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Hank S. Kirton
Joseph remembered the time he got high with his mother. It was a weird, painful, bleeding memory. It taught him nothing. He was fifteen. His mother, Estelle, worked over at the lightbulb factory in Chelsea. She worked third shift. His dad had died when Joseph was four. He’d been a janitor at the high school and sometimes Joseph felt grateful that he had died so he wouldn’t have to say “Hi,” while his dad mopped up puke in the hall. He felt guilty about these feelings but there they were. Joseph couldn’t always control his thoughts.
Joseph had been smoking weed sporadically since the sixth grade. It was no big deal. He didn’t smoke often, usually just with his friend Billy, and sometimes Raoul and his sister Shjma.. He never got high alone. He got high by himself once and it horrified him. He saw his whole personality. Besides, weed was an expensive commodity and hard to come by. Billy was the only other kid he knew who had a drug connection. And even that was pretty weak and unreliable. They called it “Acapulco Gold” (whatever that was supposed to mean) But the product was grassy and harsh. They did a lot of coughing around Billy’s rip-off crabgrass. The high was barely existent. Billy stole the rag-weed from his parents and had to be discrete; he had to be stealthy as shit. You didn’t fuck around with Billy’s parents. No sir. His folks cultivated the stuff in the basement and they did it all wrong. But hey, it was better than nothing
Joseph kept his drug activity hidden. He sneaked around his mother’s antique, Audubon world, snickering to himself in his sneaky little head. He honestly enjoyed the keen feeling of getting away with something forbidden.
One drizzly Wednesday afternoon, Joseph got home from school to find his mother sitting at the kitchen table, drinking coffee. “Hi honey,” she said, in an odd, deep voice that was out of character. And what was she doing up? She should be in bed, warming herself with the glowing stories on the television. Resting before another shift with the lighbulbs. But she was up now. Strange.
“Hey, mother.” Yes, Joseph had been trained to call his mother “mother.” He was often ridiculed by his friends for this weird formality.
His mother was wrapped in her ratty gray bathrobe, her eyes swollen from sleep. She had just gotten up. Her work schedule was upside down. She lived like a vampire.
She said, “I know what you’ve been doing.”
Joseph grabbed a can of Coke from the refrigerator, snapped it open and took a quick slurp. “What?” he said.
“It feels good, doesn’t it?”
“Uh, what are you talking about?”
She swept strands of oily hair out of her face. “I know you’ve been smoking grass, Joseph.”
He was stunned for a second, then he lowered his head and said, “Oh.” He saw no reason to deny it. Getting caught was always a danger. It was part of the thrill. But how did she find out? He was so careful. He didn’t have a stash in the house. In fact, he hadn’t smoked since he and Billy Rodgers got high behind the sand pits. That was weeks ago.
“What do you think I should do?” she said.
Joseph shrugged. “I don’t know.”
She stood up. “Come with me. I have an idea.”
She led him outside to the back porch. They stood under the green canvas awning. The rain came pattering down. They faced each other. Joseph’s hands turned into fists. He braced himself for her verdict. There wasn’t much she could take from him. Getting grounded wouldn’t break him either. No way would she get the police involved.
Then she smiled. “I have something for you. You can think of it as a punishment or a reward. The choice is yours.” She reached into the pocket of her robe and removed what looked like a fat, tightly-rolled joint. She had a blue Bic lighter in her other hand. She plugged the joint into her mouth, lit it, and took a long drag. Then she held the joint toward Joseph and said “Here.” The word came out in a croak as she held the smoke.
Joseph looked at the joint, shocked. The familiar smell of the pot was so incongruous to the situation he felt like he was dreaming. He had no idea what to do. He’d never seen this side of her. It was new.
He hated it.
His mother finally released the smoke and said, “Go on. Take it.”
He slowly shook his head and said, “No thank you.” His voice had lifted, gotten higher. He sounded afraid. Hell, he was. The situation was scarily surreal.
She scowled. “Joseph! You listen to your mother. Smoke this fucking joint, NOW!” She stabbed the joint toward his face as if trying to burn him and he flinched.
He took the joint. He looked at his mother and said, “Really?” Everything seemed warped, sliding to a burning afterlife. He wanted to run. There were demons behind him.
She nodded. “Yeah, really.”