By Attila Zønn
Tata came home very angry and when Mama asked him what was wrong he said, “You.”
Alex felt the air getting nervous and knew there was going to be a fight. He went upstairs because that was the place to be when Mama and Tata fought. He knew that Mama would be safe from Tata because Tata only fought with words and Mama knew how to fight back sometimes.
From his room Alex heard their shouts. Mama was just as loud as Tata, then he heard thumping footsteps and felt the back door open. He looked out his window and saw Tata going to the shed in the backyard. He came out holding a hatchet and talking to himself. He came back into the house. Mama shouted louder. Alex’s heart was thumping so hard he could hear it in his ears. He heard hard sounds and breaking sounds. He ran downstairs because something bad was happening.
Tata was standing over Mama’s holy table. The candles and the glass crucifix and the pictures of Nagymama and Nagyapa were on the floor. Tata had the hatchet and he was chopping pieces off the holy table, saying, “No more kneeling, no more crossing, no more mumbling. No more kneeling, no more crossing, no more mumbling.”
Mama was sitting on the sofa clutching a pillow, crying her eyes out, calling Tata, “Murderer!”
Alex felt sick. He didn’t want his mama to cry. Why was she calling Tata a murderer? Who did he kill? Finally Tata smashed the hatchet deep into the center of the holy table and turned to Mama.
“I am a murderer? It is you who is killing me. You have assassinated our new life. Do you know what the word archaic means? It means something of the past. That is what you are. I have made an effort to grasp this new world, but you—you are still that pathetic little orphan from that village in the woods. This is no longer acceptable.” He went back to chopping Mama’s holy table.
Alex cried out, “Mama!”
“My son,” Tata said without turning to look at him. “This is not for you to understand. Go to your room now.”
Alex automatically obeyed, and as he climbed the stairs a great worry took hold of him, and he was getting that empty feeling in his stomach. Whenever Mama and Tata yelled at each other, he felt alone. But it had never been as bad as this. Tata had never chopped up a table before.
He sat on the edge of his bed wondering why Tata would kill anyone, and could Tata kill? And he started to worry even more when he remembered the incident with the mouse on the driveway.
One day coming home from the park Alex found some kids huddled at the bottom of his driveway. They were looking down at something. Some of the kids were laughing, and when Alex saw what they were laughing at he started to laugh too. A mouse was running in circles. There was obviously something wrong with the mouse. Why would it run in circles if it was alright? Wouldn’t it run away? Alex decided that he was going to keep this mouse. It was on his driveway. It was his mouse. He’ll get a shoe box, and fill it with grass and put the mouse in it and he’ll feed it and make it feel better, and when the mouse was healed, he’ll set it free.
That’s what he was going to do but from above the children’s giggling and shouting, Alex heard Tata’s voice. “Watch out!” And saw a shovel come crashing down and squash the mouse. The children screamed and jumped back.
“There. One less mouse to shit in my cupboards,” Tata said and scooped up the smashed mouse, saying to Alex, “Come inside and wash your hands, my son, your mother has cooked us a nice dinner,” and off he went carrying the squashed mouse into the backyard.
The children looked at Alex, like it was his fault the mouse had been squashed. Alex looked down at the red splatter on the driveway and didn’t know what to say so he said nothing and followed Tata into the backyard where he watched him flick the dead mouse into the neighbor’s yard.
So Tata could kill, and now this made Alex think of the police, and how they were going to come and take Tata away. And then he thought that maybe it wouldn’t be a bad thing if the police took Tata away. Then maybe Mama wouldn’t cry anymore.
Tata was calling him from the stairwell.
“Alexandru, my son. Come down please, we must have a discussion.”
Alex jumped off his bed and hurried down the stairs. Mama wasn’t crying anymore. Tata was sitting beside her on the sofa. He had her hand between both his hands. The hatchet was stuck in the middle of the holy table.
“Come sit with us my son. Today is a new beginning.” Tata was saying that from this day on, the family must “embrace” new ideas. That they must live their lives with proof, not with “abstract transparencies.”
Alex didn’t know what that meant but he listened hard anyway.
They were going to meet new people. Become open minded, and change the way they looked at things. Tata had met some people—good people, with “fresh perspectives”, and Saturday evenings they were going to a place where they would get together with these people.
The next morning Mama took Alex to Mrs. Hunyadi’s house. She was an old lady who lived a few houses down. She spoke the same language as Mama did. Alex thought she didn’t like him because every time Mama left him there Mrs. Hunyadi never spoke to him. Mostly he sat in a chair while Mrs. Hunyadi sat on her sofa, knitting, with her fluffy brown cat Boosha lying beside her, and if sometimes Alex was thirsty he would ask her for a glass of water, and she would stop knitting and without looking at him point towards the kitchen.
She had a cross of Jesu hanging above the the archway to the living room, and she had another hanging in the kitchen, and when Alex had to go to the washroom, she had one hanging in there too.
Everything about Mrs. Hunyadi’s house was old—old striped yellow wallpaper behind old black and white pictures of old people—except one—of a young man in a soldier’s uniform. The only good thing about Mrs. Hunyadi’s house was that sometimes Boosha jumped off the sofa and came to lie on Alex’s feet, and his feet got very warm.
The woman who came in the front door and called Alex’s name was not his mama. This woman had short black hair cut at the shoulders. She was wearing lipstick, and her face was glowing, and her eyes had paint around them. She was wearing the clothes Mama had on when she dropped him off but that wasn’t Mama’s head, and it made Alex nervous, like something bad was going to happen.
“Do you like how I look, my Booboola?” the woman said. “Come and see me. Don’t you like my new face? Come,” she said, reaching out her hand. “Let’s go home. I brought you something.”
While they were walking home, Alex felt like he was walking with a stranger. He’d take little peeks at his new mama, and got that empty feeling in his stomach. Suddenly feeling alone, his eyes began watering and he started to cry.
Mama knelt in front of him. “Why are you crying Alexandru? Did something happen at Mrs. Hunyadi’s house?” Alex couldn’t look at her. He wiped his eyes and cried, “You’re different.” Mama smiled and hugged him. “I am still your mama. You don’t like my new look? I like it. I picked it from a book. You will get used to it. It will be good. I have something at home that will make you happy.”
Alex missed his mama. He wanted her back. He wanted to see her brushing her long hair at night, and he liked the scarf she sometimes wore around her head. How could he love this woman whose face looked like some of the teenage girls at the high-school? But he could see Mama was happy. She hadn’t stopped smiling since she picked him up, and she wasn’t walking looking down at the sidewalk like she used to and this made her look taller, and it looked like she was taking deep breaths, like she was breathing for the first time.
Mama had bought Alex a Corvette car. The same one he’d seen in the Savette catalogue. It was red, and connected to a long clear plastic tube that was connected to a pistol-like controller, and depending on how Alex squeezed the trigger, the car would move forwards, backwards, to the left, to the right, go fast, go slow. He followed the red car though the hallway, into the kitchen but when he tried going into the living room it kept stopping at the edge of the rug. The car was what Alex had wanted for a long time—the times he spent looking at it in the catalogue and wishing he had it, and here it was. He felt happy, and Mama was happy to see he was happy, and she said to him, “I love you my Booboola,” which sounded funny because neither Mama nor Tata had ever said they loved him. And Alex thought, this new beginning Tata had talked about was fun, and he thought how lucky he was, chasing his little red car up and down the hallway.
Mama was going to the window, and then sitting on the sofa, and then a few minutes later she was going to the window again and sitting down again.
And then Tata came home.
When Tata walked in Mama was standing at the top of the landing. She had a big smile on her face, and was making little adjustments to her skirt.
Tata stood there and stared at her—his face had no expression, and then he said, “What have you done to yourself?” The smile fell from Mama’s face, and the air became nervous, and Alex was nervous. Mama’s voice trembled when she said, “I have made a change, like we talked about.”
“What have you done?” Tata said and started walking slowly up the steps. Now Mama was backing away, and Alex could see her face was not glowing anymore. She looked frightened, and suddenly he felt frightened.
Mama explained, “But you said—”
“Now I understand,” Tata said, nodding his head. “It is so clear. How could I have been such a fool?—I do not satisfy you.” Mama looked at Alex. She took his hand and lead him upstairs.
“Do you hear it?” Tata said.
Alex and Mama turned around to look at him.
Tata had a hand cupped behind one ear, and he was leaning towards the front door.
“The parade is coming,” he said. “Are you ready Eva? You are all painted. Are you ready to join the clowns? Are you ready to show the world that your husband does not please you? Where is your whore’s sign, declaring that you are ready for another cock.”
Mama yelled, like Alex had never heard her yell before, “Milan! Our son is here!”
“Is it because I have one less finger?” Tata said. “Does it disgust you? Am I less a man because I have only nine fingers?”
Mama turned to Alex and told him not to worry, to go to his room and close the door. And Alex did so, but before he closed the door he saw Mama leaning forward on the stairs, yelling at Tata, “You are being so ridiculous! I do not want to listen to you.” She ran up the stairs and into her room. Tata followed, calling her ungrateful, that he had sacrificed so much for his family and now she was stepping all over his manhood.
Mama was crying, saying, “I just made a change, like you said!”
“I did not tell you to mutilate yourself—to paint yourself like a woman who craves attention, who shows the world that her husband is no more useful than a broom handle. Is it not big enough for you Eva?” And then, all of the sudden it sounded like Tata was crying. In his crying voice he said, “Who is he? What can he give you that I do not have?” And then Alex heard Mama yelling, “Milan, stop acting like a child!”
“But I am not a child. Look!” And then everything went quiet. Alex waited behind his door, cracking it open just enough to catch his parent’s bedroom door slowly closing.
Quiet was good.
When it was quiet there was no fighting, but Alex was a little worried, because he knew Tata was a killer, so he crept out into the hall, approached his parent’s door and put his ear to it. He heard them whispering.
Mama was humming by the sink, making a salad for their dinner. Alex saw she was safe, even though Tata and her had the big fight. He didn’t understand what it was all about, but he was happy it was over. Seeing Mama happy made him think that nothing bad could ever happen.
“Are you enjoying your red car?” Mama asked. Alex had forgotten about the Corvette, and now thinking about it made him smile. He was a lucky boy.
“Thank you Mama, I really like it,” he said, and that sounded strange because he’d never thanked his mama before for anything. And then Tata came in. He had a big smile on his face, and he winked at Alex, then went over to Mama at the sink and gave her a little smack on the bum but his hand stayed there, like it was stuck, and he put his nose into Mama’s neck, and Mama giggled, and Tata started playing with Mama’s hair, flicking it, and Mama was looking at Alex, and Alex felt embarrassed, suddenly feeling angry that Tata had his hand on Mama’s bum and he was playing with her like she was a toy.
Mama was a different woman now. She walked with her head up, smiled and laughed a lot, and looked much younger with her new head. She walked everywhere and it looked like she was getting skinnier, and Tata grabbed her more than he used to and he sucked on her earlobes and it made Mama giggle but embarrassed Alex so much that when Tata and Mama were in the same room Alex would leave because he didn’t want to see Tata’s hands all over his mama.
One day Mama came to the school while on one of her walks. The schoolyard had become part of her daily route. She walked with quick strides, and her skirt swayed. From his first floor classroom window Alex had seen her walk by every day, but today the window was open and Mama saw him. She came to the window and said, “Hello, my Booboola. Are you having a wonderful day?”
Alex shrank in his seat as the kids in the class laughed.
He was barely out the door for afternoon recess when three boys barred his way and said in unison, “Hello, Booboo,” and ran off into the schoolyard laughing there heads off. As Alex stood there he thought he could see this disease Mama had brought spread across the yard and change his schooldays forever.
Alex was gone now. He was no longer Alex the brainer, no longer Alex the brown noser, which he didn’t know what that meant but it didn’t sound so bad, but now he was Booboo, and where was Yogi? And where was his pick-e-nic basket? Or he was little booboo boy, or mommy’s booboo, or the many other permutations spanning the next few weeks, until the older boys got into it and he finally became—Booboo-cunt.
How unfair had Mama been to call him her love name in front of people, outside the house?
Tata was right—Mama was weak, and stupid, and she ruined everything for him. What could he do to ruin the rest of her days? He’ll ignore her, like Tata did sometimes. She’ll ask him things and he’ll act like she wasn’t there, and she’ll keep asking until she got angry and then she’ll probably cry like when Tata did that to her. But Alex didn’t want his mama to cry. He loved his mama. She was always smiling at him and hugged him when he came home, and she made his favorite foods and she got him that car. Alex knew where that car had come from; that store was far away and Mama went all that way on a bus, just for him. He couldn’t hate his mama. She wasn’t trying to hurt him when she called him Booboola. She was just happy to see him.
He’ll have to live with what Mama had done and he decided every time they call him Booboo-cunt, he’ll laugh. If he got upset they would just keep calling him that. From now on he would laugh with them and maybe the fun they got from calling him that name would run out, and then Alex could come back.
It worked. When the boys laughed, Alex laughed even harder. Sometimes he referred to himself as Booboo-cunt. He didn’t like doing it, but he knew it would stop eventually, and it did.
But there was one kid—even when it had all died down, even when Jimmy Coles, who was older and was friends with everybody, had said in front of all the boys, “You’re alright, Alex.” This kid—Dean—kept insisting with Booboo-cunt, looking for a laugh from the other boys, but nobody laughed anymore because the name had worn itself out. Dean acted tough but he followed Jimmy Coles around like a little dog. Jimmy wasn’t tough. He didn’t have to be. Everybody was his friend.
Sometimes when Dean called Alex Booboo-cunt, Alex gave him a hate look and Dean would walk up to his face and say, “Wanna fight?” Then he’d look back at his friends and say, “Join the army.” He’d laugh a stupid squeaky laugh, kind of like Muttley, but nobody laughed with him. One day Alex was so enraged, that as Dean looked away Alex swung at him and hit him in the jaw and in the next instant they were on the ground punching and kicking each other.
When Tata found out Alex was fighting at school, he had a discussion with him.
“So you are a fighter?” Tata said.
“I don’t like this boy. I want to punch his face so hard.”
“And what will that accomplish?”
“He’ll stop bothering me.”
“I think so.”
“But you don’t know so.”
“My son, the real reason you want to punch him is you want to satisfy yourself. You want to satisfy your ego. But my son, we must always consider the consequences of our actions. To you it is a punch and a healing of your bruised ego but consider: you punch this kid, and it is a good punch, right in the teeth, and his teeth fly from his mouth and there is much blood dripping from his face and he goes running to his mama. There he is with his dripping mouth—blood all over the kitchen floor. His mama panics, because women always panic at the sight of blood. She must rush him to the hospital so he can stop bleeding on the kitchen floor. They race in the car to the hospital. She keeps looking at him. He is getting blood on himself and the seat. She is wondering how will she ever get this blood off the seat?—because women always concern themselves with the cleanliness of things—and on one of these moments of looking, she runs through a red light. At that same moment, an innocent father is taking his little girl to get an ice cream. He smashes into the car that has run a red light, the mother and the bleeding boy fly from the car and are killed instantly. He and his daughter fly against the windshield. The little girl dies a few days later and the father will regret the rest of his life the urge he had to treat his child to an ice cream. When she hears the news, the bleeding boy’s grandmother has a stroke. She will not die but remain in a vegetative state for years, and her family will suffer the burden of watching over her bed. The wife of the ice cream father will blame him for the death of their child, and that marriage will dissolve. These are just the immediate results of your selfishness, my son, not to mention the other lives that these dead people may have touched in their lives to possibly make the world a better place, and you have caused all of this tragedy because of your little ego. Do you think that is right? Do you think your ego is more important than the lives of all these people? Do you? Is a punch all that important in the face of all this death?”
Alex didn’t want anyone to die because of his ego, whatever that is, so he’ll have to live with being called Booboo-cunt.
©Attila Zønn 2017