Description: Carter gets an unexpected call...from his mother.
Notes: I'm not even quite sure this story works. But, it was a larvae eating, boring it's way to the surface of my flesh, and I'll be darned if I wasn't gonna let it out before it became a full-blown, er, adult parasite. Yeah.
Disclaimer: Not mine. Not mine.
Feedback: I fiend for it.
One time when Carter was eight, he visited his uncle in jail. Thinking back on it, the man was actually a cousin, but since Carter was a little kid and the man was very much an adult, he'd assumed the man was one of his mother's brothers. Carter's relationship with his mother's side of the family was sketchy at best, and well, it got confusing at times.
His mother had visited said uncle extremely hesistantly, he does remember that. He remembers her rehearsing, and occasionally complaining, all the way there, orating to no one in particular, and debating whether to bring Carter in or not. His mother paused before they entered the sky-high "institution" (she had a habit of hiding in euphemisms, and still does). She had looked Carter up and down and then reiterated what she had repeated several times during the trip over: Eric was not a criminal. He had been accused of a "white-collar" crime, and then abandoned by his colleagues. It happened all the time, she said, and that if he wasn't such a fool, he would be home even now, but that he would definitely be out in less than six months, and that, over the summer, they would go to his home and sort out the details.
And that's about all Carter remembers from the visit. That, and the most surreal thing - his mother had to talk to his uncle through a phone.
Carter thought it was possibly the oddest thing he had ever seen. The man was so close - right on the other side of the glass. And yet, he had to talk through a receiver. His voice had sounded muted and flat, and the glare on the glass made him look transparent and hazy. The combination of the glass and the phone and the voice had made his uncle seem like an apparition: very far away, and a little unreal. His mother only spoke with the man for a few minutes, no doubt reciting what she had rehearsed, before hanging up. Carter remembers walking back to the car and telling his mother how is must suck to be talked at through a phone, abandoned by your friends, and blamed for something you didn't even do. She had told him to hush. And then Carter pretty much forgot about the incident.
Carter was stretching and yawning on the couch, apparently waking up, although he didn't really remember falling asleep. He wished he were still sleep, since being awake was inherently painful lately, even when he wasn't thinking about "it."
He turned to find Makemba staring at him expectantly, like she was waiting for a response.
"Huh?" Carter grunted.
"I said your mother rang. I told her you were napping, and she said she would call again in three minutes." The phone rang again. "Or sooner," Makemba said sarcastically, bringing Carter the cordless. Carter stared at it a moment before taking it from Makemba.
"Yeah?" Carter said into the phone.
"Hello, dear, it's your mother," Eleanor said into the phone. Carter cleared his throat, and gathered himself. His eyes were murky, his thoughts murkier, his muscles tight, his throat dry. Oh, and he was talking to his mother.
"Hello, Mother," Carter said, gradually making his way back to the living, "How are you?"
"Very well," Eleanor replied. There was silence. After a while, "How are you?" Carter twitched. The question was too fresh on the heels of tragedy.
"I'm well," he replied, unconvincingly. "You're back in the country?" he added suddenly.
"Yes, Bermuda was growing tiresome. Besides, there's always engagements and responsibilities I must attend to stateside," she explained. Carter nodded. "And the woman who answered the phone?" Eleanor asked, "She sounded British."
"Kem," Carter replied. He almost explained her presence, but had the nagging suspicion that his mother knew already. Actually, he was sure she did.
"Yes," his mother said. There was more silence. Even in conversation his mother didn't pull her own weight. Carter was determined not to help her. "So, um, John, how are you?" his mother repeated.
"Fine," Carter replied. Should he? He should. "You know you've already asked me that?"
"And concern is a crime, now?" she replied, feigning appall.
"No, but senility is," Carter said, snarking to himself. "You still driving?"
"Really, John," she replied, the façade continuing, "sometimes you're insufferable."
Carter replied with the receiver to his chest, and a silent plea to the heavens. She was really gonna do this. He returned the receiver to his ear.
"John, I have a question for you." Silence. "Hello?"
"I'm here," he sighed.
"Well, I have question for you." More silence. "Well the question is, how would you go about hiring a contractor? You know, just a little cosmetic work, maybe new tiling, in the kitchen."
Carter was growing impatient. He figured he'd put them both out of their misery.
"Mom, I know why you've called," Carter said.
"Excuse me?" she asked.
"I know why you called. And if you're concerned about Kem and I," he scratched at the back of his neck, "we are doing about as well as one would expect. We'll..." he struggled for a word; he had no idea what they would do; he was even unsure of the use of "we." "We'll survive," he finally said flatly. "We just need time. But thanks for calling."
"John - " his mother called out, as if he were about to hang up. "Um, I apologize for taking so long to call...there's no excuse really." Carter rolled his eyes; overdue apologies were becoming the nature of their relationship. "But, I called in earnest, and I want to do this right." She sounded sincere "I heard third-hand that Makemba was pregnant, from my sister-in...from your father's sister." Carter squirmed.
"I'm sorry, Mom, for not calling, it's just - "
"Explanation unnecessary," Eleanor interrupted. "I thought I might let it stay away, give you time to sort out the details." There were those words again, Carter thought. "But, um, Jack called, and said that the unthinkable had happened. And I was heartsick. Absolutely...," pause, "absolutely crushed." Her voice was faltering. It sounded weak and muted, and Carter could picture her with faint tears in her eyes on the other side of the phone, receiver in hand. For some reason the image irritated him - but intrigued him. "You know I know what it's like to lose a child. It's something I would never wish on my worst enemy, let alone my own son. It's harrowing, it's painful. It will take time. But it doesn't have to be as bad..., or, um...it doesn't have to be so...so...I mean, I hope that you don't do what I did, or, uh actually, what I didn't do...or, just that, uh - " She was breaking - and Carter couldn't resist feeling bad.
"I know what you mean, Mom," he said delicately.
"John, I just wish that I had words to give you, but I don't. But I didn't want you to think I don't care. Because I do...very much." He could hear the tears in her voice, and the difference between imagining her crying and hearing her crying softened him. Even more than he wanted.
"I know you do, Mom," he said.
"I love you John," she whispered. The words blew through Carter like a brisk wind.
"You too," he just barely whispered. He walked over to the phone dock, and hung up the receiver. He sat in a nearby chair, and, covering his mouth with both hands, stared across the room. It would take him days to sort through what he was feeling.
His eye caught sight of the woman across from him, idle and adrift, cocooning herself a little more each day in macramé, daytime TV, and dime-store romance novels. He could swear she got a little further away everyday. The irony was almost comical.
"That was quick," she said, without looking up. She looked as battered as he did. "What did she say?"
"She sent her condolences," Carter said.
"That was kind," Makemba said. "It was probably difficult for her to call."
"It's easier on that side of the glass," Carter mumbled, rising from his chair.
"Pardon?" Makemba asked.
"Nothing," he said and left the room.