“The Noise of Your Enemies”
A woman must confront innumerable demons to prove that she truly loves her children before it’s too late.
Nobody knows you like I do.
No one has seen you fall asleep holding your daughter in your work clothes. No one can understand how you’ve suffered under the thumb of Steve and his new wife. None of them have seen you clad in orange, bowing alone to an invisible god on your paper-white cot, your face awash with tears as the guards muffle the lights one at a time.
No one really understands you.
Not like I do.
I began watching you almost right away.
You took the gun in your trembling fingers and held it to your chest and breathed slowly in the throbbing dark of my room. Your face cloaked in shadows and sweat. You mouthed my name – Adam, Adam – as if it could bring me back.
I learned then that I couldn’t tell you it was going to be okay. I couldn’t hug you or rub your back. I could only watch.
You turned away from my body and slipped out the door, sweeping down the stairs on your bare, silent feet.
Our last conversation was at Natalie’s funeral. Carrying her coffin with a hung-over head, spraying tears everywhere, I blacked out and landed on the marble church floor. The other pall-bearers caught the coffin so Natalie wouldn’t fall on top of me. They carried me to a folding table when you came in and you put your hands on my face and I woke. You didn’t know it would be the last time we would speak.
You said, “I’m here, Adam.”
“I want to die,” I whimpered.
You stroked my cheek, held my hand.
“I know you do,” you said. “I know.”
You told them flippantly that I really died when Natalie crashed into the telephone pole on Mills Road on the way home from camping. Under a veiled sky of ash, we found her sedan in the curve of a black creek. It was then, you told them, that my death began.
At my funeral, a mere week after Natalie’s, her mother cried harder than you did. It was Natalie, her mother said, who taught me how to load a gun, and to fire it.
In the blue dark of the kitchen, the digital clock lit your pallid figure like some eyeless leviathan.
Xanax and Temazepam. A handful.
The bottle of Smirnoff from the cupboard above the stove, your favorite hiding place. The glass rattled on the counter as you placed it next to the warm barrel shining silver in the bleeding moonlight.
What will they think of me? you gasped, swaying seasick in the haunt.
What will Steve do?
You crumbled, weeping helplessly.
Then you climbed the stairs, wet hair in your eyes. You stumbled past the pink night-light, into your daughter’s room. The gun firmly in your grasp.
When they scattered my ashes into Natalie’s creek, her mother held you tight and said, “You did the best you could. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.”
“They think I encouraged him to do this.”
“Stop torturing yourself,” her mother, Janet, said, patting your arm. “We both did our best. When they fly away, we can’t stop them.”
“They think I’m an awful mother.”
Janet squeeze your trembling hand. “You’re not.”
You showed them the notes in my journal. I wrote my last one after Natalie’s funeral. You found it stuffed in the pages of a script Natalie and I had written about zombies taking over the high school.
You gave them the journal and they gave it to Steve. He gave the journal to his new wife.
And she gave it to the prosecutor.
You always remembered our first conversation.
“His name is Adam,” you said, “because his real father is God.”
Then Steve came.
Your muscular contractor with curly black hair. The lover who haunted your salon, whom you scolded for calling me Fat Adam. Father of your daughter, Emma Grace. The asshole who left you for a Florida lawyer and took Emma with him.
I never felt I could trust her with the kids, Steve told them.
“He’s saying I would hurt my own son,” you cried to Janet in protest.
Her drinking was excessive, Steve said.
“He’s destroying my reputation,” you wept.
She talked a lot about dying.
After mourning me for a year, I watched you open the door, the police knocking one final time.
The pink glare of Emma’s nightlight made the gun look plastic, toy-like. You hovered over her, wavering. Perhaps you knew that Steve would be the one rocking her to sleep in a few weeks’ time.
You lay beside your daughter, holding her in the warm nest of your arms. Your lips murmured her name – Emma, Emma. The girl in your arms, your hope and rest. Her gentle breath, proof you could give life, that you were a good mother indeed.
The toxins mingled with your blood and your eyes went black.
Janet visited you in early May.
You sat on the iron bedframe, your chin tucked between your knees. The whole of your clothing thin and orange, shielding little of the lingering winter winds that slithered about the bare stone floor.
She came and you knelt before her like a sinner and clutched the bars in your tiny hands.
“Where is she? Where’s my Emma?” you asked.
She swallowed. “With Steve, in Florida. She’s fine.”
Your breath left you with a gasp as twin tears fell to the floor.
“They think I’m a monster,” you said, sniffing. “Don’t they?”
Janet lowered her eyes for a moment, and asked, “You need to tell me. Is it true that you wrote Adam’s obituary before he died?”
You shook gently, mostly from the cold.
“I didn’t know what to do,” you said. “When you lost Natalie, I imagined losing Adam. I felt so helpless.”
“Did you wrote Emma’s obituary, too? And then your own? That’s what they’re saying.”
“I know, I know,” you mumbled, lips quivering. “It looks so awful. I was venting all kinds of crazy, drunken thoughts then. Who told you this?
“It doesn’t matter.”
You trembled with palpable rage. “They’re going to twist things. It’s Steve and his lies. Please trust me.”
Janet nodded slowly, caressing your cheek with her fingertips. “Just one more thing.”
“What?” you snapped, so weak after months and months of these horrible questions.
“They’re saying the wound was in the back of Adam’s head. At a downward angle. Behind his left ear.”
“I know. I found him.”
“Yes, you did,” Janet said. “But the analysis of his journal says – ”
“ – He was right-handed.” Janet’s lips shook. “He couldn’t have….”
“Listen to me,” you begged to your only friend.
She backed away. “I’m sorry,” she whispered, “but I don’t know you anymore.”
She turned and disappeared down the long, monolithic hallway.
You screamed for her to come back, that you loved your children and would never hurt them. You howled for the empty corridor’s ears, I’m not a bad mother!
Your voice echoed like a dying thunderclap.
You were lying next to Emma, the gun pressed between your chest and her back. You dreamt that the cold of it woke her and she picked it up and set it on the floor. She had to pee, and tip-toed to the bathroom. On her way back, she wanted to see if I was awake. She found my door open, peeked past it, and stepped inside.
You did not stir when she screamed.
Janet never returned.
Lying on the icy floor with eyes closed, you saw a secret vision that no living person can relay in truth. Your lips fumbled in the cold, reciting your favorite psalm.
Attend to me and answer me, you whispered in the grey. I am restless in my complaint. I moan because of the noise of my enemies….
The prayer disappeared, unanswered and forgotten.
I watched you study your cell, looking for a way out. You stripped your cot and threaded the sheets through the narrow slits in the ceiling vent. You were mechanical, numbly peaceful. I watched you slip your tiny neck into the noose.
I want to lay my head beside yours, like our picnics on Lake Michigan in the summers when I was little, before Emma, and before Steve. I want to hold your hand, like I used to when Steve left and you couldn’t breathe. But I have nothing to offer beyond the deathly chill I’ve bestowed on your lonely prison.
Goodbye, Mother. Soon you will fall. And when you do, I will not watch you anymore. There are cold tears about to fall from your eyes, and I cannot wipe them away. You are crying because no one knows you, no one understands you.
But I understand.
And where you are going, they will, too.
Image Credit: Quairizad SayHello, Creative Commons
This story was originally published in Riding Light, 2015, under the author name ‘NoahDavid Lein.’
“The Noise of Your Enemies” is a part of Soul Mountain, a collection of short fiction.