Art Pact 236 - Mother's Promise


"I will always love you," she croons. "I will always care for you."

And I understand that for the near future this is true, that she means it to be true. She will look after me, she will attempt to lavish me with all the gifts that she can. But she has already given me too much. This insight, I understand, is something that I have but others do not. She has it to a certain extent, but she does not realise how much greater my own faculty for it is. She sees things only dimly ahead of us - and perhaps that is the source of her misplaced confidence, because in the near future we appear closely entwined, as though she were indeed nothing more than she pretends to be: a doting mother. It is only further on, when this gift of foresight has already begun to manifest itself more strongly in me, that the relationship sours. I can withdraw my focus a little - squint, you might say, although that is as far from the reality of the sensation almost as it is possible to be - and simulate to myself what it is that she can see of the future. It is a blurred line, the outlines of she and I always close by, one covering the other as though we were wrapped in an embrace. It would be easy to see that imperfect picture and conclude that we were a strong pair, that as mother and son we would stand together, care for each other, nurture each other. But this vision is - not wrong, exactly, but inaccurate, lacking in important details and textures. Indeed, I can see that we will be together for a long time. But our relationship, one of love and trust at first, will soon sour into a feeling that one of us has trapped the other (we will both feel, I think, that we are the caged ones). We will not lend each other gifts, but rot in place so that each infects the other.

I shift in place uncomfortably, squirming to try to free myself from an embrace that now seems rather cloying. We are sitting in the conservatory (the room that at the moment, free of such complicated vocabulary, I simply think of as the warm-bright-place), my mother on the long leather-covered sofa that stretches along the north wall, I on her legs and stomach so that my head just brushes the underside of her breasts. In the future I can see them being a source of friction - my mother's physique, at its peak now, will of course like all things begin to decline, and that decline will coincide with my first adventures in the opposite sex. Comparing her own failing body to the girls I will bring into the house will cause my mother to lash out at them (verbally, and in one case physically when she walks in on me and one of my trysts in flagrante delicto and hounds the poor girl out of the house, slapping her on the back of the head while I try to defend one against the other - which I will not be entirely sure, even at the time). There will be no happy alliance of mother- and daughter-in-law in my future, my mother always at odds with the other women in my life. There will be nothing, I hasten to add, improper about her attitude towards me, but the damage will be just as real as if there had been.

For now, though, she is ripe to her own satisfaction, and has lovers and prospect of lovers enough to replace my dead father. She is confident in her place in the world, and she feels as though she lacks for nothing. She has her child (me), a place to live, enough money to support us at least until she has to make the decision whether to send me to a costly school or not (she does not, in the end, a fact for which I am grateful because the alternative seems so ghastly, although of course I can only examine my own future and not those of all the me's that will never exist - perhaps I am wrong about this).

I follow the skein of dissatisfaction along its course. After those turbulent teenage years the corruption is evident, and grows stronger and stronger until by the time I am in my thirties we are no longer like mother and son but two festering corpses joined by dead flesh and maggots, horrid things that act only to hurt each other. Birthdays are fuelled no longer by happiness (or even by joyful sadness at the ever-presence and ever-nearing of death), but by a vile spite. As I get older I make every pretence at tearing myself away from her grip, but all I am really doing is wounding her as much as I can. She, resentful at the fact that the grim reaper will be coming for her sooner than for me - we can both see clearly enough to know that she will definitely die first, although she thankfully has no idea how - turns my birthdays into a celebration of my dependence on her, filling the house with reminders of my youth. Particularly, it seems, those memories that on the surface seem benign but which underneath are mementos of horrors that surrounded them. I know the real messages behind the photos and souvenirs, and she knows that I know, and I know that she knows that I know, and so on, and the celebrations become sick competitions to destroy morale. It is all too depressing.

The other direction, perhaps, might be more interesting. I follow the line back, watching our the putrefaction of the relationship receding, curing itself until there is only the faintest line of sickness that weaves itself into the years of my pubescence, my childhood, a faint dissatisfaction that colours all that will follow it but is only barely detectable in itself. I hunt it back, looking for the source - and when I find it I am not surprised.

It is, of course, now.

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