What Used To Be Mom
by Martin Lochman
Table of Contents|
parts: 1, 2, 3
The car comes to a stop in front of a large two-story family house, formerly belonging to our parents, now under the ownership of my younger brother. It’s nearly midnight, but I can still see that a lot of work has been done on the building and its surroundings: brand-new plastic windows, freshly painted walls, and a restored balcony above the front door among other things; it looks almost unrecognizable.
Yet the sense of familiarity sinks in the second we come in. Despite the alterations, which are even more plentiful in the interior, it is still the house I grew up in, and nothing will ever change that.
Pushing the nostalgia away, I take my shoes off, leave my backpack on the small bench in the hallway, and follow Radim up the narrow staircase onto the second floor. After he got married and Kuba was born — events that not-so-coincidentally took place only a couple months apart — our parents gave him and his new family the entire ground floor, and they themselves retired upstairs, converting our child bedrooms into a flat.
A few moments later, we are in the living room and Radim turns on the light.
“Oh, Mom!” I breathe out involuntarily.
Even though I knew exactly what it would be like, even though I had time to prepare myself for it mentally, and despite my close encounter at the airport in Brussels, seeing her — or what used to be her — feels as if someone has knocked the wind out of me.
She — I consciously refuse to refer to her as “it” — is propped up on the sofa in front of the television. Torn clothing rests on the cushions next to her; there is a half-empty mug, a bowl of hazelnuts, and a newspaper opened on the page with a crossword on the coffee table before her — all giving the impression that the transformation has just happened. Radim told me that it must have taken place sometime in the evening, between eight and ten, when she was watching her favorite never-ending soap opera. When he discovered her the next morning, he didn’t even think about cleaning anything, which is completely understandable.
We stand there in silence for minutes. I am finding it difficult to identify what I am feeling; sure, it’s very similar to when Dad suffered the fatal heart attack half a decade ago but still vastly different because, technically, Mom isn’t dead, at least not in the traditional sense. On the other hand, her condition is nothing if not permanent, as far as anyone is currently concerned, and that makes it as close to the finality of death as it can get.
“Lubo,” Radim says quietly, addressing me by the diminutive form of my first name. I don’t even remember the last time he called me that.
“Yeah,” I rasp in acknowledgment. I clear my throat and turn to him: “Sorry, I am—”
“Right,” I give myself a moment to arrange my thoughts. “So how do you want to do this? We can tell everyone first thing tomorrow, maybe organize something on Sunday so that whoever can come can say their goodbyes. I mean, you have a better idea what friends she has here, but from our family I am thinking Zuzka, Michal, and their kids, maybe aunt Maria. All of them live relatively close. And on Monday, we’ll call it in.”
I am already in a planning mode, making mental notes and lists of tasks — it’s my go-to place whenever facing an emotionally difficult situation.
“We can try requesting them to take her to Kladno, the nearest facility is there. At least she’ll be close...” I pause, noticing my brother shaking his head. “What?”
“We don’t need to call this in,” he says slowly.
“Of course we do; it’s the law.”
“I am well aware, but hear me out,” he walks over to the sofa. “I found a way we can get her back.”
“What?!” I ask, more sharply than I intend to.
“A friend of mine from work, Karel — you remember him? — told me that there is a specialist in Germany who can turn the beans back to people. I didn’t want to believe it at first, either, but he showed me, and it really works!”
I can’t believe what I am hearing. Radim isn’t the smartest — school was always pretty hard for him — but I would never think of him as naive. Where he lacked natural aptitude, he always made up for with street smarts; that’s why what he is now saying is beyond baffling.
“You can’t be serious!”
My negative response does little to deter him from continuing.
“Just listen, please. I know what you’re thinking, but this is legitimate. It’s not only the reports of people who claim to have turned back; there is documentation, videos, you name it. And testimonials of doctors! It’s apparently some new experimental procedure that—”
I don’t need to hear more to know where this is going. I cut him off. “Let me guess: it’s expensive as hell and you have to pay up front, if not the entire amount then at least a deposit?”
He hesitates. “Yes, but—”
“It’s a scam, Radim! There are no experimental procedures or miracle cures. Use your brain! If it were real, why isn’t it everywhere in the news? Why doesn’t everyone already know about it? How can you think for even a second that it’s something more than an easy way to get rich off gullible people?!”
I realize that I am probably being a little too harsh on him, but I am actually annoyed — it’s been a long day, I am tired, and here he is, spouting some nonsense instead of looking at the matter from a pragmatic perspective. He needs to hear that he’s in the wrong so that we can get the conversation back on track.
“Don’t talk to me like I am stupid!” he snaps at me, his composure giving way to anger.
“Then don’t act that way! Mom is gone. Wasting money on scammers isn’t going to change that!”
“You think you are so smart, don’t you?! You think that because you have a degree, a fancy job abroad, and make more money than Jolana and I combined, you have all the answers?! You think—”
“This is not about me; it’s a fact,” I interrupt him promptly; he’s already straying from the issue at hand, making unfounded emotional statements that is a popular tactic he resorts to when his argument has no leg to stand on. He actually inherited it from Mom. “And that fact is there is no cure.”
I pause for a moment, thinking what else I could say to make this as clear as possible, and Radim immediately takes advantage of that opening.
“Facts, facts, facts — you use that word all the time but the truth is you always have to be right. Always have to have the last word. You are the greatest and everyone else is an idiot in need of an enlightenment.”
His voice suddenly takes on a dangerous tone: “You know what I think? I think you don’t care about Mom enough to try every option there is to save her.”
“What the hell did you just say?!”
That was a low blow — I am momentarily taken aback. Sure, we fought plenty in the past, but we never took it that far.
“You heard me,” he hisses. “If you really cared about her, about both our parents, you would be here more often. You would call more often. You wouldn’t skip important family events — like their wedding anniversary, remember? Do you have any idea how heartbroken they were when you cancelled at the last minute?”
“There was an emergency; I explained that many times! Why are you bringing this up now?!”
“You always had a good excuse for everything. Admit it: you didn’t want to see them, or me, or anyone here. We were never worthy of your attention. And I was left to take care of them, and then Mom, after Dad died.”
“I am sure that must have been really difficult when you got a free house,” my mouth says faster than my brain can realize that by doing so, I have officially lost control of my side of the argument.
For a second, I consider how I could possibly get back to a more rational realm but then I think: To hell with it!
“Yeah, so much for equal treatment,” I remark bitterly, picking up where I left off.
“They thought you wouldn’t need the house; you were already doing so well for yourself in Brussels,” he hesitates, most probably realizing that’s not a particularly strong argument. “But they did talk about you a lot. I might have been here, but whenever a problem cropped up, or they needed help, they were always like, ‘Call Lubor, he’ll know what to do’ before coming to me. You were the role model to aspire to in their eyes.”
“Bullshit!” I spit out. “Now that’s just ridiculous. You were their favorite son!”
“That’s not true!”
“Really? Then why did they expect nothing short of excellent grades from me while you could get by with mediocre results, and they wouldn’t say a word? Why did I always have to find myself a part-time job over summer but it was somehow okay for you to slack off at home, and they would buy you whatever you wanted. Why was there a storm whenever I did something wrong but, when you screwed up, it was as if nothing ever happened? I am a deputy director of a big international company, and I worked my ass off to get there, yet never once would they say they were proud of me. All they would talk about during those family gatherings and reunions you mentioned, was how great you were doing in life with those shady little dealings of yours. If these aren’t double standards, I don’t know what are!”
Radim appears stunned for a moment but recovers quickly.
“So that’s what you think of me, ha?” he says darkly, his eyes bursting with anger. “I may be a dumb screw-up who has to make do with ‘shady little dealings’ but at least I am not an arrogant, insufferable, pretentious know-it-all. No wonder Melanie left you. In fact, I am surprised she tolerated you for that long—”
“Leave her out of this!”
“You’re so convinced that you have it all figured out, but guess what: there are things in life that are far more important than money and career, Mr. ‘Deputy Director’! Maybe, one day, you are going to wake up and realize that, but it will be too late by then.” He shakes his head in disdain.
Radim continues: “I really thought that at least on this we would be able to see eye-to-eye, but I guess I was wrong. Well, you know what? I am doing this one way or another.” He pauses again and then throws his arms up in the air. “It’s Mom, for God’s sake! If you can’t understand that, then what are you even doing here?”
“You’re right,” I grit my teeth. “I don’t need to stay here and listen to my own brother question how I feel about family.”
I turn to leave and head for the door. Just as I am about to pass through, Radim calls after me: “You’re not going to call it in.”
It doesn’t sound like a question or a command, more like something in between, but I don’t care. Looking over my shoulder, I briefly consider answering, only to realize that I’m not sure what I want to do, except to get out of here.
“Lubor!” he calls again, but I am already halfway down the stairs and out of the house.
* * *
Copyright © 2020 by Martin Lochman