WHEN I COME INTO the living room, Mom is not even slightly ready, which doesnt surprise me. Shes got the TV on full blast; its so loud, the ground is vibrating. At the same time shes got the closed captions on: Mom is a believer in total communication. Shes on the couch, in her pyjama jeans, working on one of her cross-stitches. On the screen, its news: something about a plane crashing somewhere cold looking; torn metal gleaming in snow. I glance at the closed captions.
. . . with all 336 passengers lost, the black rocks black box is yet to be discovered . . .
This is how they do it, see: theres an actual person typing this stuff, and when they make a mistake, like saying black rocks instead of black box, they do that line, I dont know what its called, like a long hyphen, and then they correct it.
Its actually kind of hypnotic, because you start to picture this person, this totally ordinary person, not a presenter or anything, just sitting there and trying to write down what the anchor is saying and sometimes screwing up. It makes the TV feel human, I guess: I can see why Mom likes it.
Black rocks? says Mom, and I didnt even realise she was watching. I mean, the context alone.
Oh yeah: this is the other reason she keeps the closed captions on. She loves to see how other people do it. Moms a stenographer at the courthouse. She spends her whole working life transcribing the words of lawyers and witnesses, so for her, the people who do it on the TV are like unseen competitors.
You coming? I ask.
I mime the swing, the slight pause when the bat strikes the ball, then the follow-through.
Mom checks her watch, ties off her thread, and wipes her hands on her pyjama jeans. Sorry, she says.Got caught up.You finish your essay?
Yes, I say. I have just been typingathree-thousand-word essay on decolonisation for her, with a special emphasis on French Indochina. Thats when I havent been talking to my online friends on the forums,anyway. I love it: I love how I can talk so quickly, I mean, I can talk at the speed I type,which is superfast. Mom doesnt know I even HAVE online friends, she wouldnt let me have Facebook, thats for sure, but she doesnt know that you can open a private browser window either, and then no one can see your history.
OK, clarification: friends might be a stretch. But, you know, I have people I can talk to about TV shows and books that I love. And they know who I am, they welcome me when I log on. I know they could be anyone, they could be fifty-year-old creeps in their underpants, but I like talking to them. So sue me.
And anyway, its good for my typing skills, which helps when it comes to the tasks Mom sets me.
Mom is big on homework but shes also big on typing and writing in general its that total communication thing again, plus I guess she is a stenographer so its 110 per cent obvious why typing would be important to her. So I dont just have to do the essays, I have to do them in a set time.This decolonisation essay she assigned me yesterday.
Good, she says, about the homework. Ill read it tomorrow.
She puts aside the picture shes been stitching. Its the same as all the others a Scottish Highlands scene, purple mountains in the distance, a loch in the foreground. This time, a thistle growing up in the very front, just so you really know its Scotland. Not that I believe Scotland really looks like that I mean, theres no way any real place has colours like that.
Dont ask me why Scotland, either. Its just what she does. Always landscape, never with a person in the frame. She covers the walls, and then when she runs out of space, she starts to throw them out and begins all over again. She orders the patterns from the internet for some reason, Scottish landscapes are popular enough that she pretty much never repeats herself.
One day, she often says, well go there. See the mountains for ourselves. The stags.
No we wont, I always think. We might see mountains, but not these ones. Not these crazy fairy-tale peaks with their bright cotton colours. Still, I would like to go. Id like to get out of this city in the desert,whichisthe only place Ive everknown. To stand in the mountains, smelling the heather and the gorse. Seeing the mist rise off the ground, wreathing the horns of a stag. Hell, seeing mist. The closest we get is that heat shimmer off the roads; off the sand of the desert.
But of course well never go. Well never leave the Phoenix area. I have asked a thousand times for a vacation; to go to some other place. Mom always says no when it comes right down to it. Weve never even been to the Grand Canyon, and you canny there in like an hour. Theres a little air strip in Scottsdale it costs a thousand dollars per person, they ny you up there and all around the canyon, looking at it from above. A day trip. There was a time, when I was younger and brattier, I used to talk about it all the time, ask to go, mention it when my birthday was coming up. Now I know better. Now I know we cant afford it and even if we could, the scared look my mom gets on her face when it comes up, I think shes scared of the plane.
So, SCOTLAND? Scotland is just a silly dream hers more than mine, but mine too, I have to admit. If only to see what it really looks like.
Mom hauls her ass out of the easy chair, goes to the hall and pulls on a light jacket over her T-shirt and PYJAMA JEANS, and Im putting that in all caps now in case you didnt pick up on my subliminal referencing of her disgusting PYJAMA JEANS earlier. Also, in case it wasnt obvious when I talked about her hauling her ass, she is not the slimmest, whereas I am naturally athletic, and this makes the pyjama jeans look even worse. I mean, I love her anyway, shes got meat on her bones, whatever, but she doesnt have to wear that ridiculous garment.
Do you have to wear those? I say.
Yes, says Mom.
Its two in the afternoon, I say.
You cant go out in pyjamas.
Thats why theyre made to look like jeans.
They do not look like
But shes turned around, so she doesnt catch that.She just grabs her bag and motions for me to follow. I sigh and shake my head, giving up. I have told her about those horrible pants so many times now, and she just doesnt listen. Its almost like she WANTS to look like a loser, so you know, shrug.
No, I take back the shrug. It does bother me.
Because its just . . . its just, she looks like a loser RIGHT NEXT TO ME.
So anyway, I pick up my own bag and go out with her on to the warm street.
Keep up,says Mom. And stay close. Sometimes cars come upon the kerb and hit people.
I know, I say. I know.
I dont know not then, not for sure; I just believe her, like I believe her on everything.
Later, though, I do know for real.
Enter The Competition