Mark Karle stepped out of the shower and dried himself off. Wrapping the towel around his thick waist, he came to stand in front of the bathroom sink, where he gazed upon his reflection in the mirror of the medicine cabinet. He gazed at his brown hair, which was thinning in places on the top of his scalp. His thick matching mustache, had a few gray hairs, but they were hardly noticeable, he told himself. His body was far from perfect, one too many times through the fast food drive through, but years of working construction jobs had made his dense body strong and solid.
“What’s happened to you?” he asked his reflection. “I used to be able to control you.”
“You’ve become weak,” his reflection answered back.
“No I haven’t!” Mark said defiantly, slamming his fist down upon the hard porcelain sink.
“It’s not your fault,” his reflection pointed out.
A low, growl rumbled forth from Mark’s throat. It was his fault, and he knew it. He was losing control, but why?
“Marky!” a woman’s voice screeched. It was full of need and impatience. “Where are you?”
“I’m in the bathroom!” he yelled, breathing out a loud frustrated sigh, while still gazing at himself in the mirror.
“I told you,” his reflection said. “It’s not your fault that you’ve become weak.”
“Marky, I need you NOW!”
Mark grabbed ahold of both sides of the sink and squeezed as hard as he could. He could hear his knuckles popping, and a vein on the side of his head enlarged and began to throb. He suddenly let go of the sink and blew out a long calming breath. “Coming,” he said, slowing his heart rate.
Mark quickly got dressed and walked out of the bathroom. He was on the second floor of his house, and made his way slowly down the hall toward his mother’s bedroom. All along both walls of the hallway were pictures of a young blonde woman, in varies poses. She had a brilliant smile, and gleaming eyes. Eyes that seemed to follow him with each passing step.
Mark entered his mother’s room and was smacked in the face by the strong scent of human feces. “I’ve calling for you for nearly half an hour,” his mother scolded. “Why didn’t you answer?”
Norma Karle was seventy-three years old, and had suffered a massive stroke nearly ten years ago, leaving her bed ridden, and somewhat delusional. She had long, unkempt gray hair, and was wearing a one-piece nightgown, which was white in color and decorated with red and green flowers. Mark’s father had died nearly fifteen years prior, from a heart attack, and being an only child, that left Mark the responsibility of caring for his mother.
“I was in the shower.”
“Hurry and clean me up,” his mother ordered. “I’m going to be late for my big audition.”
Mark grabbed and adult sized diaper from the top of the dresser, closest to the bed, and a box of baby wipes. “There’s no audition mom,” he said, putting on a pair of latex gloves, and pulling back her sheets.
“What do mean there’s no audition? Did they choose someone else? Someone…prettier?”
“That was fifty years ago mom, remember?” Taking a baby wipe, he started to wipe her off, and wondered why he didn’t just hire another home health aide to do this. His mother grabbed his hand with enough force to make the grown man wince in pain. An almost animalistic expression formed on her face, as she forced his hand up a few inches toward her vagina.
“Make sure you get it real clean now son,” she said, forcing his hand up and down, while a sadistic smile crossed the lips on her face.
That’s why, he told himself. For the first four years, things had gone smoothly with the aides that used to come out and take care of her, but that all changed about six years ago, for reasons Mark couldn’t explain. She had done this several times to one certain male aide, who stated that he didn’t get paid enough for this kind of fucked up shit, and now she’s on a list somewhere, and every time he calls, they tell him that no one is available. He thought about putting her in a nursing home, but given the fact that he couldn’t afford it, and that she was basically black listed, Mark had been forced to quit his job, so that he could tend to his mother’s needs, and while the state paid him to be her care giver, plus her social security, and the small pension from his father, he still barely made ends meet.
He pulled his hand away, as she cackled at him. “I’m hungry,” she said, crossing her arms and pouting like a small child. He threw the diaper and baby wipes into a plastic bag, and then removed his gloves, which he also tossed in with the rest of the garbage. “What do you feel like?” he asked.
“Carrots!” she said, her face lighting up. “They’re my favorite.”
“Carrots it is then,” he said, tying up the end of the bag and walking out of the room. He made his way downstairs, and into the kitchen, where he opened a door leading to the enclosed back porch, and tossed the bag on to a mountain high pile of bags just like it.
Opening a cupboard next to the stove, he found jar after jar of baby food. Peas, apricot, sweet potato, and apple, but no carrots. “How about peas?” he yelled out.
“Carrots!” was her response.
“I said I want fucking carrots!”
“Alright!” he yelled back. He made his way down into the house’s basement. The door was in the kitchen, not far from the door leading out to the back porch, but he didn’t want to go down there…not just yet, but he didn’t have a choice. Norma wanted carrots, and wouldn’t eat anything else, no matter how hungry she got, just to spite him. “I should let you starve,” he said out loud, turning on the light and beginning his descent into the bowels of his own personal hell. He was serious about his statement, the only problem with his plan was that it would probably take close to a week for the old bag to die, which meant a week of him having to listen to her constant yelling and screaming.
The house that he shared with his mother, was an old, two story farm house, that sat on nearly ten acres of land roughly ten miles from the city of Harrison, Michigan. They were off the beaten path enough that even if his mother screamed for a week straight, no one would ever hear her, but he would. He could always just leave, he told himself, walking up to a large metal shelving unit, which was six shelves high and full of baby food jars.
The basement was nearly as big as the whole first floor of the house. Back in the day, when this house was constructed, it was sat on top of a foundation made up of walls of large rocks and cement. It was what people of the sate refer to as a Michigan basement. When his parents had bought the house, they converted the basement the best they could, framing out the walls using two by fours and drywall. The original dirt floor and been covered with a layer of cement, all except for one corner, where there was a water well, and a sump pump.
He looked through the many jars, and found that he only had a few carrots left. He picked up four jars, and thought about the promise he had made his father, Ben Karle, on his death bed. That was why he couldn’t just leave her here to rot in her own shit, he told himself. He was the man of the house now; his father had told him so. It was his responsibility to watch over his mother. To make sure that no harm came to her. His father had made him swear to it, and Mark Karle was a man of his word.
Mark looked to the far end of the basement. To the old wooden door, which sat in the middle of the wall surrounded by unfinished drywall. He took several tentative steps toward the door, but stopped, as his fingers began to nervously shake, causing the glass jars to clang against each other. “No,” he told himself out loud, using an almost scolding tone. Maybe just for a little while, a voice called out from somewhere in his head. He started to take a step forward, when his mother’s voice stabbed at him at the base of his skull.
Mark whirled around on his heels and rushed up the stairs, making sure to turn off the light before closing the door. He stopped by the sink and grabbed a spoon, on his way back to his mother’s room. Putting on a brave smile, he twisted off the top of the baby food jar, just as he made his entrance. “Who want’s carrots?”
After his mother’s dinner, Mark cleaned her up and made sure to change her diaper for the night. He turned on the little radio next to her bed, which had been set to a channel that played old show tunes. A slight smile crept across his mother’s lips, as she closed her eyes and drifted off to a life that had to be better than the one she was living now.
Mark softly closed the door and made his way down to the living room, making another quick stop in the kitchen to grab himself a few beers, before plopping himself down in his recliner and turning on the TV, which only picked up a handful channels from the large metal antenna on the roof of the house. The living room was straight out of the seventies, with thick shag carpet, which at one point was white, but now looked more like a stick of butter. Long yellow curtains hung from the two windows in the room, with the walls being decorated just like the upstairs hallway. Everywhere he looked, his mother was always watching.
He must have dosed off, because before he knew it there was only static on the screen. He picked up the remote and switched off the TV. Something caught his attention out of the corner of his eye, and when he turned to see what it was, he found his reflection staring back at him from a medium size mirror, with an ornate wooden frame, hanging on the wall off to his left.
“Stop taunting me,” he said to his reflection, who just gave him a who me look.
“You know I can’t,” Mark said.
“But it would be so easy,” his reflection pointed out.
“But I made a promise,” Mark argued with himself. “And I don’t break my promises.”
“Do you think dad knew this was going to happen? That he would want his betrothed to suffer like this? You’d be granting her mercy.”
“You think?” Mark asked inquisitively.
“I know so.”
Mark stood up and made his way back up to his mother’s room. He stood outside the door, listening to her snoring, for several long minutes, before gathering up the courage to open the door, which he did very quietly. He stepped so lightly that he thought he was gliding, as he crossed the space between the door and his mother’s bed. He gently picked up a pillow from next to her body, and pressed it against his chest.
“Do it,” he heard a voice say. Mark looked down to the night stand and saw his reflection glaring at him, from a small hand mirror, resting next to the radio. “Go on. Do it.”
Mark stared at his reflection, as a twinge of hatred began to form in his eyes. But whose eyes were they, Mark asked himself, for he truly did not know.
“I told you,you were too fucking weak.”
“No, I’m not,” Mark whispered, fearing that his anger would get the better of him and awaken his mother.
“Then go down into the basement,” his reflection suggested, offering an alternative that Mark needed…wanted, but it was too soon. Not enough time had passed since the last time he had ventured down there. Why can’t I control you anymore, he thought, staring at himself in the mirror.
“You know why,” his reflection answered.
Mark stared at the small hand held mirror. He didn’t want to have this conversation anymore. That was when he noticed the absence of his mother’s snoring. He slowly turned his head, and found his mother’s fear filed eyes wide open and glaring at him. “I came up to check on you, and you looked uncomfortable. Do you need another pillow?”
His mother stared at him for several long, awkward seconds, before her expression turned sour. “Leave me the fuck alone,” she scolded.
Mark placed the pillow back down next to his mother and quickly walked out of the room. He made his way back down to the living room and sat back down in his chair with a loud sigh. Three minutes later his mother was yelling his name. She had shit herself again, and wanted Mark to change her. He grabbed the TV remote and flicked it on, as static filled the screen. He flipped through several channels, before finding one that came in at this hour. It was an old rerun of Gilligan’s Island. He turned the volume up until he could no longer hear his mother’s voice. Closing his eyes, he dreamed of being deposited on a deserted island. Away from everyone in his life. Away from his mother, and more especially, away from him. He fought the urge to look at the mirror, for he knew that he would be there waiting.