Chad W. Lutz
“A hundred years is a long time,” I say. “A long time.”
A rusty sedan drives by, leaves the odor of sulfur in its wake. I leap out of the way and over a puddle the size of Lake Erie and then settle back onto Van Buren along the curb.
“It’s a goal,” Mom replies. “Like seeing you married to a nice, young woman.”
I hear her words, and have always hoped the best for her — even her silly milestone — but nobody lives forever.
“I will,” she says, proudly, and tosses me a narrowed glance.
Two bare-headed bikers ride pedal-to-pedal in the middle of the road, with their dogs trailing on twisted leashes behind them.
“I don’t know how you do it,” one of the bikers calls out.
“Likewise,” I shout back and wave as we turn the corner up the block and cross over to Lincoln moving quick and steady. Mom leads the way.
“Like I was saying,” she says, “I was talking to Debra about your master’s degree and I said, ‘We’re very proud of him—”
“Right. ‘We’re very proud of her and everything she does.’”
A small silence passes between us as we hang a right onto Washington. The sputter of a sprinkler system greets us; a lawnmower growls to life.
“Why can’t you ever get my pronouns right?” I ask and hop over a pothole the size of Crater Lake, panting. Mom breathes evenly.
“Jaso-…Ashley, I’m doing the best I can,” she says and sighs.
“I feel like you care more about the person you want me to be than who I am.”
She smiles like she understands.
She nods like this is everything.
Then, she opens her mouth as her watch beeps and says, “That’s a mile.”
“A mile?” I ask. “We’ve only gone a mile?”
Mom, who’s five-eight, one-forty, says “I thought you’ve been running. Out of juice already?”
“No, and I have been running. I just don’t normally go this fast.”
We lope down Washington like ghosts in a graveyard until it dead-ends at Pierce by the Walgreens. Up ahead, in the distance, is the lonely spire of a large, Victorian brick building.
Mom points and says, “Once around city hall. Then we’ll head back.”
“I don’t want to head back,” I tell her. “I agreed to come on this run so we could work things out.”
“Not ready to head back?” she says, “We can keep going; I don’t mind.”
“You know that’s not what I mean.”
She picks up speed and says, “Well, I can never tell with you, you know? It’s boy one day and girl another. Back and forth, flip-flop; that’s all you ever do.”
I want to say, “Hey, that’s unfair,” but the words never leave my mouth.
Mom, with her perfect hair and her timeless complexion, says, “I’m just glad you don’t go by they/them/this, or whatever that fad was, anymore. Mom takes a hard right around the flag pole at the giant brick city center. I follow her as she leads us through a small gauntlet of police cruisers and city vehicles before heading back onto Washington amid its rows and rows of maples.
“I’m doing the best I can,” she says and picks up the pace. “I’m doing the best I can.”
A woman, who looks like Scarlet Johansson, out walking her dog, waves as we run past.
“You see that person?” I ask. “What’s the first thing you think of when you see a person like that?”
“I mean, what do you think of them? Describe them.”
“Well,” Mom says, “I think she looks anxious.”
“She. She! You think she looks anxious. Don’t you get it?”
“Listen,” Mom tells me, and looks back over her shoulder, maybe watching for traffic, maybe watching for me. She says, “I know it’s been hard for you, and I wanna help, but I’m afraid I just don’t know how.” We approach a four-way stop and Mom slows for traffic. We sidle up the shoulder toward the flashing red lights and hang a right onto Roosevelt without stopping.
Mom’s chest rises and falls. “You’ve got to run against traffic,” she says, “Otherwise they won’t see you.” And I think to myself I know the feeling. But right now, with the sun rising and rush hour traffic just setting in, I’d rather get hit by a car than let anyone see me.
“All I want is for you to acknowledge me.” On the verge of tears, my voice trembles as I say, “Acknowledge me for who I am.”
Mom stops. We stop. The world stops, turning. Standing face-to-face, I and the woman who gave birth to me study one another, measure our next moves.
A Jeep blasts past and blares its throaty horn.
“Freak!” the driver yells and tosses something out their passenger-side window. Green smoothie covers my shoes. Mom, with the power to make me whole again, says, “Never mind them,” and puts an arm around my shoulder. She says, “We’ll clean your shoes when we get home.” Her watch beeps. “That’s two,” she says, and taps at the watch’s small screen. She nods my way, a question more than a gesture.
“We can’t keep running,” I tell her.
“Sure we can,” she says, “The house is just over yonder,” and she plots the way we came with her fingers. “Unless you want to add a few more on; jog over to the graveyard. Won’t live to be a hundred years if I don’t get extra miles in.” She laughs, but I don’t. What I want to do is wallop her upside the head.
“I want you at the wedding,” I tell her. “It would feel wrong not having you there.”
“Jason, honey, I know this is a big deal for you, and I’d never want to take anything away from that, but it’s a big deal for me, too, for different reasons, and I think you’re being a little selfish.” Mom turns left at a fork in the road. The road cuts up the development next to ours and out toward the cemetery.
The distant rumble of thunder interrupts the blue sky.
Rain falls like the beginning of a good cry as we pass through the cemetery gates. Marble and granite tombs signal our arrival. Blackbirds mourn our presence. They throw their heads back and cackle.
Go back, these birds say. Go back before it’s too late.
Rustling leaves ride the wind in and out of sun-bleached wreaths and torn, idle flags. Mom and I zigzag up the first hill, down around the small field, and back to the gates. The whole loop is a mile. Halfway through, still huffing and puffing, I notice a familiar sycamore tree and an even more familiar gravestone with a chubby angel-looking thing staring optimistically toward the sky.
“Isn’t Grandpa buried over there?” I ask as we run past, but Mom, only sees what she wants to see. She says, “Your guess is as good as mine.” and keeps hoofing, picks up speed, lowers her shoulders.
Her watch beeps, and she says, “That’s three.”
“The wedding is tomorrow,” I remind her, and speed up to keep pace with her for the first time the entire run.
We make the final turn toward the small field and the gates that lie beyond.
“We can go back,” she says, “I have no problem with that.”
I pant and pant, trying my best to keep up, but Mom, she only gets faster. The rains pick up, too, and suddenly the frail blue of the sky turns black, and we turn like we’re going back, but Mom, who once gave me a kiss for my birthday, she takes a right instead of a left and leads us out, up, and over the hill toward city hall.
“Twice around,” she says.
And I say, “No,” but she doesn’t hear me. Doesn’t hear me or doesn’t care. Doesn’t care or couldn’t care.
But, I dare. I ask, “Why do you always have to do things the hard way?”
And she says, “What do you mean?”
And I say, “You’re sixty-seven, you run four miles a day, and you haven’t taken a day off in thirty years.”
Thunder claps, despite there being nothing to applaud. A neon fork of lightning tines the sky. Mom, with her mascara on point and her hair as blonde as the day she was born, says, “At least I’m consistent,” and turns her nose up at me. She goes, “If you’d just settle down and stop chasing these silly dreams of yours you’d probably feel better about yourself. You might even accept yourself as the man you are.”
“But, I’m not a man!” I shout. “I’m not a man or a woman! I’m your son, your daughter, your whatever! I just want to be loved! Don’t you understand that? All I want is for you to act like you care.”
“I’m sorry, but it’s a dead issue,” she says and speeds up.
“Mom!” I shout, but she’s so far ahead now, I can’t hear her footsteps any longer. She’s so far ahead I can’t reach her. She rounds the final corner around city hall with me trailing about a half-mile behind. The distance between us grows greater and greater with every stride.
“God (huff huff) damnit (huff huff), Mom. Just (huff huff) slow down!”
I make the same turn onto Washington, in the direction of home — home terrible no good very bad home — but when I pass through the cobbled archway and wrought-iron gates and into the street I stop. From a quarter-mile up the road comes the sound of Mom, screaming her head off.
A middle-aged man digging his own grave scrambles to finish mowing his yard — a small, quarter-acre plot —before the lightning and thunder. It isn’t supposed to storm, but I wasn’t supposed to change my sex, or change the name I got from my grandfather, but it happened, and, because of this, I’m ready for the bright, spider-legged bolts to streak across the sky and the awful clapping of thunder to follow.
“You can’t just run out into traffic,” the officer says, as I slow to a trot and stop. “Almost caused an accident.” The rain picks up and up, and, soon, all we can hear are its rhythms. It rains so hard it practically leaps from the ground.
“Handcuffs for running in front of a car?” I ask, suddenly aware of my sopping-wet clothes.
“Almost caused an accident,” the officer shouts above the torrents. He shrugs his spindly shoulders and opens the car door to his idling cruiser.
Mom, whose mantra is knowing when to quit, says things like, “I have my rights!” and “This is my life we’re talking about here!” but the cop doesn’t listen, doesn’t listen or doesn’t care, doesn’t care or couldn’t care, because Mom, who taught me to obey authority, she spits on the ground at the cop’s feet and laughs when it lands on its target and slowly slides off his boot to the asphalt in the rain.
“Keep it up,” the cop says.
Mom, who preaches level-headed behavior in stressful situations, says, “Get bent,” but I stop her right there.
I say, “I’m sorry,” an apology that feels empty leaving my lips, but the officer, tall by all accounts, glares down at me and grunts.
“You know how many times I’ve heard that argument? People say, ‘Please! Please! It’s not how it looks!’ Or, ‘I’m just having a bad day.’” He laughs to himself, adjusts his badge, straightens his hat. “If you see this badge, odds are you’re having a bad day.”
“That’s not even remotely true,” I tell him. “And if there were so many cars involved, where are they?” A quick sweep of the street produces nothing but an empty intersection.
“Listen, ma’am. I know you’re only running, but what just happened is reckless and dangerous and regardless of how harmless it may seem, you just can’t run all over the place doing whatever you want. People get hurt.” He smiles shamelessly, the way teachers do when their young students get it. I swallow hard, understanding what happens next shapes the entire makeup of my relationship with this narrative. I think about all the years she’s been avoiding me since I came out. I remember she stood up and walked out the door without a word and didn’t come back for three hours. She’s standing in front of me, with the rain pouring down and her hands in cuffs, being led into the back of a police vehicle.
“Maybe some rules aren’t meant to be followed,” I say, as the officer puts his hand on her head and lowers her into the car. “Maybe we just do the best we can, and at the end of the day, if getting cited for jaywalking is the worst that happens to us, maybe that’s a win. Maybe we get exactly what we need without even realizing it.”
“That’s a great speech, kid,” the officer says. “But this was a little more than jaywalking. Now stand aside so I can close the door.”
The door closes and, Mom, who will always be my hero, says, “I’m sorry,” and, while I can’t hear the words leave her mouth because of the rain, I can see her lips move and that’s good enough. The driver door slams shut and the car idles while the officer reports the situation. I stand outside the car. An avalanche of rain falls like boulders on my head and shoulders. Inside the car is Mom with her head hanging and a twisted look of dejection and embarrassment on her face. I tap on the glass and say, “Mom,” but she won’t look at me.
Again, I say, “Mom,” but she doesn’t acknowledge me.
“Mom,” I plead.
The cop says, “Let’s get this show on the road,” and suddenly it’s me in the car, has been me the entire time.
The car shifts into gear, bound for the giant brick city center; I’m in the backseat on charges of reckless endangerment, a Class-A misdemeanor of the first degree. Rain splatters the windshield as we pick up speed.
“It’s funny,” I say watching my hometown speed by through the barred windows. “All Mom ever wanted was to see me married and to live a hundred years.”
“What’s funny about that?” the cop asks.
“Mom hasn’t been alive for years,” I tell him. “The only person who’ll be missing from the wedding tomorrow is me.”
Chad W. Lutz is a speedy, bi-polar, non-binary writer born in Akron, Ohio, in 1986, and raised in the neighboring suburb of Stow. They graduated from Kent State University with their BA in English in 2008 and from Mills College in Oakland, California, with their MFA in Creative Writing in 2018. Their first book, For the Time Being (2020), is currently available through J.New Books.
© Variant Literature Inc 2021