by Siobhan Welch

When Mom got busted at Super Wal-Mart pulling the five finger discount on a box of Nice 'n Easy, they called me to come get her. She was sitting in the back room between a manager and a cop, the three of them sipping Mountain Dews. Mom was so short her feet barely hit the floor, and she got this shit-ass grin on her face when she saw me, all, "Nate!" then "That's my son" like she was proud.

The cop stood and gave me the stink-eye, zeroing in on my tattoos as if I had been the one who tried to rip off a box of hair dye in the middle of the day. He was built like a fire plug, bald and shiny, like he might have been a gym coach if he hadn't been on some fucked up power trip that sent him to Police Academy instead. The manager was a kid still, a ginger—pale, freckles, the whole bit.

I ignored them both and looked at Mom. "What happened here?"

She shrugged, touched her hand to her hair. "My roots. . ."

Her hair, now white at the root, was normally a reddish brown. Natural Radiant Auburn, according to the box on the table.

"I see."

"And I told them already. I was going to pay for it."

"Our cameras have her putting the item in her purse over on aisle nine," said the manager, now also standing. "At three-oh-seven, an associate caught her trying to vacate the premises using the exit over by the frozen foods."

He looked pleased with himself, secure in his faith in technology.

"My mind's not what it used to be."

"Ma'am, " the cop said. "I'm not sure you understand the weight of what's happened here."

Mom hung her head, acting the part.

"Well today's your lucky day." He looked at me. "Consider this a warning."

On the drive home, I lit into her: "At the Wal Mart? Jesus—it isn't someone's garage sale!"

"Don't you be ugly!"

"You could go to jail!"

"I am your mother!"

It felt weird, not gonna lie, calling out the lady who used to beat my ass, not to mention the Purple Kush I had curing in the closet at home. Still, stealing was stealing. If she kept it up, someone was gonna have to deal with the cops.

I didn't want to deal with the cops.

Citrus was her gateway drug. It started a few years after she moved in. Blood oranges, tangerines, lemons the size of my fist. Mom said it was a crime to charge for fruit when God had put it here for free.

She'd always collected things, junk she picked up at yard sales or antique malls—cloth fans or napkin rings or those smooth, plastic eggs you get out of vending machines. She took ashtrays from restaurants. "See this one! It's shaped like Texas!" At home she filled them with Brach's candy or buttons, as if they'd been meant to serve that purpose.

After she moved in, I got used to finding small things around the apartment, items without a history that appeared with no explanation. A pink soap dish shaped like a shell. A wooden abacus.

When Mom got fired from Merry Maids for stealing supplies (she claims she just borrowed some Magic Erasers), she was unemployed for eight months straight, which meant always at home. Lucky for us she got the gig at Subway making sandwiches for the after-school crowd and she didn't seem to mind it. She even said she liked making sandwiches, and I figured it reminded her of a better, easier time.

Dad lived in New York. He stuck around long enough for the ink to dry on my GED before he split, thirteen years ago. Last I heard he'd hooked up with a poet named Sylvan who, from what I could tell after ordering her book off Amazon for $3.99, was blonde and in her 40s, with serious daddy issues and a thing for S & M.

"I'm bored," is what he told Mom. "You never want to do anything."

"Well, what do you want to do?"

Dad wanted to move to New York, visit art museums, and fuck a poet named Sylvan.

One night Mom and I got drunk on white zin while I read her passages from Sylvan's book. "Oh good grief!" she kept saying. Afterwards, when the buzz was wearing off, Mom just sat there, quiet for a minute. Then, she burst out laughing.

"That jerk!" She had tears streaming down her face, watery grey streaks. "She didn't even rhyme!"

Dad and I didn't talk much. He couldn't see past my tattoos. "Bottom line," he said. (He always said things like that, shutting down every conversation before it started). "Bottom line. If you want to desecrate your body like that, then fine. I just wish you had a little respect for yourself, that's all. Some self respect.

"Sometimes I don't know who you are anymore, Nathaniel. I really just don't know.

"You think I'd have pulled that crap with my father at your age? At any age?

"Don't you have anything to say for yourself?"

"Yeah," I finally told him one day. "Fuck off."

Mom played like she didn't know how we got by. So long as bills got paid, she didn't ask questions, but that didn't stop her from trying to run everything. I bit my tongue most of the time. Getting forced out of your house at age sixty wasn't anyone's dream. Leaving her a place she couldn't keep up with was just one of the ways Dad screwed her over.

She dealt with it with junk. "Picking," Mom called it, as if any sort of discernment were involved. When we were kids, she was big into church and whenever she got upset she'd squeeze her eyes shut real tight and start mumbling, her hands held up in the air like she was trying to feel for something—God, I guess. Dad said she just loved to suffer, that her whole family did. "Bottom line. She's a martyr," he said. "If you have a limp, her leg will be broken!"

I didn't mind the picking so much—I'd take junk over Jesus any day of the week. Plus, she'd get so stoked, her eyes lighting up like a kid on Christmas every time she brought home a "treasure." But then the flea markets turned into Home Shopping Network and then a room full of Precious Moments, all of it still in boxes. Mostly I think she just wants an excuse to chat up the apartment manager because whenever she goes and signs for shit, she stays over an hour.

Meanwhile she says things like, "I wish you'd go to trade school so you could find a good job, like your brother," even though I told her I already had a good job, in sales, which was why I could set my own hours.

"I wish I could set my own hours."

Matt's a CPA with a baby still in diapers, so of course he was Mom's first pick when they took the house, but his old lady squashed that idea quicker than you can say pussywhipped, so Mom was forced to move here, with me, to the Swiss Village instead of the four-bedroom house in the burbs—and don't you think she lets me forget it, just like she won't let me forget the last girlfriend I had was back in high school.

"What ever happened to—"


"Courtney. Whatever ever happened to Courtney? Pretty little thing."

Mom always says she wants me to find someone to settle down with, a nice girl so I can be happy, but I'm guessing she's not interested in that so much as she is in having another grandbaby to spoil—so she can be happy.

But it's like I told her. Even if I did meet this mysterious Girl of My Dreams, then what? Mom liked to talk about happiness like it was a Pyrex bowl, but I read that what actually separates happy people from unhappy people is the belief in the ability to manifest your own destiny.

Now I'm not saying it was destiny, but on the same day I saw that quote on Facebook, I also saw a contest for a fully paid, fully furnished two-bedroom bungalow in the heart of San Antonio—close enough, but far enough away— perfect for an old lady all alone.

To enter all I had to do was answer their lame ass trivia questions, things like What's the third largest desert in the world? (Sahara), and How many U.S. Presidents have died in office? (eight), like they were trying to give the thing away, which they pretty much were.

It was a numbers game, like growing. I figured if I entered five times a day (the limit) for the next 21 days, I'd have a decent shot at winning. Because, really, who else had that kind of fucking time? And if that wasn't a step toward manifesting my own destiny, I didn't know what was.

Later, when Doug Walker stopped by with his new girl, Mom stuck around long enough to say hi. She liked Doug. Doug had gone to college, and I watched as he sweet-talked her and introduced his girl, who looked too young for Doug and bored out of her gourd.

When Mom left, Doug gave me a high five, the usual "Nate Dawg!" then looked around like he'd never seen the place, even though he'd hung out four nights that week. It wasn't that he and I were great friends. If he hadn't come back after school ("the ten year plan," he said every time) and found me still slinging, who knows? But we were old friends, and that counted for something.

"You gonna load that bowl or what?"

So I started packing the bowl, just to shut him up, and then he went and turned to his girl and they start talking real low so I couldn't hear, and it made me feel like I was the goddamn help or something. Then I passed the pipe around and we smoked, not saying much. After a while Doug asked,"What's this HGTV Urban Oasis?"

On the computer monitor, the contest was still up, the words: "Home Sweet San Antonio" flashing big behind Mom's blue bungalow.

"You moving to the Alamo?" Doug asked

"San Antonio sucks." The girl rolled her eyes. "My grandma lives there."

Doug laughed. "You should see your face, dude."

I closed out the page. "No one's moving to San Antonio." I reached under the couch and pulled out my scale. "How much were y'all looking at anyway?"

After they left, Mom reappeared like a junkie on payday, hovering for the credit card. When I told her to forget it, she acted all butt hurt.

"But I was gonna call for pizza," she said, even though I saw the light underneath her bedroom door, the bluish glow of the QVC.

"Already ate," I said, picking the pipe back up. I dumped out the bowl, carefully tapped out the ashes. The girl's lipstick was still on the stem.

"Is that my ashtray?" Mom asked her voice rising.

I shrugged as she sprang forward, quicker than I'd seen her move maybe ever, and snatched it off the coffee table.

"This is Bakelite! It could be worth something!"

Then she shuffled back to her bedroom, precious ashtray in hand, and shut the door.

I thought about yelling back, explaining for the fiftieth time why she couldn't just have the credit card, but I took a hit of weed instead, held it in, let it out slow. I mean, who could really blame her? She had wanted two things in life: to be a mom and to be a wife—and neither had worked out for her. She deserved better. She really did, which was why I couldn't wait to see the look on her face when we took that road trip through the hill country to San Antonio, and I pulled up to that blue bungalow and handed her the key.

BIO: Siobhan Welch lives in Austin, Texas. Her writing has appeared in Switchback, The Butter, decomP, and elsewhere.