MOTHER AND SON

I stare at his face with rare concentration, seeking resemblances. One minute he looks like my brother, his lips pursed and head cocked stiffly. Then he reminds me of my father - with his wide smiling eyes. Next it's my mother's stubborn chin I see. Then, there it is, what I've been looking for and hoping not to find in my son's face - his father. He looked up when I dropped my pen just now and screwed his mouth into a disapproving frown. "Clumsy," I can hear his father say, "You've probably ruined the tip." Darling, I divorced that father of yours because of that disapproving glance. Don't you know the trouble you can get into looking at me like that? Of course, I'll find some other excuse to scream, but that frown will really be the reason. And, anyway, how could you choose to be like him?

Every detail in my domestic life reminds me. I'll never be able to get away from that man. Not only did he leave his stamp on my son, but everything that happens to me in my private home is transmitted immediately to enemy quarters. "I hear you've been fired," my ex-sister-in-law simpers when we bump into each other on the street. How could she have heard when it only happened yesterday? The poor kid was probably worried that mommy wouldn't be able to support him any more, and made a strategic phone call to the man with the money. "Well, its your own fault that we're living in this rathole!" my son screams when I confront him, "You should have stood up for your rights!"

The shrink would have told me to put him in his place, and I know I should. But the boy is right. I was too weak to fight his father for my share of the property - even if I do usually tell myself that I just didn't want to drag out the divorce for his sake. I was afraid of all the arguments and accusations. But if Id held out, we'd be living in a decent place, with a telephone and a car, and I wouldn't be so worried about money, and I'd be able to afford the shrink, and I wouldn't have to work at a job that's-so-many-hours-I-get-worried-about- leaving-him-alone-and-run-home -early-and-get-fired-from.

We always get back to my fault. But I'm really not by nature guilt-ridden. It's only on this specific point that I go into an unjustifiable frenzy - my son's father.

It's probably healthy that I got up the nerve to divorce him, a refusal to accept guilt as a way of life. That was his job, to make me feel guilty - for going to bed too early (avoiding his company), too late (releasing the inherent eccentricity in my character), for eating (getting fat, acting piggish), and not eating (getting sick, ruining my health for the sake of my figure), etc. But that feeling of health is not what's in my heart as I sit in this fourth floor walk-up with the roar of trucks and busses under my window (Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night sure a truck is speeding down the corridor). What I think of then is whats going to happen to this boy, growing up in a flat where the windows can never be opened and where he doesnt dare go outside alone, and where there's no one to play with since no one visits me.

No one visits me. "Daddy has lots of company," the boy proclaims enthusiastically, "and they bring me toys." On weekends he leaves me, this mixed blessing, and stays with his father. Relatives, consoling girlfriends, neighbors, fill the house. He complains to them that I set his child against him. "Don't you think you could be more considerate of his feelings?" an ex-neighbor asks me, over a cup of coffee she has dropped in unexpectedly to drink with me. "The boy said you told him his father wasn't fair with you." I look around me - the bare floors, windows, walls, the dingy second hand chairs. "I didn't say that. But he might have figured it out." "Well, you should really try harder. After all, you're the one who broke up this marriage. Why don't you go back to him, if it's so bad here?"

My mask falls. My son is in the other room, the neighbor has her cup to her lips, and I start to scream. "That man has done everything he can to ruin my life and you want me to go back to him?"

"For the sake of the child, then!" She has dropped her cup to the saucer and splashed herself unnoticed.

"Fuck the child!"

She gets up, smoothing her skirt, and moves toward the hall. She is a pediatric nurse and the mother of four, and has learned not to scream back. "I'm sorry for you," she says as she slams the door.

So I don't get many visitors. And it takes me a long time to calm down from screaming at the visitors I do get. I know if I behaved more normally and explained my 'side,' Id have all the support I need. At least the camps would divide equally. But I scare people away. I don't want to have to justify myself, to complain about past misdeeds, to warm people up to me so they'll come and sympathize.

"That wasn't very nice." He stands by me while I sit, coffee cup still gripped tight. "You need to be nice to your friends so they can help you," he says in the same tone I might have used to him when he was very small. "Nobody can understand you if you shout things you don't mean." He leans on me, stroking my hair, and I bury my face in his warm chest. "You're lovely," I whisper.

"Half of me is lovely," he answers, "and half of me is Daddy."