She Does, He Doesn't

two stories

Cris Mazza

What Kind of Mother

     If he was 9 months old he'd be holding his toes in fat fists over his face & gurgling to a tinkling music box as though it's his fingers & toes producing the melody. But he's 9 years old w/ legs like crumpled then re-straightened pipecleaners & his feet cross each other — the top of 1 foot pressing into the arch of the other. 1 arm tucked across his middle as though it's a little boy who went to bed w/ a belly ache — the other arm bigger & stronger waving the hand high over his face as he closes his eyes w/ mouth stretched in a wide-open grin & he lets loose a parrot shriek before noticing Teri is in the doorway.

     His next shriek is softer just like the high airy sing-song of a little boy doing nursery rhymes. He is able to roll over & uses the big hand to grasp the bars of his crib & pulls himself into a kneeling position. The soft white fishnet grazes the top of his blond curls 1 hand still beating the air — either waving or seeking to beat an invisible tomtom. Such a cherry-lipped smile it's easy to not see the crooked brown-spotted teeth caused by flawed incomplete enamel not that way for lack of brushing because Teri does brush them every time she puts him to bed but he clamps his mouth shut & just sucks the toothpaste unless she squeezes his cheeks between his jaws & forces the mouth open so he screams & beats her arm w/ that same stronger hand & tears roll down his cheeks.

     Teri unties the crib net & lowers the rail to take Danny under the armpits & swings him once around giggling before separating his tight scissor legs & putting 1 on either side of her hip which she juts far out to 1 side for him to ride. Then sitting in a chair w/ Danny on 1 knee she does his horseback riding song.

This is the way the farmer rides
the farmer rides the farmer rides
this is the way the farmer rides
plod plod plod
Then faster her leg hops up & down & his laughter gurgles in his throat.
This is the way the lady rides
the lady rides the lady rides
this is the way the lady rides
trot trot trot
Fastest now his head bobbing like a spring-necked statue in the back window of an old Buick & his chuckle so deep in his chest he sounds like a man.
This is the way the jockey rides
the jockey rides the jockey rides
this is the way the jockey rides
gallop gallop gallop
The other heads in the other beds are turned w/ bright eyes peering through bars of the cribs w/ soft high sighs of some kind of pleasure but not enough aptitude to be jealous or demand a turn. But Danny will still do his parrot shriek when he's put back into the crib w/ enough more intelligence than the others to always want more than he gets.

Now every time Teri makes this walk down the hall before departing for home she remembers & reruns an incident that happened 3 or 4 months ago. Not replaying it differently but exactly how it had happened because the ending turned out all right but she has to remind herself what revelation it held for her. It was the time she'd forgotten to safety-pin Danny's pajama top to the bottoms so there would be no way for him to pull up the shirt & get his hand into his diaper. Or maybe there hadn't been any extra pins hanging from the hem of her smock so she just hadn't bothered. She'd dipped through the open doorway & smelled it knowing he needed to be changed & even that soon considered turning around & clocking out as though she hadn't made the extra return goodnight trip to his room & therefore couldn't possibly know there was 1 more b.m. to add to his chart. But it was worse than that. He'd smeared it on the bars of his crib & on the wall & even on the white safety-net stretched over the top of the crib that keeps him from climbing out even though he wouldn't be able to stand let alone lift either leg over the rail — it's just in case. 7:55 p.m. & she could've legally clocked out 3 minutes ago & still count as 8. The night aide would've found him by 9 or 10 at the latest he'd only have to stay there surrounded by his shit for an hour maybe 2. It was his own fault after all maybe it would teach him not to do it again whereas if he got to get up now & have a game being driven down the hall bare-assed naked in a showerchair to the walk-in shower where he'd chortle as she hosed him off with gentle warm water he'd be tempted to do it again every night wouldn't he? But falling asleep with the smell of his shit inescapable would he dream fetid dreams & wake in fevered nightmarish terror & no mother there to soothe his fears to stroke his head shit-caked hair & all. A mother would. If he had a mother she would. He does have a mother at least an address in his chart. & Teri is a mother. Had been. & until that particular moment in Danny's reeking room she'd presumed she could've been a good mother not t.i.d. or p.r.n. but a blithe 24-hour-shift w/o clock-watching if the Y chromosome had left her alone — if he'd given her more $ instead of mandates & orders so she wouldn't've had to endure the sick actually dying baby-sitter roommate. Or even if the volunteer sperm benefactor had given her no $ at all so she wouldn't've had to grant him the weekend custodial visits which turned into whole weeks until the little girl insisted she go to Texas with the man who'd furnished half her DNA & she didn't come back. I have more friends here she said I have cousins! Related by an ejaculation. So let me come there but the phone went dead & no letters came. Which shows what kind of mother Teri really was — she never followed she never searched never vowed to never give up like tv mothers do. She wrote & called & waited & faithfully returned to the hospital for 4 hours every day every day every day — at that time as a geriatric aide taking ancient dry bodies to the shower in the vinyl showerchair — till the call came a year or 2 later her little girl saying don't call or write anymore or try to visit and don't try to pull anything legal or I'll get a divorce like the girl in Florida then it'll all come out in court what you did. & not even enough mother-guilt to know what it was she'd done — that's the kind of mother she'd turned out to be. What you did the girl had said not what you didn't do which makes no sense. It doesn't matter. The further measure of her unfitness as a mother probably that she never did pull anything legal or even try. The girl now 12 proving right in the end.

     So she had stayed to 8:30 cleaning & changing Danny & was damp & slightly foul smelling when she'd arrived home where there was no one not even a note from Cleo so the hospital smock & uniform pants would be cleaned & dried & no evidence left that she'd done what any mother would surely do but not before she'd considered ignoring the mess — she can't change that part & didn't that prove something about her? Every night as she goes down the hall to say goodnight the 30-second trip tells the same story & ends w/ the same question.

Who Is This Guy?

     Many people don't leave Arkansas, but he had no choice in order to become a trombonist, which was all he wanted, except to avoid the draft, which he did by taking a psychological test and saying he would rather arrange flowers than drive a taxi and the reason he didn't want to have children was they would probably be better than him at sports. In a hypothetical class photo, when asked to choose his best friend, he didn't pick the blond football star but pointed to the clichι dork with buck teeth in too-small checked shirt and black-rimmed glasses with ten pens in a breast pocket. The diagnosis was neurotically immature, which certainly wouldn't play in Vietnam. He was one of Arkansas' premier hippies, his name kept on file by the FBI because he'd visited a "known comune," proud of his D in college ROTC, which he had to pass before graduating, and at one time he knew how to take a rifle apart and put it back together. He slogged through snow in Boston, noticed how the crocuses and dog shit rose up through the slush in the spring thaw, then he moved to Brazil where winter is summer and security guards carry uzi machine guns and half the classical musicians are frustrated Americans. He taught Brazilians to say "How big is your weenie," carried a purse, grew sideburns, became a vegetarian, dodged dirty water thrown from doorways and avoided spittle flying from who-knew-where and stepped over burning sacrifices set out on the sidewalks.

     When he decided to come home, he left in the summer and came back where it was still winter, except in the Southern California city where he got a job playing trombone. He went to parties and stood at the buffet table eating, sometimes reaching two directions with both hands, and someone once said he looked like a prisoner of war because he had narrow shoulders and weighed 125. He cut his sideburns and his hair, pierced his ear, got a new purse, his formal black tailscoat was tattered and he wore black jeans instead of tuxedo pants, carried his tie in his pocket until the last second before going on stage, and he fell in love. With baseball. He listened to games while he practiced trombone or with headphones at rehearsals, in the wings during concerts he huddled with the stage crew around a tiny television. They had huge bellies and bald heads and thought he was a fairy, but they asked him about obscure rules and what was the pitcher's ERA and where did this second-baseman play last year.

     Then for a year a dispute with management kept him from working, so to finish the graduate degree he'd begun in Boston, he gave a recital for solo bass trombone and one row of seats was filled — those he called his friends which now included his wife — and they made him take five curtain calls. The final time, he came out on stage without his trombone, arms folded, foot tapping, then flashed his distinctive smile — maybe the first time in months, who was keeping track? — flipped up his bedraggled tails, and bowed. But one day realized he was in his late 30's and hadn't yet been to Europe — an ex-pat in Brazil at 24 somehow didn't count as abroad. Upper 30's and hadn't been dancing in a nightclub and hadn't gone On the Road — car trips home to Arkansas didn't count — hadn't ever ridden a motorcycle. Hadn't even been to see a play in too long — Oh Calcutta! when he was 26 didn't count. He helped two lesbian friends through their disastrous affairs and offered his home as their haven and made them tea or yogurt milkshakes and asked them how to make love to women but it didn't help much in his anxious marriage. Daily life had been static for a while, a long while, immutable and inert and he didn't know why.

     But he could play near master-level chess and keep score of a baseball game on a complicated chart and recite Hall of Fame statistics and do Tai Chi moves and use his Arkansas accent for Southern jokes and sing Beatle songs operatic style and Simon-and-Garfunkel Vegas-style and sing to his wife's dogs in a Bing Crosby voice that made them lick his mouth. And he could play the trombone.

See Cam Tatham's unusual discussion of Cris Mazza's Your Name Here:_________,
"Libidinal Confusion"
elsewhere in this issue.
Mazza's latest novel,Girl Beside Him, is available from FC2.
A review of it also appears in this issue of FlashPøint.
Her newest book -- and first non-fiction -- is a memoir
entitled INDIGENOUS: Growing Up Californian,
published by City Lights Books.
More about her work can be found at