Vasant 2023 Stories - Matthew Praxmarer


Mothers and Sons

By Matthew Praxmarer


James awoke and was serenaded by the sound of Thomas Tallis wafting up from the clock radio his mother so tenderly gifted him. He sat up straight and for just a moment was reminded of the concert which he and his stepsister Claire attended just the previous night. He was so beguiled by the symphony that every so often he felt the sharp desire to take his sister’s hand in his and hold it to his heart. But he could not imagine making a move so bold as that.

He stood. He stretched, his arms held high above his head as he let out a heaving sigh. He did little else to prepare before approaching the typewriter and beginning to type. He was composing a love story he had begun the previous night, and, although different from his efforts at the darker and more macabre tales, he was pleased with it. However, very soon after he began to write, there was a sudden pain in his lower back. The pain was so acute that he let out a little moan and collapsed back into bed and lay supine just long enough to hear his mother’s voice cry out that breakfast was prepared from the bottom of the stairs. James is thirty-seven. Having given his tender back a rest for some time, he stood just as the inelegant harpy cried out once more that breakfast was ready, this time even more shrill and demanding.

He moved downstairs and found her, aproned, in the kitchen, humming a little tune that James could recognize as one sung by some crooner that he despised, despised because only philistines and rubes enjoyed him. Mother turned around to meet him.

“Well for heaven’s sake, the eggs’ll get cold.”

“Oh,” he said, before caressing his still aching back and letting out a moan just perceptible to Mother.

“What is it? What’s the matter dear?”

“Oh nothing.”

“James! It’s not nothing. Tell mommy where it hurts.”

“My back. I must’ve slept funny.”

“I’ll call Dr. Brenner.”

“I don’t think that’s necessary.”

“Now James, please. He’s a specialist.”

James said nothing else. He sat and munched. He thanked her for breakfast. She retrieved the dish and stood over the sink to wash it. He ascended those long stairs. He sat at the typewriter and began to write. Once again, his back began to ache and even spasm, and he lay down once again. He lay so long that it was nearly eleven when Mother once again cried out. He was after all engaged to play bridge with his mother, Claire, and his Aunt Agnes at eleven-thirty. When he stood, he let out another groan, but felt good enough to descend those stairs and help Mother with the snack tables which he placed at two corners of the square table with cards already splayed out on the table like a long blade. He scooped them up and shuffled them mindlessly while he waited.

“Aunt Agnes,” he said when he saw her enter.

“What’d you say James? Take this dish, will you?”

She handed him a covered dish which he placed in the center of the dining room table. Her hands now empty, he approached and the two hugged like two familiar friends who hadn’t seen each other in some time. They sat opposite each other at the table as though it were ordained by the heavens and began to bandy the usual pleasantries back and forth about this and that subject of no particularly grave concern. Mother approached:

“I see it’s to be me and my daughter as partners. Now where is she? Late as usual.”

“Claire!” James stood and beamed upon seeing her in the doorway, enchanting in that blue hat she wore on Sundays.

“James. Mommy. Aunt Agnes.”

They sat and the cards were dealt. James was delighted to find when the cards were unfurled in that familiar fan and organized by suit that he had indeed a startlingly good hand. He opened:

“1 no trump.”

“Oh my. Pass,” said mother, leaving it to Agnes.

No hesitation: “3 no trump.”

“I’ve got my work cut out for me,” said James.

“Now just one minute. I haven’t bid,” said Claire. “Kidding. Pass.”

When the lead was made and Agnes’s hand laid down in that all too familiar bar graph, it was uncovered that she had seven hearts, five spades, a single club and not a single diamond and many, many points.

“You’ve got a grand slam in hearts!” cried Mother, who would, as the game proceeded, not let her older sister forget the blunder. He made seven no trump. The game continued with parries and thrusts, with Claire making a hand, then Agnes and Mother, and back to James, who was by all measure the best of the foursome. After a time, Agnes breeched the subject:

“So how’s your writing going James?”

Mother interrupted: “Oh James and his writing, his writing. What on earth would James do without his writing?”

“I’d die,” he said. “I cannot live without words.”

Finally the two left, with James giving Agnes a long hug, and Claire a longer hug, and, as Mother washed the dishes, James climbed those stairs. He pondered the story for hours and then he returned to his typewriter and began to compose his love story, but just as the two lovers were about to embrace, he felt again that terrible pain. He fought through it, but hardly got three words in before his hands began to ache and suddenly were but gnarled claws. He stood. He labored at the window, but his now useless hands could not open it. He went to the clock radio and began to tie a knot, but his useless hands could not form it. He went into the closet and found the revolver his long dead father had bequeathed him, but his useless hands could not pull the trigger. He went to the window again, and after several moments, he looked at the typewriter. He picked it up with his forearms and heaved it out the window with a great crash.

“What on earth was that?!” He could hear Mother cry out as he took three steps as if to jump, only to shout downstairs:

“Coming mother.”

He arrived downstairs and sat, but his hands could not grip the knife and fork to dive into the pork chop she had prepared for dinner.

“My god,” said mother, and she cut the meat and fed her lone boy.


From U.S., writer and novelist Matthew Praxmarer is a graduate of Vermont College of Fine Arts. He works as a Continuing Lecturer of English Composition at Purdue University Northwest where he maintains a steady output of radicals who learn to question the status quo and avoid the “naked this” and other promiscuous pronoun usage.


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