Mom’s Bills by Clive Aaron Gill

I loved to dress up as a princess and parade in front of Dad. But when I was five, he walked out on my mother and me.

Mom worked in a bakery during the day and as a waitress at a diner in the evening. She spent money on gambling and clothes. Everything but the bills. The debt collectors pestered Mom, warning her they would take our trailer and truck if she didn’t pay. Somehow, we scraped through the years.

When I was sixteen, Mom met Ryan, a mechanic who became a regular at the diner. They dated for three months, the longest time she had dated anyone since Dad abandoned us.

On a beautiful April morning, Mom said, “Abigail, I’ll be gone all night.”

 “Why aren’t you coming home, Mom?” I always found her in bed in the morning after her nights out.

“I’m going with the ladies to a show at the casino. Afterward, we’ll play the tables. I’ll sleep over at a friend’s place.”

“You’ll gamble too much.”

“I’ll keep to my limit.”

“Oh, yeah?”

“Yup. After that break-in at our neighbor’s place, I don’t want you to be alone.”

“I’ll be just fine, Mom.”

“Would it be okay if Ryan comes over?”

“Ryan? He’s your friend, not mine.”

“He said he would like to spend some time with you.”

I scratched my head. “Well … I guess.”

Mom drove away after dinner, and I strolled outside the trailer to gaze at thousands of stars, pinpricks of light in the jet-black sky.

Ryan, a tall man with a stomach that pushed against his shirt like a water-filled balloon, drove up. We went inside the trailer and sat on the sofa while we watched a movie and ate popcorn. During the movie, he snaked his thick, hairy arm around my shoulders.

“Did your Mom explain things to you?”

I shook my head.

Ryan’s pink scar, running from his ear to the corner of his mouth, reddened. He shocked me by kissing me on my lips. His breath smelled of beer.

“Just … just go,” I said.

He stared at me with dark brown eyes, steady as a hawk’s.

“Please go,” I said, pushing my elbow against his chest.

*

At five in the morning, Ryan walked out the door. When I got up, I found a fat, manilla envelope stuffed with fifty-dollar bills on the kitchen table.

I grabbed my mother’s dresses out of the closet and threw them into a stinking dumpster.

After loading my backpack with clothes, toiletries, and the manilla envelope, I left the trailer.

I never told anyone about Ryan’s visit. I was ashamed and disgusted and scared to go to the police or a hospital.

Since the day I walked out on Mom thirty years ago, I haven’t seen or spoken to her.

I live in the prison of my horrible memory.

Fifty stories by Clive Aaron Gill have appeared in literary journals and in “People of Few Words Anthology.” He tells his stories at public and private gatherings.

Born in Zimbabwe, Clive has lived and worked in Southern Africa, North America and Europe. He received a degree in Economics from the University of California, Los Angeles and lives in San Diego.

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