THAT EVENING, THINGS went pretty normal at home without any altercation between his parents, which was a welcome relief.
The house help had finished up most of the chores before 7 p.m., when she is usually done with work for the day, and Alan’s main priority after then was usually to ensure the house was tidy and his siblings were well-behaved before their parents got back from work.
A house help, in the first place, was Mom’s idea. Dad had been furious at first, mainly because he thought the extra cost of hiring a house help would fall on him, not to mention the fact that he thought that the services of a house help would give Mom all the freedom she needed to frolic around with other men.
“Every dutiful and responsible woman tends to chores herself!” Dad had flared the day she brought home the docile looking girl who had since proven to be diligent. “No way am I going to allow a servant girl in my home! My parents didn’t raise me up on that.”
“That’s because your parents were poor, Jonathan!” she had returned frankly, matching the tone of his voice. “And she’s not a servant girl! Besides, I’m not asking you to be responsible for her salary. I know that’s your main worry.”
He glared at her. “That, and more!”
“What do you mean?” she frowned, eyeing him with resentment.
“You know damn well what I mean, Samantha,” said Dad. “And don’t go on acting all smug with me.”
Mom stared hard at him, but decided to let the matter rest presently. She had sighed, exasperated, shook her head in apparent dismay and left the room without another word.
His mother got home from work much later that night. Dad was already back and had already retired to his room, in a state of self-pity as usual. He slept with his shoes on and shirt still on his back, and was snoring loudly with fatigue.
When his mother came in, her eyes instinctively found the wall clock which was directly adjacent the main entrance door. It was a quarter past 10 o’clock, and she was momentarily taken aback to find Alan still up and watching TV.
“Hi, Mom,” he said dryly.
“You’re up, Alan?” she said, walking over after kicking off her shoes and tossing her bag on the chair. She was modestly dressed and pretty in her corporate outfit; grey suit pants and hair nicely rolled up in a bun atop her head. She looked delightful and detailed, unlike Alan’s father, who often looked laid back and busted in his usual cheap suits.
“Uh-huh,” he muttered, not shifting his attention from the TV screen. He was watching a late night show with the voice turned down so that he didn’t bother the neighbors or his siblings who were already in bed.
“Is everything alright?” she asked him quietly. Then reaching out gently, she flicked away invisible dirt from his hair, touched the side of his face whilst staring at him closely. “Are you OK?”
He nodded quietly.
She hesitated. “Where are Rachel and Timothy?”
“In their room, sleeping,” he answered.
She yawned softly. “Oh, I’m hungry. Anything to eat?”
She said, “So why aren’t you in bed?”
Alan stirred slightly and looked at her. “I was waiting up for you.”
“What’s the problem, Alan?” She seemed genuinely concerned.
He shrugged, shook his head. “Nothing, Mom; I just thought it’d be nice to talk with you, it’s all.”
Mom paused, staring at him doubtfully. She seemed to believe there was more to his waiting up than he was letting out. “Do you need some money, Alan? Is there a project at school?” she asked him, with a small smile playing around her red lips.
“Everything’s fine, Mom,” Alan replied, seeming pissed by the notion. “I really was just waiting up to see you. We never have time to talk about anything. But it’s OK if you need to go to bed now. I guess you must be tired.”
She sighed, folded her hands across her chest and pinned him with a curious gaze. “Tell me,” she said, “did your father put you up to this?”
Alan sat back, snorting. “You know Dad would never put me up to anything, Mom.” Then, as an afterthought, he added; “I just wanted to talk, really.”
His mother hesitated for a moment. Then she sat down beside him, placing a hand across his shoulder gently. “That’s fine, Alan; of course I can spare a few minutes with my charming son,” she teased him. “So what’s on your mind?”
“For starters,” began Alan, scratching his chin as though unsure of what he was going to say, “I think you need to stop fighting with Dad.”
Oddly, she seemed amused by the way he blurted it out, not offended. “Me? Your father’s the one causing all the trouble, not me.”
“Yes, I know that,” he agreed. “But don’t fight him, all the same. You know he’s been through a lot.”
His mother stopped and stared at him, silently impressed by the maturity he was displaying in trying to resolve the domestic feud. “Alan,” she said coolly, “we’re all going through a lot, I assure you. Your father needs to suck it up and be a man rather than whine all the time. It’s because of him that I have to work so hard and stay out late.”
Now she sounded miffed and Alan didn’t know what else to say. He bowed his head slightly, peeked at her discretely and uncomfortably as he pondered his next words.
“Are you seeing someone, Mom?”
She paused, surprised by the unexpected question. “What!” But her voice was calm and controlled, not aggressive.
“You know Dad believes you’re seeing someone else,” he said, still looking at her.
Mom sighed, took his hand in hers. “Don’t listen to your father, Alan. He’s just being petty. Please don’t be like him when you grow up.”
Alan seemed upset suddenly, even though he kept his voice controlled. “But he’s my dad,” he retorted quietly. “And I kind of feel sorry for him. You should, too.”
“Well, he hasn’t been much of a father, has he?”
“So are you seeing anyone, Mom?”
“No, Alan. I’m not having an affair with anyone.”
“True,” she said, smiling softly now. “If I were, I’d own up to it, you know me.”
Alan stared at her closely, as if trying to sniff out a lie. Still, he seemed relieved to be hearing that from her lips. “So would you like to make up with Dad?” he asked her hopefully.
Mom thought about it for a moment. “Sure, Alan,” she said, shrugging slightly. “I’d like for things to be normal in this house.”
“Do you love him?” he said her.
She laughed softly, nodded. “Uh-huh.”
Alan smiled broadly. “Really?”
She paused. “Let me tell you something, Alan. When I first met your father, he was quite the man. He was fun to be with. He still had his cheer back then, and he was hard working, too. But something snapped inside him the moment he lost his job and couldn’t get another one,” she narrated quietly with a dismal stare in her eyes. “He struggled a bit, got in and out of a few less promising jobs. He just wasn’t happy anymore and no one could cheer him up. And he began drinking; alcohol and womanizing are never a good mix.”
She paused and sighed before going on. “I lost it at that point, couldn’t take it anymore because all the while I kept working, making up for his inadequacies. I even went out of my way to get a loan for him to start up on a small business and what did he do? He squandered the money on more alcohol and more whores.
“Then he began to blame me for everything, said I ruined his life. Began to physically cause me agony. I’ve tried being reasonable and supportive. Now I don’t think there’s anything anybody can do to make him happy,” she said quietly. Fixing him a cold stare, she added, “Your father is a lazy, self-centered bum who has given up on life and it’s not my fault he’s that way.”
There was a long pause. The muted program on TV was still on, adding a graver ambience to the living room space.
Alan said, “You’ve not given up on him, have you, Mom?”
“I don’t know, Son.”
“But you’d be willing to give him a second chance, make up with Dad if he changed for good, right?”
“Sure, I would but that’s not going to happen,” she said matter-of-factly, looking sad now.
“You can’t be sure about that, Mom.”
She smiled, looked at him amusedly. “So what about you, Alan; are you seeing someone?” she asked, taking him completely unaware.
“Mom!” cried Alan, and then he began to laugh shyly.
Mom kept taunting him with her stare. “I think you are, Alan. With the way you’re sounding, I mean, you’ve got to have a girlfriend, right?”
Alan seemed evasive now, feeling both shy and embarrassed. He sneaked a peek at her and laughed some more.
“So tell me, who’s she?”
She shook her head, rolled back her eyes playfully. “Well, what do you know; my son has a girlfriend,” she kept on.
And Alan laughed harder.