Creepy-crawlies (Weekend freewrite)
The sound had finally moved away from him. The loud unmistakable thump that made the floorboard squeak made it clear it wasn’t the creepy-crawlies this time. Strange how he’d forgotten about them for so many years, yet barely a few hours inside the old house brought back the knot at the top of the stomach that made him sick as a child. All those nights spent curling under the heavy blankets, trying to determine if he really needed to pee and whether the urge was great enough to warrant the wrath of the creepy-crawlies that lurked in the corners of the room, ready to slither their way and grab at his bare feet. Did he really need to go or was it just all in his mind? He was, after all, a very restless boy, as his mother used to say, carefully avoiding to use harsher words. But Richie knew what she meant, and naughty was actually the mildest term. He was an ungrateful boy, that’s what he was. Selfish and insensitive, too. And they both knew where he got that, although nobody ever mentioned Harold, his father. After all the work she did just to keep them afloat, cleaning three houses a day for a few dollars, not to mention cooking for him and washing his filthy shirts and his muddied trousers, because he had no consideration whatsoever for his poor mother, and always came home dirty.As if this was not enough, every single night he kept bothering her with his constant whining, there was always a problem with him. She’d told him a million times, a normal healthy boy his age had no need to go to the bathroom twenty times a night like an old man who cannot hold it in. Did he listen? No, he kept waking her up what with the door creaking and the squeaky floors, for two miserable drops of pee he could easily hold till morning. No wonder the creepy-crawlies were after him and she’d be glad when they did catch him and sink their pointy little teeth in his ankle. That’s what little ungrateful boys like him really deserved.
But the creepy-crawlies didn’t make noise, they moved in silence, that was the whole point, for you not to know when or where were they coming from.
This was a different noise, one that he had never heard before. There was the constant ticking too, disturbing, but not really scary. It took him a while to locate its source in the grandfather clock that stood in the corner of the living room, the one that ticked away the minutes at their excruciating dinners. The lonely dinners they spent with their eyes in their respective plates, the routine conversation going on automatically, while each of them was actually engrossed in an internal monologue of grievances unspoken.
The wolf would only have to wait for her. No matter where she might have wandered off, sooner or later she’d find herself at the wolf’s lair and that would be the end. Richie had never shared this guilty fantasy of his with anyone. What sort of boy dreams of his mother being torn to pieces by a hungry wolf? Truth is that, even when most upset with his mother, he did not allow his mind to dwell upon the inevitable brutal ending to his story. Whatever the wolf did with his mother, he wanted no part of it. He did not have to know. All that matter was what came next. Like when Charlie’s Dad was hit by that car and even the horrible Mrs. Pine, their first grade teacher, was nice to him and he got away with not doing any homework for weeks. And people would stop to pat his head and offer him a piece of gum or a few coins to buy himself an ice cream.
His situation would be more complicated, but he had no doubt his elusive father would eventually turn up and take him with him. He had no real memory of his father, the image in his head being largely built upon hearsay and the few pictures his mother kept in the bottom drawer of her dresser, under the silk lingerie she had no use for these days, but she did not have the heart to throw away. In those old photos, Harold was always smiling or goofing around in a silly party hat. Richie had trouble imagining his mother laughing, but the photos were proof that she used to. Before he was born.
And now the wolf had gotten her. Twenty years too late to make any difference. Of course, it was not a wolf, Richie had stopped reading fairy tales long ago. It was something as ordinary as cancer, of which she never told him a word. They did not talk often, on birthdays and holidays mostly, and even on those rare occasions the conversation was kept to a minimum. At least, the spoken part of the exchange. They both used those infrequent phone calls to spy on each other, trying to guess how things are at the other end from the tone of the first hello. Did she sound frail? What was that minute pause meant to hide? Did she ever miss him?
When Richie left for college, he never looked back. And she never asked him back. He’d visit sometimes, rarely, because, you know, work, the only excuse his mother could never find fault with. Even then he slept at the motel, because he did not want to inconvenience her as he had some work to do on his laptop and the light and the noise might keep her awake.
He’d never been there in his old room upstairs for twenty years. Until now that is. He was not surprised to discover she’d wiped off every trace of the little boy that used to live there. She was not the sort of mother who keeps her son’s useless school trophies on the mantelpiece and she sure as hell would not have allowed the zombie posters to remain on the walls. Only the bed and his desk were still there. A withered anemic potted plant sat on the desk, and judging by the gathered dust she must have been real sick for some time. Too weak to climb the stairs probably.
The thought of her last lingering days troubled him and he forced himself to think of something else. He did not care to know what the wolf did.
‘He knew my name, at least’. That was the only consolation he’d got out of finally meeting his father. He lived in Arizona with a wiry woman called Beth and a couple of dogs. She was nice enough when he called to arrange a visit and later assured him Harold suffered from early onset dementia and that was why he acted so strange. But Richie wasn’t so sure about that. Maybe he’d never cared about him, maybe he’d blamed his mother for something that was not her fault, after all. They had a couple of beers on the porch and the old man seemed pleased to learn his only son had a steady job and was doing fine. Not much else, though. When they said their goodbyes, no one mentioned the possibility of Richie coming again. Soon or anytime.
That was two years ago and he never told his mother about the visit, although, truth is, he was dying to know if it mattered to her. Not just Harold, but him and his feelings. Little Richie’s feelings. What he wanted to know was if any of them had really wanted a child or all his existence the result of an accident? A missed pill, a faulty condom?
There it was again, the squeaking floor. It seemed to come from the living room. Or was it on the stairs already? His mother, undoubtedly. Because that’s exactly the thing she’d do. Where would she even go but back here to haunt the old house? Maybe she was doing it on purpose, because she knew he was here? Part of him wondered if she’d come to say goodbye, part of him wanted to believe she’d care enough.But not enough to spend the night in the house. He slammed the door on the way out, wondering if he could convince the real estate guy to put the house on the market as it was. Creepy-crawlies and all.
Story written for @mariannewest's freewrite challenge. The three prompts for the weekend challenge are marked in bold. Check out her blog and join our freewrite community.
Thanks for reading!