In Fiction on June 24, 2014 at 9:51 pm



“Sam. I was never. The same. Your Sam. I was never.”

No matter how many times I say it, no matter how many ways, she refuses to understand me. Is it willful ignorance? Does she know the truth, at heart? I suspect so, but I also don’t blame her. Under my heavy covers, inside my shell of crackled, glassy skin, I shudder as I imagine what she feels.

The September light paints her in ethereal hues, this woman, seated at my bedside. She smiles sadly. Crow’s feet. Her eyes—what color?—not honey, exactly, not hazel. Shafts of wheat in late afternoon sun. But they are not my eyes.

“He was on a mission trip, to Honduras,” she explains to our guests, a reporter and photographer from the paper. “Nearly three years ago now.”

The reporter nods her sweet compassion; the photographer has his camera half-cocked. I’m sure the shot would be compelling, but maybe he thinks it would be rude.

“Not Sam,” I manage, though it pains me. “Never the Sam. I was never.”

I have no lips. Barely a tongue left. My noises must be horrible, but I know I can be understood. Still, she refuses to hear.

“Does he speak much?” the reporter asks. She is careful to knit her brow, to show her concern, but her disgust registers just beneath the surface as she glances my way. Sludge in a placid river.

“Some,” the woman says, and she turns to consider me. God, that look; more painful than the burns, the grafts, the amputations. Love that lies to itself. “But the doctors say he doesn’t really understand what happened to him. He was without oxygen for several minutes. They say he may not even know who he is anymore.”

I moan at that. She lays her hand lightly on mine.

My memories of my own mother—my real mother—are disjointed at best, splintered reflections in funhouse mirrors. She would show up now and then, tell my father she was going to take me away, and he’d send her running with the kind of violence he normally reserved for me. She was a drug addict and a whore, or so he’d tell me afterward. She wanted money, not me—welfare kickbacks to put straight in her veins.

“The FBI says it wasn’t terrorism,” the woman continues. “They say a cartel, something called the Sinaloa, thought the house was owned by a rival gang. So they burned it down.”

The reporter leans forward.

“And your boy was the only … ?”

The woman looks at me and smiles. So grateful. So relieved.

“He was the only one who made it back.”

So wrong.

I knew her son. He was a straight-laced kid; a little naïve, but goodhearted. He and I got along better than anyone else, maybe exactly because we were so different. He with his loving family … his privilege, his future. Me with my traumas and resentments and worldly grit.

He’d often talked about his mom. How overprotective she was. How fragile. How they’d lost his father to the Gulf War. He spoke kindly, but he wasn’t nearly grateful enough. I would have praised her with my every word, this woman. For three years she’s come to my bedside; I would’ve smothered me with a pillow after a week.

“I didn’t want to believe it,” she says, so softly her voice has almost disappeared. “The first few months I would look in his eyes, watch them watching me. I wanted so badly to see him in there. The boy that he was. I would beg him—isn’t that foolish?—I would beg him just to come back. To be my boy again. To let me be his mother.”

I want to scream. I want to tear out of my skin, sit up and scream it: I saw him burn! I saw his hands split from the heat, just before mine did the same! I saw him dying in glass and cinders under impossible smoke. Your son is dead, and I came out!

A vicious trade. Her son for me. The rawest deal God ever made, and he’d foisted it on a saint.

“Not,” I lurch, exasperated. Exhausted. I’m in a prison of mangled words, a prison of nothing at all, but it’s strong enough to hold me. “Sam. I was never. I wasn’t.”

Still, no matter how many times I say it, she refuses to understand. She swallows her tears and lets loose a sigh that may as well be carrying the last of her soul.

“But Sam was never the same again.”

I never intend for these stories to get so heavy, but then they take on a life of their own. My apologies!

This one is my entry for this week’s Speakeasy prompt. A good group of writers take part, so I highly suggest you click the link and see what the rest have come up with this week.

As always, let me know what you think in the comments below! And if you’re hungry for more (how could you not be … ?) give some of my other stories a try.

  1. Such a heartbreaking story – and so frustrating to communicate the truth, but no one listens.

  2. Holy crap. This is good, good stuff! Beautifully crafted. Kafka-esque, but even better…Thank you for an awesome read!

  3. Beautiful. I have no other words to describe what a wonderful story you’ve written here 🙂

  4. Written with so much truth and ache that I felt tears on my cheeks before I could stop them.
    So much to say, to impart and you can’t…it’s that everyone’s nightmare?

    Brian. Wow.

  5. Awesome, moving story. I love how we slowly discover the situation, and the vivid description at the en nailed it. One question though: Is th mother denying to herself that the boy is not her son, or does she genuinely believe that it’s him?

    • Thanks DragonSpark! And I think that question is a bit up for debate, whether she truly believes the boy is her son or if she’s just so deeply in denial — maybe there’s not much of a distinction there, either. (Or maybe the boy is the one’s who’s got it all wrong, and the doctors are right when they say he may not know who he is anymore…)

  6. Like DragonSpark said, I love the gradual revelation here, just soon enough to stop the mystery becoming frustrating, and skillfully oven in to feel like it belongs. My only question is why he wants so much to reveal the truth when this is so much better than whatever care his real identity would get him. But let m be clear – it’s not that I find it unbelievable for him to feel this way – I’m questioning him, not your writing! Great stuff, as usual.

    • Haha, thanks! That’s an interesting question, and it had never occurred to me actually that he’d want to keep his true identity hidden — I think the idea is that he’s a very moral person and he’s more concerned about the mother’s pain / that she should know the truth than what it would potentially mean for himself. You and your thoughtful comments – I love it!

  7. As you say, it’s a heavy, painful story but the tenderness with which you draw out the narrator’s psyche and the beautiful phrases (” Sludge in a placid river”) make it a pleasure to read.

  8. Wow it is heavy, as you said, and it drew me right in to the very end. Excellent take on the prompt!

  9. Oh my god. This is amazing! I’ve read it twice and it is truly beautiful. There are too many wonderfully crafted lines to even begin to list them, though I must say the description of the mother’s eyes is stunning. You capture the agony, the heartbreak, of both characters so hauntingly and with such poetry. Yes, it’s heavy but that’s ok; it’s executed with such delicacy at the same time.

  10. I loved this. Really took hold of me and didn’t let go. I like that I sort of knew what happened early on but you still kept me riveted to the story. Well done. This was perfect.

  11. Incredibly creative take on the prompt and so very well written as usual. You did such a wonderful job of character development, with beautifully crafted lines, in such a small amount of space. Superior story, Brian.

  12. Beautiful, heart-wrenching work, Brian! I love your creative use of the prompts – and the way both characters are trapped in this relationship and all the pain it causes. Fantastic. 🙂

  13. This is so good. You reveal the circumstances with just the right timing and the prose has just the right pitch. Compelling and eloquent.

  14. […] Sam took second place with his story about a man trapped in a body (and situation) that won’t let him escape, or even speak his way to freedom. Rounding out the top row is Susan, in third place with a story about personified punctuation marks and their wily capers. […]

  15. Very strong. Impressive.

Comments, constructive criticism, destructive praise:

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: