by Wendy Wheeler
copyright (c) 1990 Wendy Wheeler, all rights reserved
Published in Z Miscellaneous, Volume 4, No. 2
I drop my compass because my mom is screaming at me. It falls in my lap and the pointed part goes right through my Levi's and pierces the skin of my thigh. I yell, "Darn it, Mom!" When I pull the compass free, blood wells out from the hole in the denim. I try to wipe it off, and it gets on my geometry homework.
Great, I think, Mr. Williams is really going to love this. "Excuse that red stuff on my homework, Mr. Williams," I'll say. "Another casualty in the academic wars." And he'll probably freak and accuse me of trying to kill him with some deadly blood virus. If he pulls me out of the Math Challenge program, there goes one point of my three- point plan to make it to CalTech.
My mom screams again, "Troy, get in here!" I think maybe she's serious enough this time, so I hobble toward her voice. She's standing in the kitchen stirring another pot of that godawful sludge. "You know I can't leave this stuff when it's at this stage," she says to me. When her face gets all emphatic, the hairs in her moles flex like the spines on a porcupine. "One more accident like last time, and we can kiss this neighborhood goodbye. You want that?"
I shrug and sit on the kitchen counter to display my blood- soaked jeans. My mom is looking down at the forty gallons or so of pink-flecked, bubbling, gray-green muck, and she doesn't see my answer.
"Well?" she says again. "That what you want, boy? Another gaping six-dimensional anomaly that stinks like the devil's own cesspool?" She bugs her eyes at me in that way of hers, the black one low on her cheek and small and squinty, the green one normal size and up where it should be, but bloodshot now from the fumes rising from the pot. She sees my leg, and her face changes. "What happened to you?"
"I stabbed myself with my compass because you kept screaming. I may be crippled for life, Mom." I clench my jaw and stare at her.
She doesn't look guilty, she never does, but she turns back to her stirring, her hands huge in the three layers of Rubbermaid gloves she has to wear when she does this stuff. Finally she wipes the sweat off her forehead with her sleeve. "Sheesh! Kids today. . ." And that's it. That's all I'll get in the way of an apology. I keep swinging my legs, though, in case I can squeeze out a little more blood. "What've you been doing in there all evening anyway?" she asks.
"Homework. Lots and lots of homework." I hop down and start going through the refrigerator.
"Any homework from... Mr. Williams?" she says with that tone in her voice. I suspect something right away.
"Why Mr. Williams? Mom, what are you planning?"
"Oh, nothing." She puts a handful of some dried stuff in the sludge, which makes it spit and pop. "Wasn't he the guy who humiliated you in class, and I wanted to send him some dreams?"
I take a swig from a milk carton. "Yeah. And I said you leave Mr. Williams alone. He's new and he's got alot to work out. Mr. Hassenfelder left things in a big mess."
My mom grins 'till I can see the gaps in her teeth. "Mr. Hassenfelder was a big, messy man."
I'm checking leftovers, but I stop and stare at her. "Hey, I am still real mad about that whole thing, Mom."
She keeps her face innocent. "He shoulda given you a better grade on your project."
"Yeah, but you--yuck! What is this stuff" I'm holding a Tupperware container filled with giant purple pustules. "Mom, you said you wouldn't keep your work in the refrigerator anymore."
She snickers. "Those are cupcakes, stupid. I was just experimenting with the red and blue food coloring."
"Oh." I pick one up and bite into it. It's cream cheese icing over apple spice cake. Not bad. Then something occurs to me. "Mr. Williams has been giving us some weird stuff to take home lately. Lots of strange polygons and multi-sided figures to bisect and construct. And some six-sided stars inside concentric circles... Just like Mr. Hassenfelder did before--"
"The batch is finished!" she chirps. "Help me move it off the burner." I put on gloves and grab a bundle of crocheted potholders. We move the iron container to a cooler part of the stove. The concoction continues to bubble and simmer for a while longer.
"Mom, I'm serious." I grab her shoulder, the crooked one. This close, I catch a whiff of her rank smell. "If you're sending Mr. Williams dreams after I told you not to…"
"No dreams for Mr. Williams? Oh, surely that marvelous mathematical brain of his can stand it. Even though Mr. Hassenfelder's brain sure didn't."
"Mr. Williams has a degree in computer science, Mom. He's an expert in temporal programming."
"Oooh, temporal programming. A time encoder. He should have an interesting tranforma--oh, poot!" She takes a spatula and scrapes at the crust that's formed on her cooling goop. I look, too, and see spreading dark spots, like dried blood. "Now see that?" she screams. "It cooled too quick. The whole batch is ruined! Troy!" She whacks my head, but with all the layers of rubber, it doesn't hurt.
I jump away from her. "It's not my fault, Mom!" She keeps scraping at the stuff, cursing. "Well, what are you going to do with it, then?" I ask.
She shrugs and throws the dirty spatula into the sink. "Nothing I can do but feed it to the beast. Take it outside and put it in his trough."
"Ah, Mom. You're always giving him disgusting stuff like this. It's bad enough--"
"Just do it, Troy. I'm tired of getting an argument about every little thing. I'm the mother, you're the sixteen-year-old, so DO IT!"
So I do it. I mumble the whole time, though "...I'm the mother, I'm the mother..." When I lug what feels like half-a-ton of goop through the backyard, I hear the beast stir in its pen. Its quills rattle and its claws scratch the gate. "No, you can't come out," I say. "Sorry. But here's some more food." I can see the tips of its tiny, useless wings above the eight-foot fence. Its long nose appendage curls under the gate. "Not here," I say. "Over at your trough." I lift the safety door. With an effort, I pour the stuff in and it runs to the other end of the tilted trough.
Snorting, the beast plunges into the steaming glop, burying its face up to its bristling jowls. Like Mom said, he was a messy man.
"Enjoy yourself, Mr. Hassenfelder," I say. "Geometry isn't the same without you."