The Absolution of Atticus

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05 :: THE FLOOR

— Grace —

WHERE THE WINDOW ceases being a window and begins being a wall, this is the place where all the dust in my apartment seems to convene. My hands are raw and I’ve managed to break every single one of my fingernails today. Not unusual for this time of year, my mother’s birthday season. And though that may sound like a grossly exaggerated term of phrase, it is, in actuality, an entire season.

Childhood memories of my mother are overcast with cheetah print headscarves and underlined in violent shades of red lipstick—ornamental truths, as I prefer to call them. My mother’s appetite for the extravagant always was voracious, and I’ve reason to believe that it’s been reinforced since I last saw her. A year spent on the coasts of Spain can do that to a woman. Or so I’ve heard.

The anticipation of her arrival has kept me on my hands and knees for the past month. If for anything less than perfection, I’m aiming for her approval. Though supposedly a lighthearted free-spirit, my mother possesses the uncanny ability to criticize the minutiae on a level unprecedented for a woman of such poor eyesight.

Regardless, I am stressed.

Last night consisted of more than one impending doom, or so it would seem. Soap suds on my arms don’t hide the bruises very well, and my knees are sore. Mason is a hard teacher. As he lies naked and asleep in the next room, I realize that I am probably hopeless. All I am reminded of when I look at his hands anymore is how much they hurt around my neck. It wouldn’t be the first time love has choked me. But I digress.

The floor is a solid place to rest, and the early morning window glass feels cool stretched thin against my skin. I keep a bucket of soapy water beside me and a dry towel in my left hand, swipe up and around, back down and off. The glass is clear.

Suddenly, I’m attacked from behind, a stab of panic forcing a cry from my mouth. Two hands cover my eyes, my window view, and yank me backwards. Mason’s chest is an all-too-familiar place to fall. My cry abruptly twists into laughter. He pulls out both of my headphones, nuzzling into my neck.

“Mhm, hey baby,”

“Hey,” I reply, voice cracking.

“You smell really good.” Wrapping his arms around my torso from behind, he pulls me up to my feet. “Is that new perfume?”

As he sways us back and forth, inching away from the window, I reach up to show him my sudsy hands. “Clorox by Calvin Klein, actually,”

“Right,” He chuckles, a husky sound that makes the hair on the back of my neck rise. He explores my shoulder with his lips for a while, and it’s a trying experience. Resistance comes and goes in waves. I pull away and he dives deeper, and so on.

“So, huh,” I gasp as he tugs a little with his teeth at the softest part of my skin, trying to ignore the pressure of his arms around my ribcage. I try my best to continue, “My mom is… coming to visit soon, and—and I was going to ask you if—”

He pulls away suddenly. “Your mom?”

“Uh, yeah,” I breathe, released from his grip. “Her birthday is next week and—”

“Aha, that’s perfect,” He saunters over to the kitchen and pops a pistachio nut into his mouth, chewing through a smirk. “I’ve got a work trip.”

“Oh,” I blink back my surprise, “But I thought…”

“You thought what? That I was gonna stay to meet her?” He laughs again. A moth bumps into the lamp in the corner and I can hear it struggling under the shade.

I purse my lips. “Well I just wanted—”

“Me to get to know her? I mean, come on, G. That’s a little old-fashioned, right?” He swings himself up to sit on the counter and watches me with a triumphant smirk on his face. He’s seeing if I’ll break and I’m wondering it myself. But he looks so good with his Apollo grin, and he’s only wearing boxers... and he’s sober today.

I push out my bottom lip; I act the part and watch his playful side take over. He jumps off the counter and attacks me, a flurry of growls and kisses, the heat of his body as it pushes mine down onto the couch, the weight of his tongue as it pushes mine down into my throat.

At some point, I reach up from under him to turn off the lamp and I see the moth fall dead to the table; the most silent demise of anything halfway beautiful in this universe.

+++

“You cut your hair.”

My mother is an art critic.

“I went through that same phase when I was your age.” She sighs and slides a pair of bug-eyed sunglasses back over her eyes. “Don’t worry darling, it’ll grow back.”

“Hi, mom,” I say.

She glides past me into the main living area, shrugging out of her coat. I almost don’t catch it. “How was the flight?” I ask.

She startles at my question, her expression softening as soon as she realizes I am noticing her disdainful frown.

“It was completely devoid of good company. Honestly, all you Bostonians are so… dull.” She swipes across the mantle with her fingers and brushes them together like freaking Mary Poppins. “So, what’s for dinner?”

I hold my mother’s designer trench coat up to the coat rack I bought from Walmart last week, and the irony of it all makes me itch all over. This situation, my mother, the sound of my aquarium’s water filter buzzing in the background.

I drop her coat. It lands crumpled and pathetic on the floor, and suddenly I’m beginning to wonder all of these things out loud. It seems wrong at first, the act of unloading. But by the third sentence, I am no longer questioning myself.

“You want something to drink? I think I want something to drink.” I begin, simple and concise as I move over to the kitchen, and I convince myself that I’ll keep this under control, but one look at her in that barf-colored headscarf sends me flying off the handle. I slam the cupboard so hard it cracks down the side.

“In fact, I’m feeling all sorts of casual tonight. Why don’t we just order in? There’s this great Chinese place two blocks from here. Hell, why don’t we save the delivery boy some trouble and just go pick it up ourselves. I mean, it’s a nice night for a walk, right? You don’t mind, do you? Obviously you don’t, I mean, look at those shoes! Those shoes must’ve cost, what, like five, six hundred dollars? Yeah, yeah, that seems accurate. You know, on second thought, I’m actually pretty ravenous. Lucky for you, I’m too ravenous to go through the trouble of ruining your fucking Louis Vuittons! Let’s just order in!”

And it doesn’t stop there; I take a breath. “But wait, oh no, haven’t you already been to China! What’s that? Oh, three fucking times? Well, in that case, just forget I said anything! Who needs food at all, really, when you’ve been eating enough ass to circle the planet fifteen times in the last seven years!”

I don’t keep my eyes open long enough to see her reaction, but the silence has voices too. I regret everything as soon as it’s out in the open. The woman is a stranger, and she looks like a movie character standing there staring at her crumpled jacket. For the next few moments, I force my fisted hands to uncurl and wait for her to scream right back at me. Moments stretch into millennia.

“Well,” She finally says, gathering up her coat and clearing her throat. “Do you want egg rolls or not?”

Standing over the kitchen sink, I can’t stop shaking. Cupping a desperate hand over my mouth, I begin to cry. It wouldn’t be the first time or the last, but this is a different sort. My mother comes to stand beside me, the sturdiest force I’ve ever known embodied in one woman, who just so happens to love me. She pulls me into the type of embrace only a mother can give. Her arms wrap around my entire body, and she lets me rest into her shoulder. I can’t see much through the tears, but I know she’s calm up there. She’s been gone for so long, I almost forgot what her perfume smells like, the scent that’s been her favorite ever since I was young.

It’s all so impossible to make sense of, the thirty second difference between trembling rage and choking sobs. Somehow, my mother writes it out for me in hair strokes and whispers. She keeps telling me that it will be alright, that the world is wide or something along those lines. All I know over the hysterics is that I might be losing my mind.

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