Craig-727 On “(Expat) Andy Allen And His Mom,” A New Short Story, And Fun Tweets From Japan!
Craig note- Many foreigners would love to go home. But one should be careful what they wish for these days as seen in our new short story, “(Expat) Andy Allen and His Mom.”
Cover Photo- Unsplash
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“Thank you. Have a nice day”
“You too, Mr. Allen.”
Maybe, it was my mask.
I suspected Mary Anne remembered who I was. There could not be that many people named “Andy Allen” in the universe. But, Mary Anne left it alone, and I took the hint, intentional or not.
I realized that for as long as my trip had been in miles to get back home, it was a longer journey to face the dark demons of my youth. I stepped out of the hotel to grab a fifth of whiskey from the small discount liquor store next door. I returned with my 70 proof friend in hand to get acquainted with him again.
I woke up the next morning with one hell of a hangover. I ended up praying to the porcelain god for a good 45 minutes. It had been a long time since I had drunk hard liquor. I pulled myself together. I showered and shaved. I nicked my chin several times with the cheap hotel razor, but I did not look horrible all things considered.
Hey, it’s free.
After throwing on faded blue jeans and a new yellow shirt, I called to the front desk to arrange for a taxi. I went to the lobby, and I snagged a red raspberry jelly doughnut along with a hot black coffee from the limited breakfast buffet.
I swallowed the last crumbs of my free breakfast feast when a black and white taxi pulled up out front of the hotel. It was time to see my mother. We drove for fifteen minutes towards my mother’s old house.
“Stop the car. Here’s fine.”
“That’ll be $28.50, buddy.”
“Thanks. Keep the change.”
“Wow, thank you, sir. Take care now.”
It was a sunny and cool day. I thought it would calm my frazzled nerves to walk the rest of the way to my mother’s home. I had not seen my hometown in years. It was time to take the dime tour.
“Hell, they built a new high school! Go Dogs!”
I marveled at the changes in the town. There was a national chain fast food joint. I stood in awe for several minutes of a real painted-on turning lane in the town square.
If it had not been for the old protestant churches standing on both sides of the main street, I would not have recognized my hometown. The times change even in a little hometown. I walked down the main street as memories of my youth filled my pounding head.
Many of those memories were good ones, but as I got closer to my mother’s house, many of them were not happy. They were dark memories. I felt overcome with sadness and regret.
There was anger and then rage at all that had happened to me here in my sleepy little hometown. I caught a glimpse of my flushed red-faced reflection and clenched fists as I passed a closed storefront window. I realized that I was in no mental condition to go to my mother’s house on this day.
I took a detour off of the long main street. I went to a small bar that I frequented a long time ago. It changed into a chicken wing selling joint. I was disappointed, but I needed a drink. It was closed.
It was only 11:30 in the morning. A young staff member was inside cleaning. I pounded on the locked door to get his attention. He came to the door annoyed with me. He pointed to a black and white sign with his middle finger.
“We’re closed, dude. It’s only 11:30. We don’t open ’til 5:30. Plus, you have to be vaccinated to get in here.”
I pressed a Ben Franklin that I took out of my old brown leather wallet to the glass in the door with my middle finger.
“It’s 5:30 somewhere in the world. Right, dude? And I’m all jabbed up, thank you very much. Three times in fact!”
Jesus, I don’t have the plague. Seriously.
A minute later, I was inside sitting at the counter drinking gin tonics. I pulled off my ratty, old mask and put it on the bar. The young man put his company issued mask on and swept up around me with the crisp hundred-dollar bill tucked neatly into his front shirt pocket. He yanked his mask tighter anytime he got near me.
I turned on the flat-screen TV at the bar, and I got lost once again in my thoughts. I watched reality TV for the first time. America changed. And I was different. I sat staring into my empty glass as I swirled around the remaining half-melted ice cubes. I could not help but wonder what my mother was going to think of her son.
I left the bar after drinking a couple more stiff drinks. I went to the local flower park to sober up for a few hours. Eventually, I felt a lot better, if not completely well. I painfully trekked the last few miles to my mother’s house.
My mother’s house looked different. It was older and more run down than I remembered. The front staircase was broken. I stood with my hand in the air ready to knock on the door when it suddenly opened with an unknown face behind it.
“Who are you? We don’t need no cult religion or porno magazines, so unless you are selling Girl Scout cookies at a discount you best just move along, son.”
“ Uh, hey, uh, I am looking for Donna Allen. Is she here?”
The rough-looking, middle-aged woman started to close the door on me. I wondered how long it would be before she pulled a gun on me. I lowered my hand to my side. I did not want any trouble with her. I waited for some redneck to come out from the back with a shotgun.
“ No, no, she went crazy or something. They found her naked as a jaybird in this front yard one day. Crazy as a loon that one is. A damn shame…”
“I see. Any idea where she might be now? It’s kind of important.”
“Last I heard she was livin’ over at the state-run assisted living home a few blocks over on Fourth Street. Damn shame.”
“Appreciate it. I’ll take a look over there.”
“My mama? Gone crazy? Impossible. There must be some mistake.”
I walked down the broken front porch staircasem shaking my head.
My mother had always been the strongest-willed person that I ever met in my life. She survived child abuse, bad marriages, and abject poverty. She did it all with a smile and a fair amount of grace. I wondered how such a thing could have ever happened to her.
What can I say? A man has needs.
I found a payphone, and I called her facility. It was well past visiting hours. There was nothing more I could do on this day, so I returned to my budget hotel. I picked up another long-lost friend named Jose Cuervo, and we bonded until I blacked out in my room as I dialed a 900-number.
The next morning I managed to get out of the hotel and into a taxi at about 10 a.m. despite the night of heavy drinking. I took the taxi to the “ Sonny Times Assisted Living Home.” The large misspelled billboard out in front of the small, dilapidated, gray building told me all I needed to know about the place.
I walked through the old front door. It squeaked loudly as I opened it. A middle-aged woman at the front desk wearing a pink and yellow dress greeted me.
“ Patient name, room number, and relationship to the patient that you are here to see. Vaccination status.”
The woman did not bother to look up at me. This annoyed me, but I was also determined. I had come too far to give up now.
“Donna Allen. I don’t know. Son. Up to date. Ma’am.”
“My stars! Andy Allen, is that really you!?”
The once disinterested woman behind the desk looked up intently at me. The woman teemed with energy and vigor. She became animated as she flapped her arms about her head like a wild chicken. Her mask slipping just below her nose.
“Yeah, I guess, it is until someone else wants the job.”
“Sorry about that. Let me yank this dumb thing back up. It’s policy around here.”
“Oh you’re fine. Um… “
“You don’t remember me at all do you, Andy?”
I felt bad that I did not remember her. She looked a little sad. In my defense, it had been a long time since I had been back. People do change over time, especially women.
“No, I am sorry I don’t.”
I scratched my head. Ten-plus years of heavy drinking is not exactly conducive to having a great memory. There was no point in lying to her. She appeared to remember me, despite my mask.
“I am Sarah, Holly Martin’s little sister. Remember, Andy?”
“Oh, yeah, Holly. Holly Martin. Sure.”
It thrilled me to have remembered her sister. Holly was in the same class in high school as I was. We spent a lot of time together in study groups during our high school days. She was a nice girl.
I left that part out.
Holly was especially nice to me while naked in the back of my old, ’87 Chevy van on Saturday nights while I was in college.
“Oh, yeah, your mom, she’s in room 106B. It’s right down the hall over there. But, you should know she has her good days and bad. She may not recognize you just so you understand. Okay?”
Sarah looked worried about me. It felt nice. It had been a long, long time since somebody cared about me for no reason at all. I barely knew how to respond to her.
“Thanks. I’ll remember that. You tell Holly I hope she’s doing well.”
Strong, if not clean…
I stumbled down the narrow, dark hallway. I stopped along the way at an dust-covered drink vending machine to get two cups of hot black coffee.
D-mn, I need another drink.
My mother always had to have her coffee that way. I stood outside her room door. I fidgeted and swayed.
I knocked gently, and I slowly opened the door. I looked around, and there was no sign of anyone. I took a moment to check out the entire room. It was so dilapidated that it made me long for the small Japanese prison cell that I not all that long ago occupied.
There was a little, rock-hard-looking bed over in the corner of the small room. I saw a small chair, presumably for visitors, and a well-used, shit-covered bedpan next to it. There was a small oak desk. I saw many pictures of me and my other siblings as children.
‘Precious memories,’ and all that, right?
We had been estranged for years because of a variety of internal family conflicts. I had not seen or heard from any of them in a long time. I could not tell you if any of them were alive. I did not care at all if they were or not.
Can’t be…just can’t.
Random thoughts of yesteryear were interrupted by an ancient-looking woman who walked into the room. The frail elderly woman took two or three more tenuous steps towards me before she stopped once more. She stood silently and deeply gazed upon me. It was my mother, or rather what was left of my mother.
Lice-ridden bedsores covered her once beautiful head of hair. It was a tangled, gray and white mess. She was thin, oh so, painfully, thin. My once vibrant and strong mother was but a pale imitation of her former superhuman self.
This was a woman who at the tender age of 23 walked bloodied and injured with a young child under each arm for more than ten miles to get help. She rolled her car over eight times in a fiery auto accident. The obese cop on the scene had said it was a miracle that we survived. My mother was speeding back home after a call from my despicable father.
“Get your a&& back home, right now!”
“We are heading out the door this second, baby. Don’t be angry with me please.”
“Get those b-stards of mine and you. Home. Now! You are my G-D wh-re.”
For the record, we were at my beloved grandmother’s house eating double chocolate fudge brownies. God rest her sweet soul.
Appeasing that wannabe tyrant, my mother lost control of her old car as she rounded a wicked curve on a deserted stretch of state highway. My father assumed she was cheating on him. She was not.
My mother was asking my grandfather for a small loan to tide us over for the month. My father squandered his paycheck on cheap booze and local college bimbos. It was neither the first nor was it the last.
I walked slowly towards my mother so as not to startle her with my most unexpected presence. I was nervous for the first time in my life to be around my mother. It had been a very long time since I had seen her. I took another small step towards her.
Please remember me. Come on!
“Mama… It’s me, Andy. Remember? I came back to see you.”
My mother was motionless. She finally attempted to look closer at me. I waited for any sign from her that she recognized me in a small way. I gave up hope when my mother cleared her throat.
“Andy…? Is that you?”
Perhaps, this was not as bad as Sarah made it out to be.
She responded with the slightest hint of emotion and a crackling cough. It relieved me that she recognized me.
“Yeah, mama, it’s Andy. Your boy, Andy.”
I reached out with my hands in some small hope that she might reach out, too. She did not. I saw what Sarah warned me about with my mother. She was here but not completely there.
I motioned for her to come and sit on her old bed. She looked worn out. I sat down in the small chair next to her bed, and I handed her a hot black coffee. My mother reached out and took the large cup from my hand. I removed the plastic lid for her. My mother took a slow, good, long sip of her hot black coffee.
“Ah, that’s good, Andy. Thank you. You always knew how to make it the way I liked it. None of your other brothers and sisters could ever figure that out.”
It was like magic. The woman who a few minutes beforehand did not recognize her son snapped back into reality.
“You still livin’ in Japan, My Amazing Expat Andy Allen? I bet that’s real pretty. Probably real hard to live with all those Chinese people ain’t though. Damn virus and all! They still won’t get me to get no shot.”
G eography was never my mother’s strong suit. Nor was belief in science…and I certainly not nearly as ‘amazing’ as my mother thought.
She had lived her entire life in this little town. I was unsure exactly how much my mother knew about my alleged crimes in Japan. There was a big part of me that wanted to tell her everything about what really happened to me.
“Yeah, mama, I’m still there. You really should think about getting the vaccine. Saves lives, you know?”
“ Uh-huh… So how’s that job of yours?”
“It’s all right, mama. It keeps the lights on every month.”
If she only knew…
My mother was proud of me as I went through that airline gate to get on the plane as the mayor of our town stood beside her so many years ago. For a moment, my mother was somebody in the town again. She beamed with her approval of me that day as the crowd cheered for “Expat Andy Allen!” until they were hoarse.
“Don’t you have to work or something?”
I had no intention of spoiling that memory by telling her I was now a deported, unemployed ex-con fresh out of quarantine.
“I had some vacation time saved up. So I came to see you, mama.”
My answer pleased my mother. I was glad. It was clear at other times that she had no idea what I was saying to her. She asked me the same odd questions more than once.
“Aren’t you here to fix my heater? I’ve been really cold at night. Can’t you do something about that?”
Sadly, it was midsummer, and her recently replaced A/C unit was working fine.
“ Yeah, yeah, mama, I’ll take a look at it for you. It’s probably just unplugged or something.”
She grew tired of so much talking. I knew my time with her was coming to an end.
“Mama, why don’t you just take a little nap. It’s all right. You’re breathing kinda heavy. You should get that looked at.”
My mother nodded, and she put her head down on her ratty old blue pillow.
“Don’t worry, I’m sure it’s just a cold. Everyone’s got it now. Can’t even get into the the doctor these days. Got no money for the hospital no way. Anyways, I love you, son. I’ll see you soon.”
Lazy b-stards ’til the end, the lot of them.
My mother never woke up again after that. I buried her the next Friday morning under a beautiful little tree in the local cemetery. A childhood friend of my mother’s came out to pay their last respects. Nobody else did, not even my siblings. Everyone blamed their absences on the virus, but they could have come. I did.
A month later, the local funeral director placed a large marble tombstone on my mother’s grave that read, “Donna Allen: Beloved Mother, Friend, And Fighter.”
Grey, Grizzled, and Gaijin
And I moved on as just plain ol’ Andy Allen.
Got a Question for the Grey, Grizzled, And Gaijin Mailbag? Send it to: @craighoffman11 on Twitter
Originally published at http://craiginjapan.wordpress.com on December 30, 2021.