Through the peephole, I saw a woman in a Hawaiian caftan. I hoped she wasn’t from the office because I didn’t have the rent. “Who’s there?”
“Your new mother.”
She must be one of my neighbors. “Your new mother who?”
“Open this door, missy.”
Ha ha. She could have said, “Your new mother who, unlike your old mother, actually wants to have you around.” Except it wasn’t funny, on Mother’s Day.
Open the door? My apartment was trashed. But, it was something to do. I’d just open it a crack—
The woman barged in, lugging a suitcase. “Oh, God,” she said, at the dirty dishes and pizza boxes. “Oh, Lord.”
She pulled a vacuum cleaner out of the suitcase. After snapping on plastic gloves, she tossed two trash bags at me. “One’s for garbage, one’s for Goodwill. And bring me an ashtray.”
“Would you mind smoking on the balcony?” I was probably really napping on the couch and this was a weird dream.
“Smoke kills roaches. And don’t talk back.”
I guess I was bored. I found the ashtray, snitched from my old gay boyfriend. A little glass goldfish was trapped inside the clear crystal.
She looked me up and down, like I was not the type to rightfully own something that nice. She flicked her ash into it.
The woman took a CD out of her case and popped it into my computer. Like a bridge over troubled water, I will ease your mind… She crooned along, and windexed.
I filled bags with magazines, cheeseburger wrappers, lone socks, old cosmetics, expired canned goods. She vacuumed, cleaned the bathroom, and Febreezed the couch.
Finally, hands on hips, she inspected the place. We’d scrubbed it pure as an angel’s lair. I felt light and hopeful, myself.
“Here’s a twenty,” she said. “Go to the store and get bologna, and chips, hear? Git you a pop, too. And bring me a Schlitz malt liquor.”
After our meal and doing the laundry at the washateria, she sent me back to the store, with a list.
Back home, she handed me the okra. “Slice it, like so. You ever made gumbo before?”
“Is this a knock-knock joke?” I said.
She rapped my knuckles with her wooden spoon. “It’s ‘No, ma’am.’”
The smack hurt, she smacked me back to reality. “Thanks for helping me today. Really. But who are you, what are you doing?”
“I told you, I’m your new mother.” Her lower lip trembled.
“Ma’am, honestly? I’m an adult. I don’t need a mother.”
She took over slicing the okra. “Everybody needs a mother.”
My eyes stung. But it had been a long day, with lots of cleaning chemicals.
She tugged my crackling dry hair. “Hmmph. I’ma give you a trim and a hot oil treatment tomorrow.”
I guess I’d just be bored tomorrow anyway.
Carly Berg’s fiction has appeared in PANK, Dogzplot, Defenestration, and elsewhere. She always minds her mother.