In our first New Voices publication for December, Michael Ruby shares with us the story of a young boy, displaced (temporarily) from his home in Seattle, while his mother recovers from back surgery. For Bernard, as for the reader, this narrative is familiar yet surprising, quietly loving but firm. Read on below:
Before we moved here, my mother had described this area to me as a “suburb.” That couldn’t be right. Suburbs had cul-de-sacs rimmed with beauty bark. Kids jumping through sprinklers on green lawns. Buxom stay-at-home moms pruning their flower beds. This? This was a forgotten place. There was nothing here. Nothing but the shameful droning of private lives.
“Stick to the straight and narrow,” Randle told me as we rode in his truck. He was my mother’s current boyfriend, and his Chevy smelled like breath mints and sweat. “That means no hooch. Not until you get your sea legs. Till then, find a cheap beer you can stomach.”
“Right,” I said.
“I myself am a Heineken man, as you know.”
He lifted the center console to show me some old empties. Then he cornered briskly, and the buckets and cooler in the bed slid around like dead fish on deck.
Randle had been bringing me along to paint houses with him since school had let out for the summer. Said he wanted to give my mother some space. She was recovering from back surgery, which for some time now had involved shuttering herself in his bedroom, emerging only at odd hours to eat bowls of Corn Pops over the sink.
At least it was all temporary—that’s what my mother’d promised me back in March. We’d stay for a while with Randle in his bunkerish rambler downstream of Seattle, then we’d move back to the city. Have our own place again. And I’d believed her—because I knew temporary. I didn’t trust my mother, but I trusted temporary. Temporary was every living arrangement we’d ever had. Temporary was each of her previous boyfriends—Derek, Keith, Leon—those brief interludes of mustaches and know-how, hazy in my memory.
But Randle stands out clearly. I can still picture him that morning in the truck—his sunburnt face. Earth-tone flecks of paint on his forearms. Tawny shorts that rubbed a hairless patch into his thighs. His t-shirts he bought by the rack from the Goodwill, ravaged one per day with sweat and spatter. That week he’d already been a volunteer for a diabetes walk, a fan of John Cougar Mellencamp, and a member of the Delta High varsity fastpitch team: district champs.
Now, in simple black sans serif, his chest read, I’m awake. What more do you want?