Only Our Mothers Loved Us First
Only Our Mothers Loved Us First
They found an ancient bottle of hydrogen peroxide and rusted tweezers in a steel, first aid kit hanging on a wall in what must have once been the main kitchen of the estate. Long, silver counters ran along two walls. In the gloom, it was impossible to count the sinks. The refrigerators were sticky with cobwebs. Dust and grime smothered every surface.
They could smell the dead mice. Fortunately, the first aid kit was on the counter because they didn’t want to face what hid in the cabinets. Odds were the dead animals had crawled inside a cabinet and couldn’t escape to save itself.
Petra helped Andy remove his shirt. She didn’t dare touch the wound.
“It’s worse than I thought,” Petra said.
“I don’t feel anything,” Andy said.
“It’s probably the chemical in your system. Whatever the chemical is you ingested from the fish. A lot of drugs numb your senses.”
“There’s a ropes course near my house and sometimes we drop acid and ride the highest ropes. When I was fifteen my neighbor Chris Corrally fell from the top of the tree and crushed the back of his skull. I remember sitting with him while we were waiting for the ambulance to come and he kept saying he was fine. There’s nothing wrong, he told me. Even as I watched the blood pool behind his eyes.”
Petra shivered. “This is nothing like that.”
“Whatever’s in that bottle has probably gone bad?”
“I don’t think peroxide spoils.” She examined the tweezers. Rust crawled along both sides of the metal. “I probably shouldn’t touch you with these.”
“What are you going to do with that?”
“I’ll have to just pour it, I guess.”
She reached her free hand around his waist. Her fingers traced the fine outline of muscle he’d cultivated from surfing at sundown most days since May. He avoided most athletics at school, preferring to audition for the three plays the theater department put on each season. This year he ventured up to New Hampshire where Palace Theater held open auditions for a Shakespeare play every spring. He was offered his first professional acting job this past year, albeit a small role. One of the other players in the show convinced him to start every day with twenty-five sit-ups. The actor believed core strength was the secret ingredient in a stellar performance. Andy didn’t understand the logic, but it seemed an easy enough thing to do. He was happy with the decision tonight when Petra’s fingers danced along his abdomen.
“You have a nice stomach.”
He didn’t know how to respond to her comment. He couldn’t breathe the longer her hand remained against his skin.
Suddenly, a burning rush of pain exploded on his back. It was as though someone had pushed him into a furnace. He thought he might scream. Inside his head, he was screaming. Tears welled in his eyes. A few drops leaked out and dripped down his face. Every sensation was simultaneously acute. Except he couldn’t feel Petra’s fingers anymore. He could feel the smallest tear trickle from his eye. The flames licked his shoulder and lathered his back with sweat. His chest constricted.
“I’m sorry,” Petra said as she leaned her face against his other shoulder. Her soft lips touched the bare skin.
He didn’t want to tell her how much it hurt. The pain radiated from the tips of his fingers to the ends of each strand of hair.
“There are actual bits of rock in your shoulder. I don’t want you to get infected.”
“Did you pour gasoline down my back and strike a match?”
“Worse probably. This is an old school peroxide too.”
“When I was a kid I slid down the ladder of a dock that was covered in barnacles. I had gashes from my hip bone to my chest. Every morning my mother would scrape it open with a wire brush to make sure all the bits of shell weren’t inside. We were on this little island in Maine and there was only one doctor. He drank quite a bit. I remember I would see him stumbling on the road sometimes in the middle of the day. I think he was half-mad. But mom felt like she had to take his word for it. It was pretty nasty. I think she thought I’d die of gangrene or something.”
“How old were you?”
“That had to be worse than this.”
Andy could still feel tears trying to escape the corners of his eyes.
“I’m not sure,” Andy said.
“Now you’re just being a baby.”
It hurt to move his arm, but he continued the effort until he managed to get his hand across his body so he could touch her hair. She still leaned her face against his shoulder with her mouth pressed against his skin. He laid his hand on her salt-coarsened hair. The smell of coconut oil overpowered the stench of the dead animal hiding somewhere in the industrial-size kitchen.
“What do you think is in the film?” Petra asked. “Do you think we’ll even be able to find it in this place?”
“That’s all I’ve been able to think about since the guy talked about it last night,” Andy admitted. “I can’t imagine what could be in a film that would make people do that kind of thing. I can’t imagine what would make a person do those kinds of things.”
“I was thinking maybe it’s not even on the film itself. I mean, maybe it isn’t what you see.”
“Between the frames.”
“That makes more sense, right?”
“How could something you are seeing makes you act?”
“Does anything make us do anything?”