“Childhood,” by Jeremiah Budin

Apr 20th, 2015 | By | Category: Fiction, Prose

As kids, we were always getting in trouble—fights with other neighborhood kids and bad report cards and petty arson, and for the most part Mom took it in stride. But there were times when we pushed her too far, and that was when our middle names would come out. “Alexander Lawrence Hidecress,” she’d say, and my back would stiffen reflexively, sweat beading on my face.

When she called us by our other middle names, then we were really in trouble. To this day the words “Alexander Lawrence Bartholomew Hidecress” cause a tingling in my extremities. Even if I happen to catch of glimpse of them on my driver’s license or cable bill a mixture of shame and fear wells up inside me. It’s not that I’m expecting Mom to jump out of the closet and start shouting, but there are some things that just become ingrained, I guess.

If Mom ever used one of our suffixes—Junior, Esquire, His Eminence—we’d run straight into the woods and hide for a few weeks.

On occasion, Mom wouldn’t use our names at all and would instead address us with a high-pitched whine, and that meant we’d done something good, like sharing with a younger sibling or cleaning our rooms without being asked. But that was not to be confused with the high-pitched wail, which meant that she was about to sic her pet crow, Landry, on us.

There were also those times when Mom would translate our names into French and chant them while brandishing a whiskbroom. That didn’t mean anything, it was just a fun thing she liked to do.

The worst of all, though, was when she wouldn’t call us anything. She would just stare at us and the look in her eyes would communicate more than names ever could. You are all simultaneously my greatest achievements and my greatest disappointments, her eyes would say. I have sacrificed everything—my body, my youthful vitality, my own sense of self to birth and to raise you, and you have repaid me with nothing but careless disregard and sullen impertinence, but then again, you are your own people and I wish nothing for you but to discover the truth within yourselves. We had to pay careful attention to the eyes because as soon as they were done making their little speech she’d start kicking at us with her pointy boots.

Of course, if she ever called you by your entire name you were never seen or heard from again. It may have been harsh, but that was the way it was, and besides, you’d probably done something to really deserve it. As a single parent of thirty-four children Mom couldn’t just let one of us run amok. Our third youngest sister, for instance, once sabotaged the town carnival by sticking a wad of chewing gum in the gears of the Tilt-A-Whirl. When we got home that night Mom was standing over her caldron saying “Marjory-Anne Cavendish Garcia Vazquez del Candelaria Dingle-Dangle Baxter Hollandaise Jennifer Hidecress the Great” while stirring a frothing mixture of unknown substance. Sure enough, the next morning Marjy’s bed was empty except for a thin streak of purplish residue. Another time, Dennis happened catch Mom whispering his name in her sleep and he had to strike her repeatedly with a toaster oven to wake her up. But that kind of thing happened very infrequently, only once every other week or so.

Did Mom have a problem controlling her anger? Sure, yeah, absolutely. But those were different times. All the parents were hexing their children in those days. It was not uncommon to see the Fishman kids from down the block show up to school with their fingers dark and swollen to the size of eggplants, or with their heads sewn onto each other’s bodies, so it’s not like our family was anything special.

The important thing was that we knew Mom loved us. Her displays of affection were infrequent but that only made us treasure them more. She would slither up through the floorboards in the dead of night and sit on the edges of our beds, stroking our hair with her webbed fingers. “I love you,” she would say, simply, and our hearts would fill with warmth, the kind of warmth that burns inside as if you drank a bottle of vinegar. “I love you and I know that all of your dreams will come true.” And then she and Landry would fly out through the window, cackling into the night.


Defenestration-Jeremiah BudinJeremiah Budin is the inventor of the short story. Visit him at jeremiahbudin.com.

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