An estranged mother and son who haven’t seen or spoken to each other in a more than twenty years meet in line at the post office in December, arms full of packages to be mailed. What do they say to each other?
Tory smiled at the woman in front of him who had turned around when the child behind him had made a fuss about standing in line. They glanced at each other long enough to know they both wished they were somewhere else. He thought she might say something to him to pass the time, but she never did. She turned around and went back to looking at her phone.
When he had looked over his shoulder earlier, the line was almost out the door. It was chilly outside and hoped the line would speed up to not let the cold air inside. This was when he noticed a woman in a red and white hat. Her face was not close enough to get a good look at it, but there was something about her mannerisms that kept his attention. Worse, the hat reminded him of his childhood.
As the line slowly crept forward, Tory was finally on the other side of the partition. This gave him a chance to look at the woman in the red hat again. She was in the process of taking off her hat when the boxes she was balancing on her knee fell. People moved out-of-the-way as they took up already limited space. She cursed loud enough for everyone to look in her direction, and it was at this boiling point when Tory realized who was in the same room with him.
It was his mother. The one who had deserted his father for another man and raised another family. The one who had drunk herself into blackouts when she should have been cooking dinner. The one who never sent him even a birthday card or called him when he had graduated high school. It was too bad his father was not with him now. He would have some words for her. Tory had long ago stopped thinking about her, but here she was opening his wound again. She was always good at leaving a situation worse than when it began.
He knew she hadn’t seen him yet. Her red and white hat served enough preoccupation, but once she stuffed it in her coat, something else would take its place. He hoped it wouldn’t be him, but the closer she got to where he stood, the more she kept looking at him. He turned away from her, trying his best to conceal his face.
“Are you too good to even say hello to me?” He ignored her, hoping she’d leave it alone.
“I know you heard me. If you had any decency, you’d at least say something. I’m still your mother.”
By now people were curious what was going on, including the woman who he smiled at earlier. She was the next person to be waited on, but still she looked behind her at the commotion. He apologized to everyone to himself and set his boxes down if she had the nerve to get close and shove them out of his grasp.
He faced her and said, “I’ve gotten by 25 years without you, and I know that bothers you. So, you have any decency, you’d deal with it later and shut up because I don’t want to hear anything from you.”
“You call yourself a son.”
“I’m not your son. You gave that up when you decided to have another family, and don’t think for a second that I don’t know what you did besides leaving my father. A zebra never loses stripes, if you know what I mean.”
“I should wash your mouth with soap.”
“I see you’ve never lost your great mothering skills.”
“You ungrateful bastard.”
Tory knew he had gotten under her skin, and felt a sense of pride. He had finally gotten to tell her most everything he had written five years ago, but never got to her because she had sent it back to him. As he waited for his turn to be called to the counter, he saw movement behind him. He didn’t need to look back. She was leaving out of embarrassment and a probably twinge of guilt. Either way, he was sure the people who witnessed this would call her the red hat lady with the boxes, which caused him to smile.