able to “borrow” his grandmother’s old wedding ring. The one with not a diamond, but a beautiful red ruby engraved in the centre in the shape of a heart.
 
“You need this for?” she asked rhetorically.
 
Eddie, no longer overweight, but still a tad reserved, looked at his feet embarrassed, then laughed softly. “Mother...”
 
“Don’t you mother me, young man,” She snapped, “I know what you want that ring for, and you can’t have it. I forbid it!”
 
Eddie shot his gaze towards his mother; face growing red with fury. She had tried to keep him from going to prom with Amber, and now she was trying to prevent him from marrying her: the love of his life, and the newly most important woman in the world to him.
 
“You can’t forbid me. I’m a grown man!”
 
“Oh, please. You said that shit when you were seventeen!”
 
“Of course I did. I was seventeen, Mom. But I’m not a kid anymore; I’ve landed a job with the firm I’ve been interning at for after graduation, and they even gave me a hefty sign-on bonus. I’ll be able to buy my own apartment after I’m out of the dorms. I can take care of myself, so I should be allowed to marry Amber.”
 
Marry Amber, those words struck a sour note in Mommy Dearest’s heart. For the first time since her husband’s death, she felt an odd, overwhelming sense of; anger, grief, betrayal, and even a hint of mourning all blended together in one colossal shit smoothie.
 
“I said no,” The haggard old widow held firmed; unmoved by his plea.
 
“You do know this isn’t going to stop me from marrying her, right?”
 
Mommy Dearest didn’t respond. Her face held tight in her favourite chair in the living room; thin lips pulled back in a snarl. Suddenly, a single tear sprouted from her right eye, running down her cheek and dropping from the chin. A faint plopping like the sound of a pebble skipping across a lake was heard as the droplet landed in her cup.
 
This tear opened the flood gates, and she no longer resembled a witch, but instead what she actually was in reality; an underweight, stressed and depressed woman who, with every year she lived, took one step closer to the grave. Her physical appearance said it all, especially when she was most vulnerable—like in this moment.
 
Eddie sighed, “I’m sorry, Mom. I didn’t mean to upset you.”
 
Mommy Dearest continued her pitiful weeps into the old scarf Eddie had given her for Mother’s Day when he was in High School: the one with the hearts and the phrase, “I love you now and forever. Happy Mother’s Day,” stitched into the fabric.
 
“Mom. Don’t cry, please. You know I’ll always love you.”
 
She looked up; her blue eyes broken and filled with tears, “But you love her more. What ever happened to me being Mommy Dearest: the first and most important woman in your life? You know, that’s what your father always said when he was alive, that a mother is more important than a wife. He held strong to those convictions up until the day your grandmother passed away.”
 
“It’s not that I love her more. It’s a different type of love, Mom. You were married to dad for fifteen years, you should know that.”
 
“But you put her above me. Remember when we used to go to the mall and I’d buy us a pastry at the bakery every Friday after school? What happened to those days, Eddie?”
 
The warmth of guilt began to grow inside Eddie. His mother was right. After he began dating Amber, Fridays had stopped being Mother-son days, and were instead replaced with Amber-Eddie date nights.
 
“But, Mom. You know I love you more than the world itself, and I always will. I’m sorry, but I’m a man now and I need to prioritize starting a family of my own. You should know that. Plus, look on the bright side, maybe in a few years you’ll be Grandma Dearest.”
 
The old woman’s eyes bulged from her skull, “No!” she shrieked.
 
Eddie flinched; taking a large step back.
 
“I don’t want to be Grandma Dearest. I want to be Mommy Dearest! There’s only one Edgar King and he’s mine not Amber Goretzka’s!”
 
“Mom, you have to move on. Are you even hearing yourself right now? You sound like a crazy person.”
 
“Oh, I’m the crazy person? I’m not the one moving out and abandoning his dear old mother in her old age. What if I fall, Eddie? What if I fall and crack my skull on that table over there and can’t get back up? Do you really want to come home to visit one day only to find my rotting body covered in flies and with my brain dried on the floor like spilt oatmeal?”
 
Eddie grew nauseated and guiltier. His mother was clearly not okay mentally; it was obvious she hadn’t been since the day her husband died. Eddie knew something was different about her when he saw her wearing his father’s oversized shirt and those sunglasses to conceal the tears in her eyes.
 
“I’m sorry, but I’m not going to let you guilt me into moving back in after college. In a perfect world, what did you think was going to happen when I grew up?”
 
“Well...” Mommy Dearest thought about it for a moment, then said, “The plan was that after college you would take a job close to home and move back in to care for me like the good boy you always were growing up. Then, after I died, I figured you would find yourself a nice, respectful lady to marry and of whom you would live with in this house with my ashes in a jar on the mantel.”
 
Eddie didn’t know how to respond. It was an odd feeling, but for the first time in his life, Edgar King found himself legitimately frightened of his mother. His mother: the woman who nurtured and loved him when no one else would, for God’s sake. That wasn’t natural, but then again, nothing about his relationship with his mother growing up ever was. Sigmund Freud would love me he thought bitterly.
 
“Mom, you need help, but I’m afraid I’m not the person who can get you to where you need to be... mentally.”
 
By now, Mommy Dearest’s crying had ceased. She now sat in silence; eyes red and stinging from the salt.
 
“I can pay the rent for you to live in a nice home—”
 
“A home? Why? So you can completely abandon me and move in with that whore you want to marry? You know fragile old women like myself don’t live long after they’re stuffed into one of those places!”
 
“Mom, please just listen to me,” Eddie begged.
 
“You know, Eddie, I think that’s precisely what you want to happen, isn’t it? You want to put me in one of those prisons, so I’ll end up withering away and die within the year. That way I’ll no longer be a nuisance to you. Tell me the truth, Eddie. You can’t lie to me, I’m your mother.”
 
The young man looked his mother directly in the eyes and said, without flinching, “That’s not true, Mom. I want you to live somewhere you can be looked after and cared for every day. I can’t be there for you all the time anymore,” He sighed. “Look, I’m not going to force you to go to an assisted living facility, but please believe me when I say I think it’s for the best.”
 
“An assisted living facility? Oh, please. You can’t even say what it really is: A God damn death camp for the elderly!”
 
Eddie cringed, “Mom, please stop calling it that.”
 
“I’m done arguing, Eddie. I’m not going. I’m going to stay right here in this living room, in this chair, drinking my chamomile tea. Go marry Amber if you want, but just know that I’ll always be here for you waiting, Eddie. I’m not going to get remarried, I’m not going to date anyone, and I’m not going to make any friends. You’re my world, Eddie dear, and I know that deep down you know I’m your world, too. You’re just afraid to admit it to yourself, but that’s okay. I understand, and I will be right here waiting for you with open arms for when you’re done with Amber and decide to come back to your Mommy Dearest. Do you understand and agree?”
 
Eddie didn’t understand anything she said anymore, and in the back of his mind he wondered if his old mother was even anywhere in that woman, or if she was just an empty shell. However, to humour her, he said, “Okay, yes. I agree.”
 
A warm smile spread across Mommy Dearest’s face, and for a brief moment, Eddie caught a glimpse of the compassionate, loving woman she once was.
 
“Good. I’ll see you soon?”
 
“Okay.”
 
“Perfect. I love you, Eddie dear.”
 
“I love you too, Mom,” Eddie leaned down and gave his mother a hug and kiss on the cheek, then he left.
 
 
 
In the following months, Eddie found himself unable to muster the courage to even check on his mother, except calling her and wishing her a happy birthday, as well as sending her a half-assed card and thoughtless gift, in the February following that real-life nightmare before Christmas. Now, it was July—the most humid month of the year in Georgia—and Edgar King hadn’t so much as heard from his mom in nearly five whole months. Deep down he still loved and cared for her, and worried about her every day, but he was no longer brave enough to speak to her. Every time he did he found that he had trouble sleeping at night and looking his now-fiancé in the face.
 
Sometimes, when Eddie’s lips met the lips of Amber Goretzka—who was set to become Amber King this November—he would pull back after breaking the kiss and see his mother’s tight and thin-lipped face grinning evilly back at him.
 
I told you a mother is always the most important woman in a man’s life the horrid expression on Mommy Dearest’s face would say. The image would remain burned into Eddie’s mind until he closed his eyes and counted to ten. Fortunately, after reopening his eyes, Amber’s beautiful and concerned face was always peering back at him.
 
“Are you alright, Ed?” She would ask. Eddie had asked her to kindly stop calling him Eddie after that incident with his mother. Although Amber was confused as to why, she did as asked without question.
 
Eddie would then lie to Amber and tell her he was just having a bad migraine and that he was feeling better now. He had never had migraines before in his life, and Eddie could sense that Amber knew he was holding something back, but she never asked him what was truly on his mind. Thank God, Eddie thought. What would I tell her if she asked what was really wrong? That I can see my fucking mother’s face in the place of hers sometimes when we kiss? Thankfully, Amber would simply kiss him on the cheek and tell him that a good night’s rest would make everything better. She would then roll onto her left side and pull the covers up to her chin. It was how she always slept; Eddie found the habit endearing.
 
One day in July when Eddie was at work finishing up a project at his desk, he received a text around five in the afternoon from Amber. It read: Ed, is there any way you could take off work a little early? I’ve been feeling in the mood lately and was thinking we could have a romantic home-date tonight. I’ll even let you have dessert before dinner ;).
 
Glancing over his shoulder to make sure there wasn’t a nosey co-worker of his spying on his texts, he sent back: I’m just about done with things at the office. Will be on my way soon. He wanted to say something sexy, but Eddie always thought he sounded stupid when he tried to talk dirty. A few minutes later he felt his upper thigh spasm as his phone vibrated with another message from Amber.
 
Unrelated: I saw your mother earlier today. She came by the apartment with flowers. I invited her in, and we talked over some tea. She sat me down and admitted that she wasn’t very fond of me since we started dating because she was afraid I was trying to steal you away from her. What a silly thing for her to think, right? I told her that I would never dream of doing such a thing and that a mother is the first and most important woman in a man’s life. She apologized again for her cold behaviour and told me that she was just working through a tough time, with the anniversary of your father’s death recently passing, and that she had finally come to terms with the relationship. We talked some more, and she even revealed to me that she had finally started dating again. I am so happy for your mother. I’m sure she’s already told you about the tall, long-haired young blond fellow she’s been seeing. She says she doesn’t know his age but that he must be no more than thirty-five, if that. I never took your mother for the dating type, Ed, but especially not as a cougar! We definitely need to have a double date with her and her new accessory soon. Can you promise me that you’ll call your mother after dinner? Please?
 
Eddie rolled his eyes, then felt a sudden pang of paranoia strike him. He hadn’t felt this sixth sense since the day he heard his name come over the intercom. Without trying to worry Amber, he shot back a short and sweet: Ok. I promise. Then, Eddie logged off the outdated desktop computer he was forced to use for work, threw his jacket over his shoulder, and left.
 
When Eddie arrived at his apartment, he found the door locked. He slid the key in and twisted it to the right until hearing the pop of the bolt retracting. He pushed the door open slowly and entered. The lights weren’t off but were adjusted so the room was dimly lit. A smell of honey citrus wafted from the open bedroom. Amber was wearing Eddie’s favourite perfume, and for the time being, Eddie completely forgot about the rotten feeling in his gut.
 
Something small crushed beneath Eddie’s shoe when he took a step forward. He flinched, although he didn’t know why.
 
“Force of habit,” he said to himself, turning his gaze to what lie beneath his feet. Rose petals decorated the tiled floor, leading in a meticulously organized trail to the darkened bedroom. A devious grin spread across his lips. Without saying a word, Eddie slipped off his shoes, removed his nice, navy-blue jacket, and tiptoed into the bedroom. What he found inside caused his heart to sink.
 
Amber was lying on her left side; beige comforter pulled up to her chin. She had fallen asleep waiting for him to get home. Sighing, Eddie took a seat on the bed; his fiancé’s head bobbing rhythmically with the rocking. It all seemed fake—contrived—that her head unnaturally nodded with the vibrations. She must be playing a prank on me, Eddie thought.
 
“I know you’re awake,” he said.
 
He received no response. Eddie laughed bitterly and shook his head. It seemed to him that Amber would often fall asleep before his arrival home.
 
“Guess I’m not sexy enough,” Eddie joked.
 
Since him and Amber had started dating years ago, he’d lost a few dozen pounds and replaced them with muscle. His nose was still disfigured, as it had been for all his young adult life, but Edgar King knew that, now fully-matured, he was a deadly handsome man.
 
“Awake yet?” He nudged Amber gently. Her head bobbed again; she was out cold. Eddie decided not to disturb her, but she really owed him his dessert tomorrow night. He got up to make dinner but changed his mind upon realizing he wasn’t very hungry. He’d eaten a late lunch at work and was honestly quite tired himself, so he decided to hit the hay like Amber.
 
“Goodnight, my love,” Eddie said. He leaned forward and kissed his sleeping beauty’s temple. Instead of being greeted by the warm touch of her skin against his lips, he felt frozen wax. His eyes went wide.
 
“Are you feeling under the weather?” he asked, attempting to wake her. “Amber?”
 
He received no response.
 
Now, Eddie’s paranoia had given way to panic. He stripped the covers from the bed and almost fainted upon seeing Amber’s head turn to the right. It now faced the same direction as her pale and blood-spattered back. Crying out, Eddie lunged away. The sudden movement caused Amber’s head to topple from the bed, landing on the floor with a dull thud.
 
Her unmoving eyes were now locked on Eddie accusingly. With a quivering hand, Eddie removed his phone from his pocket and reread Amber’s last text, sent a little less than an hour ago—too short for her to have turned cold.
 
She was afraid I was trying to steal you away from her. What a silly thing for her to think, right? I told her I would never dream of doing that, and that a mother is the first and most important woman in a man’s life.
 
“Oh God, Mom!” Eddie declared.
 
He ran to the end of the room and flipped on the lights. The bed was covered with a crimson veil: rose petals and blood.
 
“What did you do!? Oh fuck, what did you do?” His legs went out from under him, and he fell into a sitting position on the floor; back pressed against the wall. He couldn’t remove his eyes from the gory spectacle.
 
“Oh God, Mom. You couldn’t have done this. Not this,” His eyes, blurred with tears, fell upon the dresser. Sitting on the edge was Amber’s phone; a green notification light blinking from the top. He stumbled to his feet and dashed for it. Simultaneously waking the phone up and snatching it from the table, Eddie typed in Amber’s password. Below the time was a single notification that read: 1 new voicemail from 678-967-3065.
 
The number, Eddie immediately recognized, was his mother’s. The voicemail was left at 7:52. It was now 8:01. Eddie felt a chill run down his spine, raising the small hairs on the nape of his neck as he realized the texts—or at least the last one—may not have been from Amber at all. Swallowing his courage, and with tears in his eyes, Eddie laid the phone back on the dresser and pressed play.
 
“Eddie dear, are you coming home soon to visit your Mommy Dearest? I’m waiting for you with open arms and lots of hugs and kisses. Oh, and white macadamia nut cookies—your favourite. I hold no grudges against you, dear, so don’t be afraid to come back home. I hope to see you soon. Bye now, sweetie.”
 
Eddie stood frozen in place for several minutes before his mind processed the message. He listened to it again and again, praying that his mind was just getting the better of him and that he’d wake up from this nightmare soon. Finally, after his tortured mind could comprehend the matter of fact, Eddie decided to pay his mom a visit. He dialled the police and gave them his mother’s address, then laid a gentle hand on Amber’s headless body.
 
“I’m sorry,” he managed, lip quivering. “I’m so God damn sorry. I did this to you. Mom needed help, but I let her stay in that damn house instead of taking action when I should have. I’ll make this right, Amber,” Eddie left his apartment and got in his car. He cranked in on then sped off towards his childhood home.
 
 
 
By the time Eddie reached the house, the police had already barricaded it with crime scene tape. Stepping over the golden line at the base of the driveway, Eddie followed the old, moss-covered stone walkway to the front porch. He was stopped by a middle-aged police officer, who laid a gentle-yet-firm hand on his shoulder and told him not to enter. Eddie shrugged it off and opened the door.
 
His mind was brought back to an earlier memory. One that was identical every day after school, where he’d walk this same path. He’d enter his home and venture down the hall to the living room where he’d find Mommy Dearest sitting in her floral-pattern recliner with a cup of chamomile tea beside her on the coffee table.
 
I’m sorry, Mom, Eddie thought as he crossed the threshold into his old home, ducking beneath the cobwebs draping from the light posts above. I made you do it, didn’t I? I should’ve visited more. I should’ve made you go to a nursing home. I should have done something.
 
A group of police officers were standing in the living room when Eddie entered. They were distracted with their cups of gas station coffee and small talk. They barely seemed to notice him. Eddie froze in his tracks.
 
“Mom?” he called out, “I’m home.”
 
This immediately caught their attention.
 
“You shouldn’t be here,” one of the cops said, bounding towards him.
 
Eddie sidestepped the officer and turned to the right. His eyes fell upon his mother sitting in her favourite chair with a half-empty mug of chamomile tea beside her. The liquid had grown cold and rotten. Mommy Dearest was dead. Her face drooped low, as if the skin was about to slough off; revealing the skull beneath. Her withered lips were pulled back in a permanent snarl. Her hands curled in on themselves and rested in her lap, and her eyes—two sunken craters—seemed to watch him with disdain, no longer recognizing the man who had once been her son.
 
The fixed expression of death on Mommy Dearest’s face seemed to say what every child dreads to hear from a parent: I’m not angry, I’m just disappointed.
 
He broke into tears and began to fall towards the ground but was caught by one of the officers.
 
“Woah. Take it easy, man,” The startled cop said as he helped Eddie to his feet. “We told you not to come in here for a reason.”
 
“How long?” Eddie asked through tears.
 
“What?”
 
“How long has she been like... this?”
 
The cop looked at Mommy Dearest who had long passed the stages of rigor mortis. Her skin was pale except for her swollen ankles which were a deep, blackish-purple from the accumulated blood beneath the flesh.
 
“I’m no expert, but I’d say it’s at least been several days,” The young cop took him gently by the arm and led him outside to an ambulance waiting at the curb.
 
“Hey, Lewis?” The officer called to the technician unloading the stretcher—a red contraption labelled Ferno—from the back.
 
“What?” asked the EMT named Lewis. He pulled the bed all the way out and depressed the red handle at the foot, lowering the wheels to the ground.
 
“You guys won’t be needed for much. Just a confirmation.”
 
The EMT relayed the information to his partner—a balding man in his early thirties named Speagle. Reloading the stretcher into the ambulance, Lewis approached the man now without a father or mother.
 
“Are you alright?”
 
Eddie nodded, although he didn’t hear what the EMT had said. His mind was still stuck on the image of his mother sitting dead in the recliner, watching him, waiting for him. She died before Amber. But the voicemail?
 
“You sure don’t look alright. If you want to go to the hospital to get checked out, we’d be happy to take you. Not every ailment’s physical.”
 
“I’m fine,” Eddie mumbled.
 
Lewis frowned, “Alright. Well, you know where to find us if you change your mind,” He held up a peace sign. “Station 2, down in Ellenwood.” The EMT climbed into the ambulance, turned the red and white flashing scene lights off, and drove away.
 
Eddie stayed on scene, sitting on the curb at the base of the driveway, long after the police and ambulance personnel left. When he finally got up to leave, he looked at his watch. It was a quarter past five in the morning.
 
He drudged to his car, then looked back at his childhood home one last time. Standing where he had sat moments earlier was a thin, and fairly tall man with long, bright blond hair—looking almost white beneath the streetlight—stopping at his shoulders. His complexion was pale and unblemished, and his clothes were uncharacteristic. The man’s unblinking eyes were green like an emerald and haunted Eddie—perhaps even more than the discovery of both his fiancé and mother’s dead bodies combined.
 
Silently, the green-eyed man lifted one long, thin arm and waved kindly at Eddie. A gesture that said; goodbye for now. Eddie didn’t know why, but temporarily losing control of the muscles in his arm, he waved back at the man. When Eddie blinked the man was gone.
 
THE END


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