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Eden Ashley

“At least we’ll stay neighbors,”

His mom keeps saying whenever they talk about the new grave she bought for herself at the cemetery across the street. And no, it’s not that they talk about it as much; as a matter of fact, they don’t. But his mom has this given talent so she can turn every bloody subject into the proper topic (in her opinion).

It came up this morning when he asked her for the way she wants her eggs for breakfast, and she said: “Go carry meals to my grave, why don’t you? I don’t want the other dead to hate me”. It’s not going to happen, but he doesn’t say a word. In the end, she says, “Fried eggs with sourdough.”

An hour later, it happened again. On their way to the village’s boulangerie, she stopped in front of doorstep no. 16 (they live on 12) and said: “Ben!!” (In this weird tone, so Ben wasn’t sure whether it’s a shocking shout, a whining yell or her missing drama class again). “Did I tell you that Mr. Sculmann died the other day?” – He has no idea who is she talking about. “They didn’t bury him here, poor thing, if he could just plan his life as he had planned every chess move.” And still, he has no idea who that is.

And how can you possibly forget the winning equation on every made-up test: “You think THIS (different object, depends on the store) is OVERPRICED? Don’t you remember how much my grave had cost?”. In the end, she wraps with the same line over and over again: “At least we’ll stay neighbors.”

Ben has been living with his mom since the day he was born. He stayed after his little sister got married, he even stayed after his dad left. All those years, he was watching his mom, sitting on the chair by the phone, waiting for his father to call. Every night at 7:30pm (half an hour before the news), she was getting dressed and fixing a small plate of nuts and green grapes (or different fruit, depends on the season) beside her cup of tea and waits. And waits. And if the phone rang, she would pick it up with all-of-a-sudden brighter eyes, like the grapes on her plate, but it was never dad on the other side. She would say: “It’s the wrong number” and quickly hang up. The gleam in her eyes vanished with the grapes off the plate while she was waiting, again. And waiting. And waiting until the news came on. At 8:03pm (after the headlines), she would turn the TV off and go to bed.

Things in the house have been different lately. While she slightly forgot how to behave like a mother, Ben developed a self-dad figure. He cooks for her, especially the slow-cooked potatoes and yams dish with sautéed sweet shallots on the side. She loves this roots dish so much that he feels she won’t last a week without it. He likes carrying the grocery bags as well, showing her how many he can take at once. Back then, she was so impressed with each bag he was adding, his athletes’ skills were something to glorify. But for a while now, whenever he tries to charm her, she looks aside and says: “Careful, the bag is about to rip!”

Ben knows she’s about to resign from her full-time-mother-role. She cares for herself now. And he cares for her, too. The few times when she still acts like a mother are the nights Ben wants to go out. “Go find yourself a whore!” she rigidly says, and sometimes pestering with the grave-thing again and says stuff like: “You’ll get too busy with her!” and “She won’t let you visit me!” At moments like these, all he wants is to put lots of cologne and burst out. But he doesn’t. He stays, and they run an all-nighter Canasta marathon. She always wins.

Sometimes he feels like she will be the one to bury him, in the same grave she bought for herself. Only this morning, she was acting strange. She hadn’t left the bed or answer him when he asked her if she wants fried eggs for breakfast again. Forty minutes had passed since he started chatting with her door. She won’t eat the same breakfast twice, he knows that, but this is not a reason to ignore him. “Mom?” he asks beyond the brown door, only with a concerned tone now. Maybe that will do. She’s still not answering, so he opens the door to find the bed wholly organized, the same way HE had done it yesterday. She’s gone.

Back to the kitchen, Ben makes himself two fried eggs, sunny side up, just the way he likes it. The sides are a bit overcooked, turning the egg white into brown sheets, the yolk remains liquidy. He peels a cucumber, cuts some cherry tomatoes, and salts it a little. The sourdough gets warm and cozy in the toaster. When the toaster alerts that the bread is tan enough, he gets a phone call. No Caller ID appears on the screen. “Hello,” he answers, hoping his mom will be on the other side, with a very good explanation of why she hadn’t slept at home. But, surprisingly, there’s a man’s voice on the other side, no other than his own dad.

When his dad told him his mom was in a car accident, Ben could only think of one thing: why on this bloody earth the police choose to call HIM and not ME? “They took her to the hospital,” his dad babbling carelessly. “But she didn’t make it.” Rueful silence. “I’m looking for the people who’ve done it,” he KEEPS TALKING. But Ben is not worried. For the first time in his life, he has nothing to be worried about. It doesn’t matter whose fault was it, and it doesn’t matter who the police choose to call to either. It doesn’t matter if the eggs are fried or scrambled, and it really doesn’t matter if he had made the bed or not. “See you at the funeral,” his dad interrupts his thoughts, which don’t matter too and hangs up immediately.

His mother’s grave is right up the center of the cemetery. The white marble gleams with the help of the sun rays. His dad is there, his sister and her husband, too. Ben looks back to see their house across the street, this big empty house that now belongs to him alone. Tomorrow he’ll bring her scrambled eggs for breakfast. He’ll get flowers the day after tomorrow. People are leaving slowly, only the two of them left. He stands by the white marble, leaning and whispers: “Dad had gained weight.”

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