It is eight o’clock and my mother’s boyfriend is forty-two minutes late. It’s okay, my mother tells me. He is so present when he’s with me. Your father was never present. I don’t know what to say to that. I suggest we watch an episode of House Hunters to pass the time.
You can tell they really love each other, my mother says about two strangers looking to buy a townhouse in Kansas City. She turns to the small white dog perched on her lap. Can’t you? my mother asks the dog. Can’t you tell? The dog licks his lips in a way I can only assume means Hey, let’s fuck in whatever language the dog speaks.
My mother says her dog is her one true soul-mate. My mother’s dog has a cloudy eye and poops out brown-red lava onto the living room carpet every morning. None of this bothers my mother. My mother knows all about unconditional love.
By nine o’clock my mother is talking about how unreliable men are. At nine-fifteen she changes out of her blouse and into her extra-large Eric Clapton National Tour shirt.
My mother’s had a long pilgrimage of men. First there was my father. Then, briefly, my step-father, a man I never did trust. Then came a revolving door of boyfriends. Patrick, the masseuse. Ben, the personal injury lawyer. Stephen, the Uber driver. This new one is a professional ice carver. Anything you want, he can create out of ice, my mother tells me. Anything in the world.
My mother is the kind of woman who believes that anyone not part of a couple is an incomplete person. My mother believes that I am an incomplete person. You won’t be young forever. So says my mother. You need love. When was the last time you had some love in your life?
What counts as some love in my life? My father turned sixty-five last month and I took him out to a lobster dinner in Miami to celebrate. We split a bottle of champagne and a too-rich chocolate lava cake and the waitress thought we were on a date. You two make a cute couple, she told us. Does that count?
The man who used to be my husband returned to my life seven months ago, right around the time I moved in with my mother. He and I got married the summer after high-school. We divorced before either of us could legally drink. For nine years this man and I did not exchange one single world. I thought we would never speak again, but then one night he fell out of the sky. Is this still your number? he asked. I wondered if it had been him all along. My other half.
In that first phone conversation my ex-husband told me that he was on the step where you’re supposed to ask everyone for forgiveness.
Okay then, I said. Consider yourself forgiven.
But he either did not believe me or he was lying to me and wanted something more than my forgiveness because he began to call me every other night. I never called him. I only answered my phone when it rang. I want to make that clear. Each of our conversations lasted no less than three hours. We did not speak about politics. We did not summarize the nine years we had spent apart. We focused only on ourselves. We treated our past relationship as if it were an event in history worthy of being analyzed.
After three months of speaking, I purchased a plane ticket to see my ex-husband over Labor Day weekend. When I called to surprise him with the news of my my upcoming trip his voice turned tight and flat and cruel. I think there has been some mistake here, he said. I never meant for what we’re doing to become real. I have a girlfriend. I have a serious girlfriend.
My mothers asks if I’ve tried Facebook. She tells me that Facebook is a great way to connect with men. She says an ex-boyfriend from college used Facebook to get in touch with her after thirty-some years. He said he never forgot her face. That her face was too beautiful to forget.
He wound up being married, my mother tells me. But still.
I ask my mother if she told the married man to stop messaging her and she tells me, No, no. Attention is nice and he’s all the way up in Georgia. No harm in a little fantasy when he’s all the way up there. And besides, my mother says, that face he thought was so beautiful is not even my face anymore. We would just disappoint each other.
My mother understands what should become real and what is better off left as fantasy. My mother passed her eye color down to me. Her weak ankles. High blood pressure. Why couldn’t she have passed her sense of reality down to me, too?
At ten o’clock my mother places a pint of ice cream on the counter. At ten-twenty my mother asks me why a pint of ice cream, as if I have decided to keep the pint of ice cream frozen. My mother starts every night out hopeful. At eight p.m. she believes in love, but by the time eleven rolls around, she has her doubts.
You’re smart to avoid all this stuff, my mother tells me. It hurts to be alone. I’m not getting any better at it. My mother picks up her dog and kisses him on the mouth. My smush, my mother says. My little baby smush.
The ice carver calls early the next morning. He’s so full of apologies. An emergency with one of his kids. A split chin from roughhousing. There was so much blood. They were in the emergency room all night. The ice carver hopes for another chance and my mother does not hesitate. She just gives one to him.