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Something Mother Said
She died when I was a younger boy, but by the imprint she left on my life the memories I have of her are vivid. My mother was a venerable woman in my eyes, no doubt born a wise man of the sorts, and with every ounce of my childish being I admired everything about her. Her comely face, the way she used her words, and her simple determination to support her family was like that of an angel on Earth to me.
I believe when I was about five or six years old she started telling me her stories, ones that she made up as she went along or perhaps heard from someone else, like God. Their topics were occasionally almost scientific or astronomical, such as one she described to me pertaining to twelve different universes, but one that particularly stuck out to me was something about a parallel dimension. It was an alternate lifeline, where I was still me in all of my appearance, but the choices I made throughout my life were the ones completely opposite to those of which I had made here, on Earth. It confused me at first, and I admit I had trouble understanding what she was describing to me. It took me a couple years after her death to decipher that there was another me in this fairy tale, who maybe wasn’t so utterly poor.
It was true that I grew up destitute. My father was never the same when my mother passed away, and it was almost as though he stopped functioning. I suppose he had every right to love her as much as I did, and it was evident to me his ability to cope with her absence was nothing in comparison to mine, as soon after I turned twenty, he was gone. He had a heart attack along the shore of the Somerville Lake by our home, and a group of picnickers found him a few hours later. The hospital in Brenham said that it was the heat that got him, but I knew he couldn’t have gone on without Mother and nothing they said would convince me otherwise.
A year later I married, and as I wanted to stay close to where my parents were buried I remained in Brenham, Texas. Though I was never too fond of the heat, I would suffer through it, as my wife was apparently quite fond of it. She was a couple years older than me, with dark brown hair not dissimilar to my mother’s, and I had met her where she volunteered at the hospital. In her free time, which was most of the time, she would sit out on the back balcony of my apartment in a blue bikini and smoke while the sun kissed her skin.
I was in college for a while, trying to pursue a bachelor’s degree in graphic design and all the while working at a gas station to keep the rent paid. My wife often came in to buy cigarettes with the money I shared with her, and I can recall the exact day when she approached me at the counter, bought her favorite brand of cigarettes without a word, and then as she handed me the cash looked me dead in the eyes and told me she was pregnant and I would have to leave college to work more. March 31st, 2019.
I was wrapped around her finger, answering to her every beck and call. I would have climbed a mountain if she so desired, and I can tell you exactly why. It was her face that took me, the way she compared to my mother as she aged ever so slowly into her later twenties. When I was 22, she was 29, and she still wasn’t working. She stayed at home for our year-old daughter, tended to her while I worked two jobs at once, one at a gas station and the other at a thrift store. Even still, it was never enough for her. My wife enjoyed draining our money away on new things for the baby and unnecessary decorations for the apartment, and furthermore her cigarettes. I had to get another job, and I looked harder.
For months there was nothing, not even the smallest whiff of a needed employee anywhere in town. I supposed I couldn’t have expected anything else. It wasn’t like Brenham was a very populous city to begin with. Nonetheless, I refused to give up hope and in time, while we barely had enough food to feed ourselves, let alone the baby, a man came around the thrift store with fliers in his hand.
He was a middle-aged man, his receding hairline of dark brown hair evident and the wrinkles around his eyes prominent. His face was circular and he never relinquished a perpetual smile from the moment he stepped through the door. It almost seemed natural that he was covered in grease, and the rubber gloves he wore were the only thing that preserved the papers he held. He handed one off to me, taking a moment to stare directly into my eyes with his. I was perplexed by their color - dark blue with a subtle tint of yellow around the pupil that oddly reminded me of space and someone I perhaps once knew - and when he left I continued to think about them even before I could manage to acknowledge what was written on the flier.
It was a job offer by the grace of God, a certain Dr. Matthews looking for a hand within his garage lab on some obscure project. He offered enough money that I realized I would be able to quit at least one of my jobs, and as soon as I returned home I called the number that had been etched on the bottom of the flier. The phone rang not long before it was picked up, and a man spoke on the other side, his voice smooth and enticing like warm sugar. I told him why I was calling and the only thing he said to me were the most relieving words I had heard in the longest time.
“See you there.”
It was later in the night when I drove to his house, a bungalow on the edge of town, closer off to Somerville. I was surprised at the salary he had offered in the flier, seeing as how his house didn’t entirely seem to be all that of a rich person’s, and when I parked in the driveway I managed to understand why. By a glimpse in the garage window I could see metallic, scientific equipment that must have cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to build. The doctor opened the front door from the porch and beckoned me inside.
I didn’t think twice about entering his home, finding it to look as rundown as the outside, and with haste he gave me a brief tour of the structure, showing me where the bathroom was, and the small kitchen, and then a guest bedroom in the wall like a closet. He informed me with such a pleasant attitude that if I deemed it necessary to spend the night there, I very well could. Though I was apprehensive, considering my wife and my daughter were left at home alone, I was so eager to get this pay that I would have done anything to support them.
Upon telling the doctor this, he provided me with a warm smile, saying that he understood my condition. I was living a weary life, working all hours of the day with no holiday and no support from the woman whom of which I would love until the end of the Earth. He put a hand on my shoulder, gave it a squeeze, and he told me in such a comforting way that he could fix everything that had ever wronged me. There was no possible way I could’ve denied his offer of work. He was the reincarnation of an angel, or the embodiment of a second chance, and that was all I ever wanted but was never given the opportunity to have.
I didn’t quite understand why the doctor needed me for his work. Much of it was assisting him build a sort of circular frame within the garage, connected to a monitor with a plethora of cords tangled about it. And then there were the moments where I spent the night, simply because he asked me to do so, and while I slept I allowed him to plug suction cups to my head and monitor me. I hadn’t the slightest clue what he could have been gathering from my sleep, but if it helped him and paid me I would continue to do it.
Often, mind you, I still went home to my apartment to check in on my wife and daughter. She had just recently turned two, and she cried all of the time. My wife could barely stand her as it was and looked sleep-deprived consistently, and though I was already doing all that I could for them, she demanded that I do more. One night I stayed up the entire time, trying to mollify my daughter while my wife went out on the balcony and smoked again, this time with a bottle of beer beside her. I loved the way the moonlight outlined her skin.
Dr. Matthews continued to monitor my sleep more often, and when he wasn’t he was focusing on asking me personal matters, then writing it down on a clipboard. I supposed the machine we had been constructing was long since finished, but yet he kept me around just to speak with me. I was starting to get the suspicion that I wasn’t a helping hand, but rather a test subject. I didn’t find myself minding much.
He questioned me on the status of my family, pertaining to their health and how I felt about them, and on a whim I rambled, going on about how I would do absolutely anything for them, protect them with my life, but it was so utterly frustrating when my wife never stopped expecting more from me than I could handle. The baby never seemed happy, and I was sure she could get sick from my wife’s smoking, and furthermore was I confident with the possibility that I could die from overworking for my family. Much like my mother did. Dr. Matthews simply provided me with an all-knowing smile. I honestly felt like he knew me, more so than anyone else on the earth.
Gradually I began to spend more time at his house than I could have at my apartment. Of course the money still went directly to them, and I started to care much less if my wife wasted it away. I never had the chance to spend it, anyhow, and I saw no use if Dr. Matthews was willing to support me if I worked with him. We proceeded further into his workings, and it wasn’t until a year later, when my daughter had just recently turned two, that I discovered exactly what he had been working on. He presented it to me with such an unforgettable pride that I knew it was his life’s work, and in fact, it was something Mother said.
Dr. Matthews admitted to me in a very detailed way that he had been monitoring everything I was doing, all of the choices I made in such a careful way that he could use them to connect to what he called my alternate lifeline. It sent chills down my spine, and the thought of my mother came back ever strong from the story she told me as a child. It was just that, exactly what Dr. Matthews was working on, and I loved him so much for it. I asked him if there was a lifeline that I could connect to where Mother was still alive, but with agony in his voice he told me that he had tried ever so hard, but to no avail. I was surprised he felt as strongly about it as I did.
The doctor asked me to rest while he connected the suction cups to my head again, and as he started up the monitor and began typing his encrypted messages, the circular mechanism before us sparked to life, and in the center a vortex of blue appeared. It swirled like a whirlpool, showing no clear image at first, but as it seemed to settle in place I was presented with a prosperous picture of a home. I saw myself, slightly older, my hair having receded at the slightest and my skin pale, but I was so lavishly dressed that it was difficult to understand who I was looking at. Dr. Matthews gazed upon the same picture and I watched as tears accumulated in his eyes. He nodded several times, reminding himself over and over that he had done this, and done it successfully. The only thing left was for me to step through that portal and assume my new life.
I didn’t move from my position, but rather I watched a few flashing moments of this alternate version of myself moving throughout his life. He lived in a great house, had his own art studio and always had enough money to keep himself supported and satisfied, but one thing that stood out to me to blatantly was that there was never any woman in these memories, or a daughter. He was alone to live out his life in wealth, no family to hold him down, but more importantly, no family to love him. I realized I would either have to cope with that, or deny it altogether. Dr. Matthews noticed my apprehension and attempted to convince me otherwise.
He stated firmly that there had never been anything beneficial about having a family, especially the one that I had. My wife never quite loved me back as much as I loved her, and my daughter would grow up neglected and malnourished. The influence my wife had would be so prominent on my daughter that it would likely render her a delinquent. Nonetheless, the only thing I could think of, at that moment, was my mother. I wanted nothing else but to live on in her memory and support my own family as much as she did, hers. Her love never wavered, and neither would mine.
Dr. Matthews was appalled, to say the least, but I knew he wouldn’t be able to understand something he never had. He lived alone in a rundown bungalow, not with someone he knew he could cherish forever. Unfortunately for him, there was no possible way he could’ve argued with me. He must have seen it in my eyes, how intent I was on my decision, because I watched as the hope he held for me faded from his face. Very carefully, he took off his rubber gloves, ran a hand through his receding hair, much like that of the man’s inside the vortex, and then he cast himself inward. As soon as his body was gone the portal burst into a few wisps of light, and then was gone. I remained where I was, unmoved, poor and young, but at least I knew why Dr. Matthews cared about me so much. He was yet but another version of myself, from a completely different lifeline.
When I returned home that night, the remnants of my salary in a check in my hand, I found my wife on the balcony of the apartment, rocking our toddler in her lap. It was enough for me to go to bed that night, in my own home, and prepare for another job search early in the morning.