“Mom?” the door creaked as he pushed it open. She’s lying on her bed, and he can hear her sobs before the door is even fully open. She curled in a ball, with her arm over her face. Bawling as if death itself had loomed over her and cursed her mind. “Mom?” He attempted once more with the door wide, but she didn’t respond. Her arm didn’t move from hiding her face.
“Mom, it’s Saturday. Grandma went to the farm, she left me this,” Bram stepped into the room. The lights were off, and the single dresser had all the drawers pulled out and emptied onto the floor. He held the bright purple envelope in his hand; on the front, Evelyn had scrawled, ‘happy double-digit day.’ Bram was still a few years from being a teenager, but the big ten was sufficient for now.
“Can I open it?” he planted his footsteps purposely loud as he moved closer. Hoping his mother would sit up, wipe her face and speak to him. He wanted this day with her, and he had even planned to make her breakfast, on his birthday! Anything to get her out of bed.
The snivelling suddenly stopped, but she made no move to address her son. Victoria kept her face down in the fetal position with her hair splayed over the bedspread.
“Mom? Are you sleeping now?” Bram raised his voice louder and put his hand on her shoulder, giving it a good jolt. One which should have woken most people. His hand shook as he reached out to move the hair from her face, there was no chance he would touch her arm protected her, but he felt safe removing the hair. Her breathing was shallow as if she were sleeping, but under her hair revealed eyes wide awake. Vacant but awake. Bram stumbled backward from the sight of his mother looking that way as if in a trance, she didn’t move to see him or acknowledge his presence. Her breathing continued as her eyes saw nothing.
He slowed his exit before he ran himself into the door frame. Hardly looking where he was going, Bram dashed down the stairs and came to a skidding halt back in the kitchen. It was eerie seeing his mother that way, but at least her crying had stopped. The envelope heavy in his hand now, and he knew his grandmother wouldn’t be returning until supper. It took her all day to tend the horses, and with his mother getting worse, she had less time to dodge out to check on the horses.
Bram felt guilty, but he had overheard a face time conversation with Evelyn and her friend. He knew what the impending change would be for his grandmother. It shouldn’t have been on her shoulders to care for him, as much as Bram loved her, it was his mother’s fault. No matter the blame, he still hadn’t hard feelings towards his mother. Bram also knew he was too young to understand so much of what was changing around them. To hear his grandmother state, she would have to sell the farm, give up her horses. It was too much to bear at his double-digit young age.
The weight of the envelope in his hands pulled him back to now, this moment. The morning of his birthday and he wouldn’t let his mother sob it away. He slid his finger under the seal and ripped open the packaging to the birthday card. He promised himself to make breakfast and try with his mother again straight after he opened.
The money fell from the card, and he glanced at the crisp ben franklins on the floor at his feet. His plaid pyjamas nearly the same shade of the money, pickle green. The front of the card had a colourful cartoon cake, and the inside had a simple message written, ‘love you more than the moon, sweet pea.’ Bram smiled to himself and thought of how many dinners he could order in with the money which laid on the floor. The card placed on the table, he bent to pick up the money. One bill slid, and a third revealed itself, “holy shit!”
He never dared to swear at home, but he had never seen so much money! Bram ran his finger around the face of the deceased president on the bill, and plans whirled through his mind. A new outfit, new shoes, school lunches from the cafeteria for a year! He could get a proper haircut, and he could pay for his mother to get an appropriate haircut, the ideas just kept coming as he knelt and examined the three one-hundred-dollar bills. It was the phone ringing that distracted him, and he folded the bills perfectly into his pyjama pocket before answering.
“Hi,” he answered as though he knew who it was. Distracted by the money, it felt heavy already in his pocket.
“Oh, hey, Abe. Good old caller ID gives me away, huh?” Malhi’s voice was vibrant, excited and refreshing at once.
“No, it’s too old a phone,” Bram chuckled. She was the only one who called him Abe, and he didn’t like it. He felt it was an older man’s name, but ever since Malhi watched Hellboy at his house and fell in love with Abe Sapien, she had dubbed his new nickname. He was okay with that, Evelyn allowed Malhi over whenever she wanted, and it meant fewer heroin highs she had to watch of her fathers. Bram took on the responsibility of checking on the older man periodically while Malhi was over visiting, she would never say it, but he knew she was always worried that would be the one time.
“How’d you know it was me?” She asked.
“I didn’t, sorry. I’m just distracted.”
“Oh, well. Happy Birthday. I’m helping my neighbour today at the SPCA, and you never handed out birthday invites, so I figured…”
“It’s okay, Malhi, and I’m not having a party this year. That’s nice, and you’re helping at the SPCA?” Bram repeated, fondling the money in his pocket. An evil idea came to mind; one no one would approve of surely.
“Yeah, my neighbour works there. She says if I help, I could pet the kittens. I have to clean the litter boxes and put out food.” Her voice rose with excitement as she explained all the tasks. Bram listened intently and promised he would swing by to see her.
After Bram showered and dried his peach fuzz head, he checked on his mother, whose door was still ajar and placed her arm again over her face. She hadn’t appeared to have moved, despite at least an hour passing. He silently closed the door in case his grandmother did get back early; he didn’t want her to worry. Victoria often went into hours long spaces, and the doctors called it a form of a seizure. When stress and anxiety got to such a level, she had to ‘zone out’ and not pay attention to the happenings of the house. He was getting used to them.
The walk to the local SPCA was far, but Bram wasn’t comfortable with the bus system. His school bus picked him up for school, his grandmother drove him to the grocery store, and otherwise, his friends always came to his house rather than theirs. Surprisingly, even after Christopher and Malhi met his mother, they still all claimed she was more reasonable than their parents.
“At least she doesn’t always want to know what you’re doing,” Christopher had exclaimed.
“At least she doesn’t do illegal drugs,” Malhi had muttered but not low enough Bram didn’t catch it. Christopher was too blissfully unaware but no Bram. He knew too much.
The weather was acceptable. It usually was this time of year (for his birthday). The spring in Jackson Hole was unpredictable, but he felt an angel somewhere, maybe his grandfather, made sure his birthday was always decently warm and sunny. Today was the same, no rain clouds, sun warming the pavement and crocuses were sprouting in every flower bed. Even though patches of melting snow, they grew. Bram paused his walk long enough to pick some for Malhi. No knight could approach his princess without a flower, Bram thought to himself.
His hand full of the fragrant purple flowers, Bram had gotten a block away before the thought occurred to him to pick some for his mother. He made a mental note to walk the same way home for flowers for his mother.
The walk was tiring, and by the time he arrived at the SPCA, he felt as though it had to be past lunch, and he hadn’t eaten yet. His stomach grumbled, but his heartbeat it out as he saw Malhi through the front window. His hand paused on the front door handle, taking a chest expanding inhale, he pulled the door open and met her eye to eye. She had armfuls of kittens already, and her smile lit up her face. Her strawberry hair had been cut short, and she said it made her look too childish. Now, it sat only inches from her scalp, but the curls were tighter, and she appeared as Annie. Bram loved the new look and told her often, but just as often, she shied away from compliments.
“Abe, you did come!”
“Hi Malhi,” he looked down, kicking his toes into the scratchy old carpet.
“Are those for me?” She whisked the flowers from his hand before he could even look up again; it was so much easier when they were younger. There was so much he needed to tell her, she would believe him about Obscura, he was sure of it. He also knew Sedric had grown a liking to her and wanted to ask her to stay away from the fat headed bully, but his words evaded him more and more often around her.
“Yes,” he met her eyes, it appeared as though she wore makeup now or possibly she had darkened circles from caring for her father. He wasn’t sure and didn’t dare ask, “what are the cats’ names?”
“Bella, Luna and June,” the three meowed as they began to slip from her grasp. Flowers and kittens too much to hold all together. “Come, you can help me.” Bram followed her to the back of the small building. It stunk of shavings, poop and ammonia. The lady at the front desk hardly looked up as the two entered the back room but called a quick command to Malhi to let the dogs out for a run.
“Does she pay you?” Bram asked once the door closed.
“No, she’s not allowed. I’m too young, too young to volunteer too. Too young to cook, too young to shop, too young to…” her voice trailed off her rant as if she just recalled Bram was standing next to her. She placed the kittens back into their cages and turned from him, “but you must know. You have to care for your mom too. My neighbour, she’s great. She works here and buys me clothes and toys for helping. My Dad likes to cook and shop when he’s…you know, okay.” Malhi kept her back to Bram, but he could tell she was also swallowing her tears.
“Why don’t you come over tonight? For dinner? My grandmother will probably cook, she makes the best jambalaya!” Bram exclaimed, following Malhi from the cat room through several more doors. She was silent and didn’t answer long enough. He began to wonder if she even heard him. After the third door they walked through, he could listen to the whines of the puppies. It was nearly the same moan as his stomach, but he had come too far now to turn around.
“Malhi,” he began, unsure what he wanted actually to say.
“This is Denim, and she has no home. No mother, just a father,” Malhi opened the first kennel door. The large puppy stayed in the back-corner, whimpering as Malhi approached her. Bram leaned against the fence, watching the large puppy dog eyes watch Malhi. “No matter how hard she tried, her father still fell. No one would listen to her because she was just a puppy. I’m sure what happened, in the end, was her father fell and died. Leaving her all alone and everyone felt sorry for her, but that doesn’t stop her from being alone. Does it?”
Bram stood straight, taking his weight off the fence between him and Malhi. He walked to the open door as Malhi picked the puppy up into her arms, “I’ll never let her be alone.” He put his arms out to accept the puppy. Malhi had a questioning look on her face but put the thirty pounds of fuzz into his arms. The puppy shook, his fur beige with a black and white mat like marking on his back. A single line down the centre of his nose joined his two eyes with white circles. Bram held him closer, “she’ll never be alone.”
“But you can’t adopt her, and it costs hundreds of dollars to adopt them. Bram, that’s a very nice thought…”
“I have three hundred dollars, right here in my pocket. Denim, what a beautiful name.” He kissed the top of the puppy’s head. Her whimpering stopped, and slowly she closed her eyes to sleep in his arms.