Mothers and Sons

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You Owe Me

The garage door opened slowly, hesitantly like an arthritic man rising from his chair. Cautiously Kim Vuong drove the car forward into a space bordered by boxes and overfilled plastic tubs. Once out of the car, she usually maneuvered through the piles to the kitchen door but tonight even that tiny space was blocked. She shook her head. It was a mess and looked like a squirrel had ransacked through the bins. Her son, Nhat, must have been looking for something. The commute between her job in Mt. Airy and her home in Frederick had been unusually difficult and demanding this evening. She hadn’t expected to face all this clutter and disorder. “Another mess?” She shook her head.

Tired, she closed the car door with the electronic keypunch and walked out onto the driveway, now beginning to ice from the mixture of melted snow and freezing temperatures. It was a winter evening and darkness melted the horizon.

Gently she stepped onto the crusty ice and made her way to the front door. The porch was unlit. She decided not to bother digging for the key lying at the bottom of her purse. She guessed correctly that Nhat had left the front door unlocked all day.

“You’re late, again.” Nhat called to her. He was stretched out on the couch, his laptop on his lap and watching a reality show on television.

Silently, she took off her scarf and gloves and unbuttoned her coat. She hung them in the closet near the front door. Two large boxes filled with athletic equipment covered the bottom third of the closet. Nhat hadn’t used them in years.

He glared at her.

“I was working.” She zipped off her boots and put on slippers. “I was working late.” She walked passed him to her bedroom where she left her purse and then headed towards the kitchen to start dinner.

“Well, what about me? Who’s supposed to make my dinner when you work late?”

“I’ll boil some noodles and chop up some vegetables.” She called from the kitchen. She laid out two placemats, chopsticks, two bowls and set a roll of paper towels in the center of the table.

“Pizza would be better. I’ll order pizza.”

He listened for her answer but only heard kitchen noise. Water from the tap fell into a pot of water. The gas stove made its tinning sound and the wok began its sizzle. The refrigerator door opened and closed. In his mind he saw her chopping vegetables on the wooden block.

He got up from the couch, placed his computer on a worn coffee table, clicked the television off and walked into the kitchen.

“Let’s order pizza.”

“I don’t have any extra money for pizza. You know that. Things are tight right now. The car needs repairs, the roof has leaks.” She turned her back to him. She could visualize the anger forming on his face.

“What about me? I need things. I need money too.”

“Not tonight, Nhat. I’m so tired. I don’t want to go over this again.” The water was boiling

“It’s your fault, you know. I’m your twenty-six year old son, your only son. I had to quit my job. Now I can’t find work. You ruined my life. It was that American you married. That man who abused me. He made me do things and you let him.”

“Nhat, not tonight. I’m tired.”

“He made me do things and you let him. You turned your back on me, your son.”

“You know I left him as soon as I knew what he was doing. I called the police. They arrested him. He’s in jail. Don’t you think I would take it all back if I could?”

“You married him. You should have known better.”

“Well, I didn’t.”

She faced him. “I made sure you received therapy. You went to college. You graduated. That is something, Nhat. I supported you, paid all your tuition and helped you with your first job. You quit your job, Nhat, not me. You lost your apartment, then moved in with me, remember? My fault?” She added a combination of seasonings and sauces into the vegetables.

“Since you moved back in, you don’t even try to find work anymore. You expect me to support you, give you anything you want because you were hurt. I was hurt too, but I couldn’t quit my life. I go to work everyday, do pedicures and manicures until my hands are cracked and sore. I make other women feel good about themselves. I come home and instead of greeting me and making me feel good, you attack me. If I’m so bad, maybe you should move out. Get your own place.”

“My father….”

She turned to him with an exhausted look. “The father who left us?”

She turned her attention to the stove. She drained the noodles, added them to vegetables, stirring in cubes of chicken leftover from last night’s meal.

He clenched his fists and his mouth twisted in anger. She turned and saw his threat.

“And what are you going to do? Hit me? That would be something. Hurt me so I can’t work? Then I’d have to take time off work, lose wages. I’d probably lose the house and we’d all be on the street.”

Music broke the tension. It was Kim’s mobile phone. “Jenny? No, I just got home. Working late.” She looked up at her son. “It’s your sister.” She turned off the burners and walked out of the kitchen.

He followed her into the living room where she sat down on a recliner, talking into the phone.

“My dinner?” He questioned.

“It’s ready. You’ll have to serve yourself.”

“I’m fixing something to eat right now.” Kim spoke into the iPhone.

He heard Jenny’s loud voice over the phone, “Mom, Nhat can fix his own dinner, better yet he should fix your dinner. All he does is sit around all day.” Kim rubbed her forehead. Another argument in the making.

Nhat sat down across the room from her, crossed his arms and glared at her.

Still in the middle of a conversation, Kim got up, walked over to her bedroom, closed the door and locked it.

Nhat sat for several minutes alone. He looked around. Then he got up, went into the kitchen, and filled his bowl.

Family Drama

The spirited young waitress delivered two orders of fresh crab legs to two men sitting at a table at the far end of the restaurant. The men, both in their thirties, sat on a deck overlooking St. Michael’s Bay on the Eastern Shore. The sun was shining. It was warm, but not hot. Sunglasses protected their eyes. They enjoyed a couple of beers as they watched the assortment of dinghies, skiffs and yachts make their way in and out of the bay. A boat filled with tourists left for the open waters.

The order of crustaceans filled the center of the table and the coleslaw and a pile of thick cut fried potatoes were pushed to the edge of the paper-covered table. “How about two more beers?” She handed them two wooden mallets and a roll of paper towels.

“Yes, keep ‘em coming,” the thin-framed blond man said.

“Will there be anything else?”

“No, that should do it for now,” answered the other man. He was a deep tan color and muscular in build. She tried to make eye contact, but both men returned to their conversation, ignoring her for the moment.

His eyes followed her walk.

“So Jason, you found a job?”

“Sure did. Finally. It’s a company that does taxes for local businesses, a few corporations, but mainly small companies. Nothing like the company I worked for in D.C. but it’s close to home. Not making very much but it’s a start. I thought it’d be nice to be closer to Dad. Make it easier for him since Mom died.”

Jason cracked open an oversized crab leg while Tyler reached for the roll of paper towels.

“My mom and I were tight. I knew she wanted me to look after Dad. Since I already have a house in Harrisburg, I thought moving back home was a good idea. After my move back in November, I’m thinking we’d have a family Christmas for the first time since my mother died. That was two years ago.”

“Good plan.”

“Well, it didn’t turn out so great. My sister, Jennie, and her husband drove in from Philadelphia. My brother, Ben, you met Ben at the house when we were unloading all my stuff. He brought his latest girlfriend, Susanna. It was my idea to have everyone over for Christmas Eve, sleep over and spend Christmas Day together.” He reached for his beer and took a long slow drink.

“Jennie and Susanna got into it. The guys went into the living room and drank. Someone put on Christmas carols. Dad disappeared for a couple of hours and got back in time for another round of drinking. Someone brought out the cards.”

“I’m guessing this doesn’t have a good ending.”

“That’s not the half of it.” He was distracted by a group of four adults sitting down at a table next to them. “So while Dad’s gone, Jennie tells us that dad has a girlfriend. Judy Gray is her name. She’s someone he met during his law school days. Jennie thinks they had a fling but then separated. The two reconnected after my mother died. She thinks Dad called her. They’ve been seeing each other off and on for the last six months now.” Tyler signaled for another round of beers.

“I decided to spend the night at my place and Ben joined me. Susanna went to her own place; she’d promised her family to spend Christmas with them. So the next day, we’re all back at the house and I’m making breakfast for everyone. Waffles, our tradition is waffles. We’re all sitting down at the table and Dad makes an announcement. He tells us he has a girlfriend and he’s going to spend Christmas Day with her and her family. We were on our own.”

“More drama?”

“A lot more. After he left, Jennie tells us that Dad is not only seeing this woman but broke up her marriage of 35 years. She came down from her home in Indiana to be with him. My Dad, the home wreaker.” He sighed. “She has three children, all married and several grandchildren. Two live in Indiana near their father. Her youngest daughter is married with two children and they live in Harrisburg. Judy Gray has sisters still in town. Suddenly my dad has an instant family. Doesn’t need me anymore. Tells me I have my own life to live.”

“That’s intense.”

The waitress arrived with two more beers and two fresh glasses. She removed the empty ones. “Anything else, I can get you?”

“Okay for now. Thanks,” Tyler dismissed her with an indifferent frown. Her smiled faded and she turned back to the counter to pick up another order.

“Jordan’s from the Hershey area. So Jennie and Jordan decided to spend Christmas Day there with some aunts and cousins. Ben takes off to Susanna’s. Me? I’m on my own. Had Christmas dinner at the local diner. Me, the waitress and two other guys with kids.”

Tyler handed him a mallet.

“I left this great job, sold my townhouse in Ellicott City and moved back home to be with Dad. Thought he needed me to be around, close by. We needed to be a family. That’s what I thought Mom would want.”

He pounded the crab leg firmly and pulled out a thin piece of pink and white crabmeat, dipped into the plastic cup of butter and tossed it into his mouth.

“Nothing like family.” He spotted the waitress coming towards them with two more beers. “She’s kind of hot, don’t you think?” He motioned to Tyler.

“You just noticed?”

Daily Specials

Bonnie entered the restaurant. She briefly looked over the hand-written notes on the whiteboards.

$3.99 Breakfast Specials

Two eggs, scrapple, bacon or ham, and muffin toast

Bowl of puddin, fried potatoes and toast


$7.50 Lunch Specials with one side

Fish and chips

Liver and onions

Scrawled on another whiteboard were the words:

Daily Dessert Special

Coconut Cake

Pecan Apple Pie


She slipped off her coat and hung it over an empty chair. In one corner of the room stood a stone fireplace, made years ago from stones found on a local farm. A fake wreath hung over the wooden mantle. It was decorated with tiny lights. Nearby, a Bible verse was framed and hanging on the wall. Small kitchen utensils, collected from another time, were displayed carefully. The three booths next to the window were empty. One of the tables needed to be bussed.

“Hi Grace. Sorry I’m late. Always something going on at the store.” She sat down.

“Haven’t ordered yet. Just sipping my first cup of coffee.”

Nancy appeared from the back room. “Morning, Bonnie, I mean Mrs. Thomason. Coffee?” She held a pot of hot steaming coffee in one hand and a mug in the other.

“Call me Bonnie. Yes and with cream. Tell Johnson back there in the kitchen that I want fresh cream out of the carton, not those round plastic things. Can’t open them without making a mess.”

Nancy laughed. “I’ll tell him that.” She poured the coffee.

“Do you know what you want to order?”

Bonnie said, “I’ll have the two eggs with ham and toast. I like that English muffin toast.”

“You’re in luck. Johnson made extra loaves this morning. The last batch is coming out of the oven.”

Grace followed, “Two scrambled eggs, fried potatoes and an extra order of that English muffin toast.”

Nancy left to fill the order. Outside, a charter bus on its way to Gettysburg passed by the window.

“How did it go?” Bonnie asked.

“It went well, really well. Actually we had a great time. Ryan arrived just as I got off work on Friday afternoon. He drove by himself from Baltimore. He looked good. Healthy. His attitude was good.”

“How long did he stay?” Bonnie turned and looked behind her for the cream. She saw Nancy walking towards her with small white pitcher in her hand

“Johnson said tell her royal highness that this cream is fresh from this mornings milking. He milked it himself.”

“Sure,” Bonnie laughed. “I’d like to know the last time he milked a cow.”

Nancy laughed. “I’ll tell him.”

Grace offered, “Ryan stayed until Monday afternoon. Sunday we had some of the family over for his birthday. Balloons and all. He seemed pleased.” She paused.

“He has a car now and is trying to find a job fixing diesel engines again. Learned the trade in high school. It was one of those special programs. Boy, did he make good money.” She sipped her coffee. “Had his own place and a car too. He was on his way.”

“Too much money for a young kid right out of high school.”

“It would have been okay but now we think he was doing drugs in high school. That’s when it all started.”

Nancy brought their orders and set the plates in front of the two women. “Did you know Ryan in high school?”

“Sure did. All the girls liked him. He was a hotie.” They laughed.

“But he started drugs.” Grace said.

Nancy blushed. She sat down. “He wasn’t the only one. Lots of us tried things, but some like Ryan got hooked. Had a lot to do with the friends he hung out with in school but there was that other crowd, not in school, older.”

“The accident didn’t help either. Once he was in that accident, the police said he was high when his friend pulled out in front of that car, he wasn’t the same.”

“Pain?” Nancy asked.

“No, not so much. Just got used to feeling high.” Grace reached for her mug of coffee. “Euphoric he says. Feels like Never Never Land.”

“At least he’s sober for now.” Bonnie said.

“Yes, the rehab center seems to be helping him. Felt like I had my son back for a few hours. He’s going to apply for jobs and maybe get a place on his own. He can’t stay in the rehab house for much longer.”

“Must cost a fortune.”

“There’s no question of cost. He’s my son.” She sighed. “What else can we do? Besides it keeps me busy, working. The people at the pharmacy are good people, and I can work overtime on weekends. Sam’s job at the factory really helps.”

“Is Ryan coming back here?”

“No, we all decided he can’t come back, not here, not to work or live, barely even visit. He agrees. The town is too small. Ryan has too many friends here. Too many influences that will drag him down and take him down the wrong road again.”

“Old ways are hard to change,” Bonnie offered.

“Not so easy to change. That stuff is hard to leave alone. I know he tried on his own a couple of times. So have his friends. Does something to the mind. Once you’re hooked, it’s forever, like an alcoholic but even worse. It’s a craving, a memory that doesn’t go away.” Grace placed her fork and knife on the plate at the four o’clock spot. “If this doesn’t work…”

“Mrs. Brendon, worry is for later. Right now you need to have hope.” Nancy stood up. “Ryan’s got to take each day as it comes. You and Sam have to take each day as it comes. Each day has its specials, good or bad likes Johnson’s menu.” The women laughed. “Maybe he can make it this time. He’s got everything going for him.”

“Grace, he’s got his family behind him and lots of people praying for him, you and Sam too.” Bonnie stated. “There’s hope he can fight this thing. There’s hope. Can’t get much better than that.”

“If only, Grace, if only I had enough faith to believe what you’re saying is true.”